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Pride Spotlight: The Sports Bra

Pride Spotlight: The Sports Bra

The Sports Bra is the world’s first queer-owned sports bar dedicated to women’s sports. Ahead of Pride Month, we spoke to Jenny Nguyen, the owner and founder of the Portland-based bar. 

Describe The Sports Bra in three words.

Community, representation, and equity. 

Why did you decide to open The Sports Bra?

There was clearly a need for a place to celebrate women’s sports — a place to grow fandom and culture around spectatorship for women’s sports. There were so many ways that traditional sports bars have failed to represent a diverse majority of the population and instead of waiting for these spaces to change, I decided it was time to create a place for the rest of us. 

How did The Sports Bra get started?

It really all started out as an idea sprung from frustration. But that idea then became a running joke; a fantasy land for my friends and I to dream up the perfect place for us. Good food, great drinks, awesome women’s sports on TV and in a safe and respectful environment. What more could you want? But what really launched the idea into reality was in 2020 when the pandemic turned the world upside down on its head. It really forced me to reevaluate my life and the world and my role in it.

How does being a part of The Sports Bra make you feel? 

The Sports Bra is the best thing I have ever done in my life. There isn’t a single day that goes by that I don’t feel entirely grateful, blessed, and lucky to be a part of what is happening. 

What are some of the challenges The Sports Bra overcame or are working to overcome? 

At the very beginning, startup funding seemed impossible to find. I couldn’t get a loan and I ended up asking friends and family for small microloans and then taking out all my savings. But what really launched The Bra into better financial ground was the success of our grassroots Kickstarter campaign. Through the generous donations of hundreds of people from all across the country, we were able to fundraise more than what we needed to open the doors and keep them open. 

What challenges do you feel are unique to LGBTQIA+ small businesses? 

I think for a lot of small businesses, finding a niche that sets you apart but that also is inclusive enough to appeal to a wider audience all while staying authentic — that’s a very difficult balance. When we talk about communities or businesses that embrace marginalized folks, there’s sometimes the risk of "othering” people. But really, the strength and importance in having safe spaces meant for us is exactly the point.

What do you like the most about the small business community you’re a part of?

I absolutely love how generous, authentic and communal it all is! There isn’t the sense of fierce competition where no one wants to give away secrets or is protective of their stuff. It’s very much a “I’ll help you because you help me all the time” vibe and it’s so awesome and beautiful! It really just strengthens the fabric of our city, enlivens our passion to participate, and really is the secret sauce to making things better for everyone. 

How do you engage with the community? 

We try to be involved on all levels in a very real, authentic and engaging way. From little league teams with elementary school students to international companies and Fortune 500 brands — The Sports Bra tries to connect with people through sports. 

What are The Sports Bra’s proudest moments? 

Honestly, we’ve had a lot of really incredible moments here. Literally every day, someone comes in and shares a personal story, event or feeling that reminds me of why we are all here. But the one event that really stands out in my mind was when Serena Williams played her final match. We were absolutely packed to the gills, we propped the door open so folks could watch from the sidewalk. People cupped their hands against the front windows to watch. When it was all over, people were crying, hugging, FaceTiming their friends. I remember thinking that nowhere else, maybe not even at the US Open, was this exact thing happening. The sense of community and the strength of that shared experience just seemed so magical.

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Know and embrace exactly who you are.

What are the next big plans for The Sports Bra?

Definitely looking towards expansion. It’s not happening overnight — it will take a lot of planning, thought, and of course, intentionality. I always tell people that I’d rather just have the one Sports Bra rather than grow it too big too fast and lose everything that makes this place special, its heart and its soul. 

When you’re having a tough day, who or what inspires you to keep going? 

Oh, there’s been so many tough days. Days where it’s hard to get out of bed or hard to think about what to do next because there’s so much. But there’s always a couple things that keep me going. One is my crew. The team here is the best I’ve ever worked with, they are so dedicated and driven and they keep me motivated to continue this dream they helped me build. The second thing that I think about that keeps me going is “Little Jenny.” The young me. I think about how if I had a space like this as a kid, how much that would have impacted me. If I can create a space where one kid can come in and feel like they belong, they feel seen and represented — that they can look up on the TV and see themselves or see a future for them in sports — that gets me going and I feel like I would do anything to keep that dream alive.

What advice would you give to other small businesses just starting out? 

Know and embrace exactly who you are. Once you do that, you’ll know what drives you, your WHY. And once you find that, it is very very hard to keep you from chasing that goal. And running a small business is so hard. Harder than you can imagine. You’ll need to believe in it fully and truly, or else either you or it won’t last.

Two women waving a pride flag

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