In this edition of the Smashfest Diaries, I am thrilled and honored to share some backstory and valuable insights from two incredibly kind, ambitious, loyal, and stylish multi-hyphenates, mothers-business owners-athletes-friends, the founders of Smashfest Queen, Hillary Biscay and Michele Landry. I was one of the early adopters of Smashfest Queen when the line debuted in 2012, and have admired how Hillary and Michele have thoughtfully navigated the path of growing their business while maintaining their friendship since the start--a worthy achievement in and of itself--and I wanted to learn how they've done it. Following is a generous peek behind the curtain of how Smashfest Queen came to be, where it is today, and why the two women who run it continue to have a strong and vibrant friendship.
How and when did you first meet?
Hillary: The first-ever IMAZ in 2005!:)
Michele: We met through a mutual friend at the inaugural Ironman AZ in 2005-- my first Ironman!
What kind of an impact has triathlon had on you individually, and to your friendship before and after becoming business partners?
Michele: My dad, Jim Muehe, participated in the Ironman World Championships in 1982 and 1983. I was there in ’83 and dreamed one day I too would race in Hawaii but actually didn’t do my first triathlon until 2004 and was 31 years old. The first sprint I participated in I became hooked and ended up racing as much as I could that season. I loved the new friendships I developed and it quickly consumed my life. My husband, Derek, soon realized if we were going to spend any time together on the weekends, he better buy a bike too! If you drink the Kool-Aid you know what happens-- he became a triathlete too!
Hillary: Triathlon truly changed my life. What started as a hobby after retiring from competitive swimming became a job, and I had the absolute privilege of racing ironman professionally for a decade. During this time, I got to see the world in a way that few get to experience: setting up training camp/ home bases on five different continents during this journey and racing all over the globe as well. It was during this time and because of triathlon that I met both my husband (German former professional triathlete and Ironman Champion Maik Twelsiek) and Michele! Also during this time and because of triathlon, all three of these entities were born: Smashfest Queen, Biscay Coaching and our Biscay-Twelsiek Family that now rolls six deep! Oh and there was an ironman title in there at Ironman Wisconsin 2008 so we can also credit triathlon with our first-born's name, Madison:)
Since the idea for Smashfest Queen was born over a phone call in May, 2012, and the first kit design, "Orange Crush" launched in late September, 2012, what were the most challenging steps within that window of solidifying the idea, and then bringing it to market?
Hillary: OMG there were so many steps--and so many that we didn't even know we'd have to take. I really can't believe we were able to bring the first iteration of the vision--the first garments--to life in such a short timeframe but we really did keep it to a very few pieces which we had to sell all by presale as we didn't even have the funds to produce them til we did that!
Michele: Everything happened so fast between nailing down our name, building a website, filing legal paperwork to trademark, design the first kit and manufacture and have it ready for Kona 2012 AND our first event at IM AZ 2012—it was a whirlwind of so much fun and excitement. My personal life was also changing as I had separated from my husband and moved from CA to live with my sister in Washington D.C. and open a Pilates studio (ATHLETE studio). Why not start two businesses simultaneously while going through a divorce?!
What were your initial goals for the brand?
Michele: Design and wear something that we wanted to wear. Surely if we love it, there have to be other women out there who are looking for more options too. I remember wearing very basic black tops and black tri shorts at every single race. BORING. We both wanted something original and unique.
Hillary: Our initial goals for the brand were to produce the gear that WE wanted to wear because we weren't finding exactly that in the marketplace and we figured we couldn't be the only ones who were looking for more. We hoped, in turn, to empower women by making gear that made them FEEL GOOD.
What is the origin and significance of the Hummingbird logo?
Hillary: ML is all over this one:)
Michele: Years ago, a friend of mine once said I was like a hummingbird zipping around from place to place and fueled by sugar! The more I researched hummingbirds, the more the significance of them resonated with me. They are a symbol of tenacity and endurance. They are resilient and can travel great distances to reach their destination. They can fly backwards and hover up and down which reminds us to stay adaptable and accept change. When I was in Interior Design School I needed a logo and I knew it had to have a hummingbird. They are beautiful and vibrant, I could go on and on…
In late 2015, you opened up the application process for TeamSFQ, an all women age group Ambassador team to race in Smashfest Queen apparel in the 2016 season, why did you decide to create TeamSFQ?
Hillary: By 2015, we had a very solid group of women who had essentially appointed themselves unofficial brand ambassadors. They were fervent SMASH fans and their support was absolutely priceless! We wanted to be able to give back--to make the relationship official in a way and thank them for their support--and in doing so, we created TeamSFQ and opened it up to others who may have been looking for that kind of structure within our brand.
