Venus Williams is not only admired for her great tennis ability, but also for her pioneering work in the equal pay space especially for women and women of color in sport, and her fight for equal prize money at Wimbledon. With seven Grand Slam titles, five Wimbledon championships and four Olympic gold medals, tennis champion Venus Williams is arguably one of the most accomplished and inspiring women in the history of sports. She is both a force on the court and a successful entrepreneur, having founded full-service commercial and residential interior design firm V Starr and fashion-forward activewear line EleVen. Throughout her career, Williams has been a strong advocate for equality and in 2007 it was her unwavering fight that led Wimbledon to award women players the same pay as their male counterparts.
EleVen is a lifestyle of fashion-forward activewear, created by Williams, celebrating individuality, success, and style with a touch of attitude. V Starr is a full-service commercial and residential interior design firm whose high-profile clients such as InterContinental Hotels, Midtown Athletic Club and The Hotel at Midtown, Curio by Hilton, and Howard University, among others, have turned to V Starr to translate their vision into reality.
This year, Williams will executive produce and star in “Game On!,” a sports comedy entertainment show from CBS based on “A League of Their Own,” James Corden’s’ BAFTA-winning U.K. series. The U.S. version will be hosted by Keegan-Michael Key with Williams and New England Patriots Super Bowl champion Rob Gronkowski starring as team captains.
In an interview with Forbes, Williams shares her goals in sports and her entrepreneurial and entertainment ventures, as well as her support for other women who wish to make an impact.
As a leader on the court and in business, how do you define success?
“Success for me is being able to look back on my life and see that I lived it fully with no regrets. It’s about continuing to strive for your best, no matter the arena. I don’t measure success by wins or losses because I try to give my best in all aspects of my life, whether it’s on the court or in business with my companies, EleVen and V Starr.
“Both the fashion and design spaces were new territories for me, but I pushed myself to learn as much as I could, immersed myself in every element of building a business and a strong team to help it grow and continue to adapt to the evolving industry. I’ve been fortunate enough to accomplish many personal and professional goals in my life so I’d like to now put a focus on giving back and supporting other entrepreneurs, especially up-and-comers or those that might not necessarily have the means and support to get their idea off the ground.
“Developing and running my companies has been a really fulfilling aspect of my life so if I can help future generations meet their goals and achieve greatness, I will feel successful. I am so lucky to be doing what I love, on the court and off the court in business.”
What advice would you give to young girls who dream of being a professional athlete, a business executive and anything in between?
“Have confidence! At the end of the day, you need to be your biggest cheerleader and believe in yourself. It is definitely a challenge and doesn’t happen overnight, but confidence can be learned–fake it ‘til you make it! From a young age my parents worked to instill confidence in me and show the importance of having a strong sense of self-worth.
“There are going to be a lot of moments where you don’t feel confident and others will challenge your self-worth, but you can train your mind to overcome that negativity and doubt. It’s something I have always practiced in my daily life, and it has made me a stronger person overall. Eventually you will fully believe you are capable of whatever you set your mind to. No matter what your passion is, there is nothing as incredible as living your dreams, so be sure to enjoy it. That’s why I always say dream big!”
You famously advocated for equal prize money for women at Wimbledon and consequently for equal pay for women in sports. What motivated you to take a stance?
“For me it was simple and clear; it was about standing up for what I believed was right. Tennis has given me so much opportunity in life, including a platform, so when the opportunity came to fight for women across the sport it was an easy decision. I spoke up for both myself and people everywhere who were facing, or will face, the same kind of injustice in their lives.
“I’m glad it was able to create a ripple effect and set a precedent. So much positive change has happened since then, and so much positive change is still needed, but I’m happy I was able to do my part and will continue to do so until it doesn’t need to be a conversation anymore.”
Can you reflect on the progress that has been made since your equal pay win in 2007 and share what you hope will progress in terms of pay parity in sports, business and beyond?
“It’s incredible to see how the conversations around equal pay have evolved over the years—it’s a global issue that has finally become a global movement. But the fact that it is still even a conversation means there is still work to be done. Pay disparity is just one element of the overarching issue of inequality, which so many people are too familiar with. I will be really happy when the differences between men and women don’t have to be a discussion anymore and everyone is loved and respected for the person they are.”
What inspired you to expand your business profile and pioneer your two businesses, V Starr and EleVen? Why, in particular, were the design and fashion spaces important for you to venture?
“Growing up, my dad taught us to be independent. He had an entrepreneurial mindset that was ingrained in us early. My mom also encouraged us to be creative so for me it was never an option to just play tennis. I’ve always loved fashion and design so going to school and getting a degree in those areas was really fulfilling.
“V Starr and EleVen definitely keep me busy, but I love what I do and the challenge of it so it doesn’t really feel like work to me—it’s just my life. I like to dream big and set goals for myself, but I also follow my gut instinct which keeps me grounded and able to balance everything. Being able to have other projects outside tennis has allowed me to stay interested and passionate about the sport, and I’m a better player for it. Whether I’m on or off the court, putting in the work and seeing results is the best part.”
What messages are you trying to communicate through your EleVen designs and what’s next for you?
“My EleVen designs are more than just a color or a print—they’re representative of an overall lifestyle. I want women wearing my line to have the confidence to be unapologetically themselves and feel empowered to make positive change to achieve their best life.
“EleVen’s designs are made with confidence and performance in mind. My most recent collection was the Glam Activewear Collection and the pieces are so cool. They are bold and powerful, just like the women that wear them. My favorite piece and cult favorite in the collection is our Gold Jacket.
“As for what’s next, I’m really excited to be expanding more into the beauty space–particularly clean beauty. Beauty is a big part of wellness and I’m passionate about encouraging people to actively take care of themselves, so it just made sense to venture into that world. I love serving as Chief Brand Officer at Asutra–their products are amazing, but their values are also aligned with mine, so it was an easy fit. I have a big beauty project launching this Spring, and I can’t wait to share more with everyone soon!”
Photo Source: Zebe Haupt – Venus Williams