It seemed like almost everyone in the country cheered on swimmer Alex Walsh during the Tokyo Olympics. Soon, you’ll be cheering on two Walsh sisters, as this duo is breaking records in and out of the water. Alex and Gretchen Walsh of Nashville, TN, recently made history by becoming the first NCAA athletes — in any sport ever — to launch an apparel line with a major retailer, Swim Outlet. This happened during the 50th anniversary of Title IX and on the heels of the updated NIL (Name, Image, Likeness) policies that allow college athletes to profit from their own talent and achievements.
Alex and Gretchen, a junior and sophomore on the University of Virginia’s swim team, have just launched a stellar swimsuit collaboration with Swim Outlet, the largest swim retailer in the United States, if not the world. SPORTI x Alex + Gretchen Walsh launched in late September, and we were eager to chat with these busy women about the many impressive splashes they’re making.
How does it feel to have made history as the youngest NCAA athletes to launch a line with a major retailer?
Gretchen: It’s been all kinds of emotions. I think it’s amazing that we were even able to do this and see it all come together. It comes with a lot of responsibilities and some stress. But mainly, it’s excitement. We are both proud of ourselves for being able to do this and to do it together.
Alex: The past year has been a lot of anticipation. But I feel like the line could not have been “dropped” better. It feels surreal being able to work on a project of this size with a consumer base as extensive as Swim Outlet’s.
How did you land on Swim Outlet as a partner?
Alex: After the summer Olympics in 2021, I signed with Swim Outlet, and they had the idea of doing some swimsuit line collaboration. Then Gretchen hopped on and signed on with them too. We immediately knew we would do it together. She’s also one of the fastest swimmers in the world.
Gretchen: As soon as I signed with them, they realized it would be a much more powerful message and line if it were both of us. It represents a once-in-a-generation dynasty. You rarely see two sisters excelling in swimming — or any sport for that matter — like we are. We all wanted to take advantage of this very unique scenario.
What’s been the most exciting and fun part of this endeavor?
Gretchen: The photo shoot we did in Palm Springs in August was the first time we saw the entire collection and tried it all on. We had gone through the generation phase of picking the patterns, trying them on, and adjusting/fixing the straps. But that’s when we saw the final product. And it was the first photo shoot we’d ever done that wasn’t for school, so that was fun.
Alex: The photo shoot, yes, but one other thing made me very grateful. When the collection launched, all of our friends on the UVA swim team got a PR box with their requested swimsuits. It was so cool to walk into the mailroom, see all the boxes, and then see the excitement from our teammates and their posts on social media.
You must be so busy juggling school with your professional career, and now this! What’s been the most challenging part?
Alex: The most challenging part was making sure we were delivering the launch most effectively. For us, that was a lot of social media, which really pushed us out of our comfort zone. But the Swim Outlet team guided us through the process. It was interesting to learn how brands and companies can use platforms like Instagram and TikTok. I had never really dove into that before this.
Gretchen: Being a student-athlete and having such an intensive NIL partnership has been challenging. It’s a lot of commitment and scheduling, but I didn’t realize how much it requires of us and how huge it was until after it launched.
What are people surprised to learn about you?
Gretchen: I thought of three things. I took Chinese for six years. Many people assume my favorite event is 50 freestyle because it’s one of my best events, but my favorite is 100 butterfly. [They both laugh]. And my favorite color is black. That’s edgy of me.
Alex: Whenever I tell this, especially adults and men, they’re like, “WHAT?” But I’m a computer science major. There is a stereotype of what athletes are like in college. I am proud that I am pursuing something uncommon and defying that stereotype.
What is a misconception people have about professional swimming?
Gretchen: Swimming is so different than a lot of sports. Swimming isn’t a huge revenue sport. It’s hard to make a career out of it, and it’s not guaranteed. The second a younger, faster person comes along, you’ll stop making national meets, so it’s easy to lose the ability to swim professionally. People say, “Go pro!” and I say, “I don’t know! Maybe I want to get a job!”
Alex: All the work we do outside of the pool. NCAA athletes are limited to 20 hours a week devoted to the sport. We hit every one of those hours doing something exercise-related. No meetings. It’s a part-time job hours-wise, but it’s really a full-time job. Weightlifting, dry land work, nutrition, sleeping, etc., are just as important as what we do inside the pool.
What do you like to do on your days off (if you ever have them), and where do you go in Charlottesville?
Gretchen: There is so much to do in Charlottesville. We love going to Carter Mountain for apple pie and cider. We love to hang out with our friends. Eating out at restaurants, spending time outside, and just relaxing. Swimming is really fun, but it’s really hard work, so getting far away from it is very healthy.
Alex: Getting outside — especially this semester — has been a huge thing for our whole team. I forget how important it is to just breathe some fresh air and sit in the sun for an hour.
What’s next for your swimming careers and the swimwear line?
Gretchen: The ACCs and NCAAs are always on our minds, and what they train us for every day. Looking toward the summer, we have international team trials in June and another world championship in July. And then the Olympic trials. Everything contributes to everything else.
Alex: UVA has been undefeated, so we want to continue that streak. And we have always wanted to be able to go to the Olympics together. I think that was reflected in the collection. Togetherness is a staple of all of this. We have the same goals, and we want to do them together.
Thank you, Alex and Gretchen, for speaking with us!
- All photos courtesy of SPORTI x Alex + Gretchen Walsh.
- Shop the line on Swim Outlet.
- And follow these powerhouse women on Instagram @alexwalsh7 and @gretchwalsh2.
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