It’s not everyday you get to meet one of your country’s greatest sporting heroes (and not everyday you make them wait 15 minutes because you got the location wrong – but that’s a story for another day…)
While Leisel Jones needs no introduction, a highlight reel includes nine Olympic medals (three of them gold), seven World Championship golds – plus four silver and three bronze, and 10 Commonwealth Games gold medals. But while the Australian swimmer may have hung up her competitive togs, her latest endeavour sees her continue to venture near the water’s edge – this time launching active swimwear label All I Sea.
With the label hitting allisea.co this summer, we thought it was perfect timing to speak to Leisel not only about why she’s decided to dive into the start-up business scene, but also whether or not we’ll ever see her return to the pool…
Why this fashion line? Why now?
All I Sea was born out of frustration and passion. I had just returned from a holiday in Hawaii where I couldn’t find a high-quality active swimwear brand that was also fashionable to wear while I went hiking and stand-up paddle boarding. Keri [Kitay – co-founder], Scott [Henderson – co-founder] and myself had a coffee to discuss what we wanted to do for the year coming up and we decided we were all very passionate about creating swimwear that we wanted to wear everyday. A solid 12 months have passed and here we are.
How did the idea for the range come about?
The range changed many times as we just couldn’t narrow it down to a small range. We were just too excited! Our first design is our Bondi range and was created for our love of Bondi and the lifestyle it creates. At the time we were all living in the area and had a very active lifestyle. Our ‘Ink on Water’ print embodies the life we are living. That fluid transformation from land to sea.
How has your background helped in the development of the range?
I have been swimming since the age of two, so I would be concerned if I didn’t know a thing or two about swimwear! I love that I really understand what is important to elite athletes and also the everyday athlete because it has allowed me to create a range that is functional but also stylish. Every element has been carefully crafted to be worn everyday with ultimate comfort.
It’s been four years since you left competitive swimming. Do you miss the pool and competition?
I miss the competition because I’m a competitive person and I miss the racing, but I don’t miss the hours of training and the early mornings. I also don’t miss the smell of chlorine! I really liked the routine of training and hitting my targets but there’s so much more to life than following a black line forever.
Is All I Sea a way for you to still be connected to swimming without having to compete?
Swimming will always be in my blood one way or another. I still love the sport but don’t want to do 36 hours a week of it, so designing swimwear is a great way for me to still dip my toe in the water so to speak.
Do you still like to go swim laps or does that feel like a different life?
I find it hard to swim laps now because I don’t really see the point. I’m not training for anything specific and I don’t feel as good in the water anymore. At one point I was the best in the world at what I did but now I just have a dip in the ocean. It’s my favourite. Salt water is so therapeutic.
We’ve seen a few Australian swimmers make a comeback after a hiatus. Would you ever return to swimming full-time?
Hell no! They say ‘never say never’ but I just couldn’t see myself making a comeback. I was very lucky to achieve everything I ever wanted from my sport. I don’t think I would ever be able to get back to the level I was. I would need a live-in chef, personal masseuse, and personal assistant to get me there. Ain’t nobody got time or money for that.
Does as much work and heart go into creating a new business as winning a gold medal?
There are so many crossovers from sport to business. You need to have a good attitude, grow a thick skin, be resilient, work with difficult people and have a bit of faith. I think the most important skill I have taken from swimming is tenacity. In business you get so many no’s and very few yes’. You have to believe in yourself and work harder than anyone else because passion will only get you so far.
How much time have you dedicated to the business?
We’re all trying to keep a few balls in the air at the moment while we still work on our previous jobs. I guess that is what a start-up is about?! I will always be doing different things at different times, including media, so I try to give All I Sea as much time as possible. Unfortunately there is only so many hours in a day. Has someone created a 25 hour day yet??
Have you learnt any important lessons along the way?
So many lessons!! I’m learning every single day and I love it. I’m learning about just how tough it can be to start your own business. I’m learning about marketing, research, cash flow and the importance of the bottom line. Starting your own business can be scary at times but it really suits my personality. I love to be responsible for my own success.
Were you hands-on with all the designing?
All three of us have been very hands-on with each piece. I think it is crucial that we all have a say because it has brought out some really interesting elements to our Bondi range. I’m very biased towards the LJ Top and the Jones singlet for obvious reasons! It has been so fun being able to craft exactly what you want in active swimwear.
What has been the hardest thing about starting a business?
There are so many challenging elements to starting a business and everyone warns you that it is going to be hard but I never really understood it. Now I know! The hardest thing for me is the unknown. Which pieces people will love, what isn’t working etc.
When you’re not working, what can we find you doing?
I’m very lucky in my line of work that I get to do many different jobs. I’m currently studying my PT course at Australian Institute of Fitness and I have just become a Beyond Blue ambassador – but I also love working in media, public speaking, and I do some work around my memoir Body Lengths. I tend to be pretty busy and I love it.
What can we expect to see you doing in five years’ time?
I don’t even know what I’m doing tomorrow… but my five year plan involves many successful ranges for All I Sea, working in media and hopefully I would have learnt to surf by then!
Still images and words: Husskie Editor Yelena Fairfax.