Spring 2016

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96 Venice here's a subtle "V" embedded into many of Leila Vaziri's swimsuit designs. It's a reminder of her last name, yes, but it's perhaps also a V for "victory"—a nod to her past life as a competitive swimmer, her successful transition from professional athlete to business owner and, of course, a vote of confidence in her swimwear line that regularly sells out at fine boutiques. Raised in Coral Springs, Vaziri began swimming competitively at age 7. She became more serious about the sport in high school when she realized it could get her a full scholarship to college—which it did, at Indiana University. While at IU, she became an NCAA medalist and world champion swimmer, winning the gold in the 100-meter backstroke at the 2006 U.S. National Championships and later making the 2007 U.S. World Championship Team. Between March 2007 and December 2008, when she was a full-time professional athlete, she won gold and silver medals at the 2007 World Aquatics Championships in Melbourne, Australia, breaking both an American and a world record in the 50-meter backstroke. In 2008, the 23-year-old Vaziri retired from swimming to move on to developing new goals. The problem, though, was that she didn't quite know what those goals were. "I think if you talk to any professional athlete about when their career ends, it's definitely filled with turmoil," she says. "It's really hard to find yourself a stable footing. But I knew that once I got through, I was going to be so happy, and I was going to find something that was going to be so fulfilling." Vaziri was able to find not just one but two ways to make a new life for herself. The first came in 2010 when a coaching opportunity opened up for a swim team in New York. This led to her getting more and more coaching jobs, being sought out for lessons and ultimately coaching full time. The second came in 2013, when Vaziri felt a creative itch she needed to scratch. "When I moved to New York, I was surrounded by many interesting people— creatively, business-wise, entrepreneurs in different industries," she says. "I realized in myself that I had a longing to have something creative and entrepreneurial of my own." Vaziri had long felt the need for high-quality swimwear that was both stylish and functional. "I had always been interested in design, and I knew from my competitive swimming career the features a suit needed to have support, and the mobility it needed to give you in your shoulders and your hips; I knew how I liked suits to be cut to allow you to feel good when you're swimming," she says. "So I started this process of teaching myself about manufacturing and design." Now, two years later, Vaziri Swim is a reality, sold in numerous boutiques across not just the country, but the world. As a swimmer, Vaziri learned, "Everything requires hard work and patience," which is something she has taken with her into her new business endeavors. "There were seasons when I was training and maybe wasn't sure of myself, not knowing if I was going to be ultimately successful," she says. "I would say, 'Today I try,' and I put that same knowledge that I learned in swimming toward my business. Right now, I'm just trying to put the work in, believe in myself, not discount myself and see the payoff in the future." v Leila Vaziri uses her swimming background to get a competitive edge in fashion design. BY ELYSSA GOODMAN PORTRAIT BY JAMES ARGYROPOULOS STROKES TO SUCCESS TAKING THE PLUNGE As a professional swimmer turned swimwear designer, Leila Vaziri dives in headfirst in her creations. T

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