Talking Shop: How Venus Williams and Stephanie Morimoto built women’s empowerment into their retail brands
Tennis champion Venus Williams and Stephanie Morimoto, owner and CEO of skin care brand Asutra, have more than being entrepreneurs in common. Though Williams works with Morimoto as part owner and chief brand officer of Asutra — while also running her sportswear brand EleVen and interior design firm V Starr — the two also share a passion for empowering women in their careers and making companies more diverse.
At EleVen, Williams and her team launched an initiative called Privilege Tax to raise awareness that women on average are paid $0.81 for every $1 men make. The ongoing initiative is intended to draw attention to wage inequality and improve communities by empowering women.
For her part, Morimoto says she wanted to build “a company, a culture, and a team where all of us felt like we had something to contribute — that we didn’t have to be the person representing our entire race or our entire gender, but instead could bring our full selves to work and be appreciated and celebrated for that.”
Williams adds, “When you hire diversely, it brings different points of view; it brings different experiences. ... And it provides that sounding board that you’re able to really learn from.”
Understanding what customers want is a major key to their success. Morimoto says that one of the first things she did when she bought Asutra was invest in market research to better figure out “how to tell the Asutra story.” Both entrepreneurs run their e-commerce businesses on Shopify and speak to the value of its seamless integration with Google Shopping so people can find their products more easily.
Check out the conversation between Williams and Morimoto to hear more about entrepreneurship, creating diverse workplaces, and empowering others.
Venus Williams: Hi, so I’m Venus Williams, and I'm a professional athlete and also an entrepreneur as the team member, owner, and leader at VStarr Interiors and EleVen by Venus.
Stephanie Morimoto: I'm Stephanie Morimoto; I'm the owner and CEO of Asutra. Our mission is active self-care. So we help you take care of yourself on purpose
Venus Williams: What inspired me was definitely my dad. He had this entrepreneurial spirit. He grew up in the South in the forties, not a lot of opportunities for an African American man at that time then. Then, so he wanted his daughters to have all these different opportunities, not only in sports, but outside of sports. So he encouraged us to be entrepreneurs and so, honestly, if it wasn’t for my dad and my mom … very fortunate to have them.
Stephanie Morimoto: Well I think, like you, it started with my family. I saw my grandparents as entrepreneurs and saw the power of entrepreneurship to really change what was possible for your family and your community.
Stephanie Morimoto: You have been such a champion for women throughout your whole career. You fought for pay equity along gender lines in tennis. You really forged the way for so many women athletes, both in tennis and in other sports. How have you kept that mission of supporting other women at the center of what you do at EleVen?
Venus Williams: So we did a wonderful activity called privilege tax. It's still ongoing at the moment. And to raise awareness that women are receiving 81, 82, 83 cents to the dollar that men are, are receiving. And it's not that okay, it's not about the money. It's about the equality and the opportunities that you have when you have equality. And if a woman has more money in their pocket, they're able to empower not only themselves, but their families and in general economies, communities are better when women are empowered. I've faced inequality as a woman, and it's not fun and it's not pretty, but hopefully we're breaking down more doors and more barriers.
Stephanie Morimoto: Well in a lot of my professional settings, I've been in the minority for sure. I didn't love being the diversifying element in the room. Instead, I wanted to build a company and a culture and a team where all of us felt like we had something to contribute, that we didn't have to be the person representing our entire race or our entire gender, but instead could bring our full selves to work and be appreciated and celebrated for that.
Venus Williams: It's something that we're having conversations about now, especially in this last year. Number one is confronting your own biases. We all have biases, no matter what, where we come from or what color we are, whatever it may be, we all have biases.
Venus Williams: I'm not always looking to hire someone who's just like me. When you hire diversely, it brings different points of view, it brings different experiences. It really rounds out the team. And it provides that sounding board that you're able to really learn from.
Stephanie Morimoto: That just resonates with me so much because at Asutra, as you know, we're a small and mighty team, but 60% people of color and as a woman of color, I just feel like it's really my responsibility to hire with that lens that you're talking about. It really has made Asutra better because our customers are so diverse, and having all those perspectives and experiences around the table at Asutra has helped us develop better products.
Stephanie Morimoto: One of the first things I did when I bought the business was to invest in market research and use that research to figure out how do we better tell the Asutra story? How do we better connect with our customers? The other thing is, we can see what do people need? What do they want?
Stephanie Morimoto: Having a tool like Shopify, I think, has been so helpful, which I think you use too. How do you feel like something like Shopify has really helped you grow your business?
Venus Williams: I love my Shopify store, and I can seamlessly integrate into tools like Google, and then reach out and find the people that are looking for our products. It’s allowed us to be able to expand and be able to grow and be able to do all of those things, and be able to integrate absolutely anything with Shopify. And, and you need those options as you scale.
Stephanie Morimoto: We use paid ads through Google as well, whether it's search or shopping. And the machine learning that Google has, in shopping in particular, is so great because it’s really a support for a small business like ours.
Stephanie Morimoto: We don't have the time or the expertise to go figure out what millions of people want to buy for skin care or sleep aids or pain relief. But through Google's machine learning, through their Shopping campaigns, we can set up our catalog and people who are looking for things like Asutra can find them so easily.
Venus Williams: Stephanie, I loved our conversation. I love speaking with you though and learning from you every single time. You said some things, I thought I knew everything, but now I've learned more.
Stephanie Morimoto: Venus, I always learn from you. I loved our conversation as always. Every time we talk, I feel like I get a new idea. So thanks so much for the chat.