On Thursday, Oct. 19, Olympic gold medalist and NBC gymnastics analyst Nastia Liukin joined the Baptist Health Foundation as the guest speaker for its annual Bolo Bash Luncheon. The event, which traditionally includes a fashion show, also served as a teaser for Liukin's exclusive new clothing line at Dillard’s, a collaboration with Giani Bini set to debut in early November.
Before she joined the Bolo Bash crowd, Liukin sat down with Soirée for an exclusive conversation about the new fashion line, the importance of using your platform and the best advice she ever received.
First things first, tell me about the launch of your new line.
NL: I've always loved fashion. Growing up, gymnastics was the only platform I had, so when I was 12, I started designing all my own leotards (not the Olympics ones, since those are for the team). My mom and I just did it for fun. A lot of people read or write poems or play music as an outlet or to pass time. In between training sessions I would do some designs if I was nervous, almost to distract myself, and I enjoyed doing it. It wasn't real fashion, you know, but that was when I really realized I enjoyed having this, having something different.
Back then everyone wore the same exact leotards, the same colors, everything. I look back — I think it was 2005 in particular — I remember there were a few moments where it was like, oh wow, I really tried to be unique. Yes, I have had some leotards that were better than others, but I don't regret that choice. That's the risk you kind of take.
After the Olympics, I was invited to New York Fashion Week for the first time. That was my first real exposure to the fashion world. Maria Sharapova invited me to my first ever fashion show, and I remember being so confused. It was all this preparation, we got ready, glammed up, took photos and everything. Then we got to Bryant Park and it was this magnificent thing, but then it's over in, like, three minutes. I learned a lot then and obviously since then.
There's something about seeing it come to life. It's having an idea, seeing it in your mind, then seeing it on paper, the touch and feel of the fabrics, the whole process. And it's similar to gymnastics in that you kind of have to just hope for the best.
Gymnastics is one of those sports that, unfortunately and fortunately, it's a subjective sport. It's not the person that runs the fastest or hits the wall in the pool first. You go out there, you do your best and you hope the judges like it. At the end of the day, your destiny is somewhat left in someone else's hands. It kind of feels like that a little bit in fashion. You can love something, you can wear whatever you want, but the sales and the hype will kind of tell.
I've lacked a little bit of that in my life since I retired, that bit of thrill and excitement of having that end goal. In gymnastics, every year there are national championships and world championships and the Olympics every four years, so you're always striving for something. This has definitely brought me back to that a bit. We've been working on this for over a year, so the lead-up kind of feels like Olympic trials. It's been an exciting process and just an incredible, incredible team to work with. I'm obviously honored and touched to have this opportunity to truly just bring my passions together.
I think my biggest hope in this launch is to help women across the country and the world just feel as truly beautiful as they are. The world we live in is so socially driven. Everyone's constantly comparing each other, and we're all guilty of it, at least I am. I wanted to create something that everybody could wear.
I've been on both sides of the spectrum — gotten the "you're too skinny" and the "what happened to you?" — and body image is such a real, powerful thing. I think feeling confident in your own skin is the most important, and I wanted to create something that every single person out there could enjoy, no matter your size, skin tone, religious beliefs. Confidence is universal.
Honestly, I think that's very similar to the Olympic spirit to me. We're all there for that one dream and the world unites. With fashion, I think that can certainly be the case as well, and hopefully it comes across in some of these pieces.
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Thinking about the purpose behind this event, funds raised through Bolo Bash this year will go to the Baptist Health Breast Center. You've been involved with numerous charities and causes over the years, and women's health has been a recurring one. Can you speak to why that has been so important to you and why it's a cause you've lent your voice to?
NL: I'm so grateful I was able to find something at an early age that I truly loved and had a passion for. I never imagined it would turn into a career, that was never my goal. But that said, I take great responsibility in the fact that something I loved gave me a career and a platform.
It's so important to me to give back, and it always has been. And it's important on different levels, meaning charities and organizations and things like this event, but also in looking to the next generation. As a woman especially, there are so many things people don't know because they're not taught and they're not talked about. Educating the next generation is extremely important because there are so many voices out there. Being able to not just "like" something or repost something, the more you can physically actually do, the better. Words are great, but action trumps words.
Our lives online are like this highlight reel. Whatever we put out there is what we want people to see and how we want to be portrayed. The more people can be vulnerable, the more people can be honest, the more people can use their platforms to speak up or support a cause, whether it's something near and dear to their heart or whatever it is, that to me is extremely important.
I've always felt that way, even growing up. I started training seven hours a day, six days a week when I was about 9 years old, and Sunday was my one day off. But my parents owned a gym in Dallas, and every week they'd lend it to the local Special Olympics gymnastics team. So every single Sunday I'd still come in because it brought me so much joy and just seeing their excitement. It's little things like that, but there's no greater feeling than giving back. My parents didn't force it, but they gave me that opportunity, and I'm so grateful I was exposed to that mindset.
I think about those things every day, especially when now we're — at least I am — constantly thinking about how I can help, how I can be more educated about topics. All that to say, I think education is super important, so that goes hand-in-hand with supporting anything you feel truly passionate about.
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At the end of the day, what message do you hope Bolo Bash attendees and Soirée readers go home with?
NL: I hope a little bit of everything we've talked about here, but also just reassurance in knowing that you're going to have bad days. It's inevitable, unfortunately. Something my mom always taught me was that you can never quit on a bad day. It sounds so simple, but it's singlehandedly the best piece of advice anyone could have given me. And it applies to anything in life, not just training for the Olympics. It's my golden piece of advice that keeps you going. It allows you to tell yourself you can quit later, that it's OK to move on and it's OK to have a career change, but just not on a bad day.
Growing up, I had plenty of bad days where I would come home crying and frustrated and say I wanted to quit. My mom would say that was totally fine, I could quit and they'd enroll me back in public school, but I'd have to go back to the gym until I had one good day, and then I could quit. I was so annoyed at the time, but I'm so glad I listened to that advice. Sometimes it would be the next day, sometimes it would be a week later, but moms know us best, and I'd eventually come home and deny that I'd ever want to quit.
When you find something you love, it will always outweigh the bad days. Whether it's in a job, a sport, a relationship or anything, there's always going to be that bump in the road. It's all about remembering your why, remembering why you even started doing what you're doing. There had to have been some bit of passion or desire or fulfillment at some point, so find a way to get back to that.
I don't really believe in failures. I think they're lessons. I think we all learn from our lowest of lows. You have to remember you're way more than your greatest accomplishment and your lowest low. One moment will never define who you are. One job title, one salary, none of those things are going to define you as a human. Just try to remember those things and to live your life with love and a passion for whatever it is you're doing.
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