Get to Know 2023 SI Swim Search Finalist Nana Meriwether

The entrepreneur is a former Miss USA and two-time All-American volleyball player.
Nana Meriwether.

Nana Meriwether.

Nana Meriwether is the founder of Navina, a wellness company focusing on alcohol alternatives. She was inspired to study herbalism after a year-long examination into personal wellness and her low-alcohol, Napa-produced wine is infused with herbs and botanicals. The 37-year-old is a former Miss USA and a two-time All-American volleyball player from UCLA. Meriwether has written for and contributed to publications like Harper’s Bazaar, Vanity Fair and Vogue Australia. Born in South Africa and raised in Potomac, Md., she also worked at ConsenSys, a blockchain accelerator and software company. She is the co-founder of the Meriwether Foundation, an international non-profit organization focused on improving health and empowering communities.

Hometown: Potomac, Md.
Occupation: Winemaker
Age: 37

Please list five fun facts about yourself.

  1. I can jump and hang on to the rim of a basketball hoop, but played volleyball in college at UCLA. I led my team to the NCAA Final Four, became a two-time All- American, played professionally and was invited to train for the 2008 Olympic Games.
  2. I was the right hand to the former editor in chief of Harper’s Bazaar—my life was like The Devil Wears Prada! I then went on to work in tech as one of few African American women working in blockchain: I worked for the co-founder of Ethereum, the second biggest cryptocurrency behind Bitcoin, before I started my own company.
  3. I spoke at the United Nations during a women and girls empowerment summit organized by IBM.
  4. I recently went 30 days without eating any sugar or anything sweet. 
  5. I went to Sidwell Friends in Washington, D.C. It is the former school of Chelsea Clinton, Al Gore Jr, the Obama daughters, the Nixons, the Roosevelts and so on. 

What inspired you to try out for SI Swim Search?

“Hardly any funding ever goes to women-led businesses, even though on average, companies built by women generate greater revenue and higher returns on investment over five years versus brands built by men. In fact, only 2% of venture capital goes to women and less than 1% to African American women.

A new feminine approach in business is rising, though. Networks and funds and female founders are looking to do things differently than before. As the founder of a venture-backed company, I myself am exploring different ways to lead and breed productivity, valuing collaboration as well as competition and nurturing balance before burn out. If men can call upon their innate qualities to make deals, women, too, can tap into their genuine characteristics. To grace the pages of SI Swimsuit as a woman in business—and in a bikini—would highlight this archetype of the female founder.”

What would it mean to you to win SI Swim Search?

“My father, Dr. Wilhelm Delano Meriwether, was on the cover of Sports Illustrated in 1971! He was an avid academic, and although he grew up during the Civil Rights era in the South when opportunities were few and far between, he persevered, graduated early from college, and then became the first African American to attend Duke University Medical School. My father went on to become a Fulbright Scholar and to work for the White House. He was 28 years old when he competed in his first track and field event; before then, he had never participated in sports.

Known for running in his signature hospital shirt, suspenders and golden yellow swim shorts, my father ended up qualifying for the 1972 Olympic Games and would go on to break the world record for the 100-yard dash, a record he will always hold as the race was soon changed to the 100-meter dash.

To win SI Swim Search would honor his legacy and push forward the narrative that it is never too late to explore interests and pursue things greater than yourself. Dare to dream, plan, prepare, execute and do.”

What has been the best part (so far) about being a part of The Swimfluence Network community?

“The Swimfluence Network is the American dream. A community that inspires you to pursue becoming the best version of yourself with the unique chance to have access to life-changing opportunities, including being in the pages of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit, but also the opportunity to be a part of a safe and authentic community of women who are likewise pushing forth and aspiring to great things at work, in life and with family.”

Who was the first person you told the good news to?

“My mother. She has been witness to the ups and downs of my life since the start. For instance, after my undergraduate studies at UCLA, I was admitted to study post-graduate premedical sciences at USC. While preparing to go to medical school, I began to compete in pageants. It took me six to seven years to finally win a state title, my mother cheering me on even when I would come back home without a crown. I became Miss Maryland USA and would eventually be crowned Miss USA. After I read the fantastic SI Swim news, I called my mom to thank her for all that she has done and all that she still does to encourage me. She’s the best!”

What is your favorite SI Swimsuit memory?

“When a woman really knows who she is, she can walk into a room and garner attention from every single person, man or woman. Feminine energy was taught to me as a force we all have. It is a form of presence that does not deplete—rather it empowers, inspires and restores. The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit woman is that.

I have been collecting SI Swimsuit issues since I was in high school, over 20 years ago. They still live at my parents’ house, underneath the mattress of the twin bed that I have had since I was a child. Nevertheless, I don’t think I fully understood what I was taking in while flipping through the pages of SI in my adolescence, but now I know it as energy. SI Swim for me was a school book. One of few to show me womanhood.

What SI Swimsuit so beautifully imparts through its images and pages is the language to inspire. I do not take this opportunity lightly—it would be such an honor to become a rookie! To be able to pay thanks to the women who have helped show me what a woman can be, and to pass the baton and hopefully inspire others with what a woman can do.”

What advice would you give to your younger self?

“Success isn’t linear. Hold fast, stay the course. I am founder of 5to9 Wine—we uniquely make wine for weeknights when health and productivity are especially top of mind, including low alcohol wine made from organic and functional herbs and botanicals. Our first releases, made in Napa, include Rose Petal Wine and Elderberry Wine.

I started my company in my mother’s kitchen. I tried to pitch to investors my idea to provide more mindful adult drink options, especially with the recent rise in health and wellness, but no one would fund my idea.

And so in order to bring my dream to life, I moved back to my parents’ home and held two jobs to save money and self-fund my venture. In addition to bringing more mindful wines to market, I have been accepted into the exclusive Target Stores Accelerator, I landed my first investment, I was accepted into Techstars, and am now one of less than 1% of African American women who are winemakers.

Being a part of Swim Search is allowing me a platform to speak to opportunities and inequities in business. I am hoping to inspire other women to awaken to the fact that they can build a business.”

What changes would you like to see in the world?

“I was born to an American doctor and a South African mother. My father grew up during the Civil Rights era in the South, but was admitted to Duke University Medical School as the first African American to ever attend. Similarly, although my mother grew up during apartheid in South Africa, she won a United Nations grant to study in the United States. She subsequently became a lawyer and also earned a CPA and an MBA.

My parents traveled to South Africa in 1980 and worked for eight years doing pro bono medical and community work in a rural village along the Kruger National Park. They helped over 500,000 refugees and natives to better health and economic status.

I was born during this time and into philanthropy.

In 2007, inspired by my parents’ initiatives in the ‘80s, I began what will be my life’s work to create the changes I want to see in the world. Every child born into the world should have access to clean water, healthy food, medical care and education. I cofounded a 501(c)(3) international non-profit organization to improve health and empower communities in southern Africa. At our height we ran clinics, schools, water, nutrition and economic development programs in five countries (Zambia, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Mozambique and Malawi).”

SI Staff