Michele: We had such a dedicated following and wanted to offer more for these ladies. It felt very natural for us to evolve and build a team.
There have been countless friendships forged between women of all ages, from all over the globe, because of their membership on TeamSFQ, did you ever believe that Smashfest Queen would have such a profound impact on women's lives beyond the apparel line itself?
Michele: This has been incredible to watch develop and also be a part of. We are so fortunate to have this community of incredible women and a forum where we meet to share just about everything despite how far away we live from each other.
Hillary: Honestly, this was a DREAM because we thought that, in creating gear that made women look and feel good, we'd help empower them in a certain way for sure. But what our team has turned into--it's truly mind-blowing. I mean, just watching these women blossom as athletes thanks to inspiration from teammates who just keep raising the bar--it's incredible. Yearly, we see multiple women truly turning into different athletes because of the examples set by their teammates who get them thinking, "Hey, if she did it, maybe I could do X or Y as well..." I LIVE FOR THIS!!!! On top of this phenomenon and equally important, we have so many now-BESTIES who literally didn't even know each other before SFQ. And these are women who live states or even countries apart. It is flipping amazing. Having been part of a professional squad and then living in multisport meccas when stateside during my career, I truly had not realized how much of a need so many women had for an endurance COMMUNITY that they may not have right at home. It has been absolutely remarkable to help create and nurture that for our team.
How has your point of view of founding and growing Smashfest Queen, and your friendship, changed since becoming parents?
Hillary: I scrutinize everything I spend time on to another degree now that I'm a mom. Especially with 4x 4& unders at home right now, time is just so precious and if I am not spending time with my kids, what I am doing must be something I'm passionate about and really WANT to be doing. Our incredible team of professional and age group women make it easy to stay motivated to work on Smashfest Queen --they put the wind on our sails on a daily basis.
Michele: We are 8 years into this business and I still love what I do every single day. The only thing that has changed for me are the hours I work now that I have two kids. It’s not uncommon for me to be up at 3am sending emails because I am a full time mom during the day. I love my calls with Hillary and that we always start off with our mom stories and then we dive right into work! I feel extremely fortunate (and lucky) to do what I do.
Have you integrated the experience of being mothers, to both sons and daughters, with the designs and operations of the company?
Hillary: ehhhhh i am hoping our designer has a good answer here:)
Michele: It’s become clear to me that rainbows are cool when you're 5 and 45!
Do you have plans to pass the baton of running the company on to your children in the future?
Michele: That would be amazing!
Hillary: It would absolutely be a dream if Smashfest Queen were in existence by the time this were an option!
Since you both have extensive athletic backgrounds, and founded an athletic apparel line, what does the role of continuing to pursue goals in endurance sports like triathlon, running, obstacle course racing, (I mean, why not?), etc., into future decades mean to you?
Michele: I feel like it gets better every year! Hillary will also agree that running seems to be the most bang for your buck with having young ones at home. Having goals is so important and I love that with even having canceled races this year, it opened so many doors to create new goals. Adapt. There’s that hummingbird again! I’ve run more in 2020 than any other year of my life.
Hillary: It's everything. So much of my inspiration for coaching and Smashfest Queen comes from my own workouts, which are mostly runs right now! This is the time that I can really feel in sync with the athletes who race in our gear and the athletes I coach. And while I don't think I will ever race seriously again, always having a goal of an event (self-made or an actual race) provides my exercise with the kind of intensity that I need to make it count,
What is the most important factor that keeps your relationship as friends and business partners balanced and thriving?
Michele: We are totally on the same page with so much in our personal and family life that this all works! I think we get each other and really like each other! I mean, we were friends for years before Smashfest Queen and that was huge. I also have tremendous respect for Hillary and love her family. Now we just need to find houses on the same cul-de-sac so we can all hang more!
Hillary: Michele and I have such parallel lives right now; our kids are similar ages (my third and her second baby are literally just 6 weeks apart in age) , we both have a bunch of rescue dogs, and are both running a lot...oh , and our husbands are buds who love to ride together! So we are just on the same page most all the time and are always working around similar kinds of craziness at home. We RELISH going for runs together and recently celebrated her 47th birthday by running 47 miles together--it was such an absolute treat!
Michele and Hillary are wonderful women and leaders who are as easy to look up to, as to reach out to. They constantly surprise and inspire us with their gorgeous designs from Smashfest Queen, and by how they live every nuance of their lives with integrity and joy. It's no wonder they have a legion of ladies wearing their hummingbird logo as a badge of honor, a symbol of tenacity and endurance, of friendship and ambition, and of what it means to be a woman today and tomorrow. It's been an amazing first eight years of Smashfest Queen, and we can't wait for what's next!