The actress, entrepreneur, philanthropist and mother shares her journey to find and spread joy in everything she does.
By Hannah J. Phillips, Photos by Kristen Kilpatrick, Shot on location at The Wayback
When you’ve only seen someone on-screen or in the pages of a magazine, there’s a natural temptation to assign a persona before meeting face to face. When that someone is Brooklyn Decker—model, actress, philanthropist, entrepreneur and wife of former No. 1 tennis player Andy Roddick—the imagination skews toward the superhuman. There’s almost no way one woman could be each of those things and still be human, right?
In person, the only discernable hint of otherworldliness in Decker is a radiating, contagious kindness. Some might be star-struck, especially upon discovering she is even more stunning in the flesh. Instead, Decker emits a warmth that makes her feel immediately familiar, and not just because she stars in the wildly popular Netflix series Grace and Frankie. Upon first impression, she displays an instant and genuine desire to connect, interacting like she’s known others for years.
Tracing her journey from model to actress, entrepreneur and mother, Decker weaves the unifying thread of joy, sharing how she seeks it in simplicity and in the unexpected, following it and spreading it in every endeavor.
Growing up in Matthews, N.C., Decker credits her parents for modeling joy to her from an early age. As a child, she was not only allowed but encouraged to be completely herself, an ethos she seeks to replicate for her own kids.
“We lived in a tiny rental for the first 13 years of my childhood before my parents could afford to buy a home,” Decker says, “so we got outside and went camping any chance we could.”
Decker still cherishes those memories when life feels overwhelming, channeling them now that she faces her own parenting challenges. She and Roddick have a son and a daughter, Hank and Stevie, who are 4 and 2 years old, respectively. On their first family camping trip last fall, Decker delighted in sharing similar outdoor experiences with her kids she had growing up.
“There can sometimes be so little room for kids to have unstructured fun,” she says, “so it was magic to say, ‘You’re in the woods. Go make your own fun!’ ”
As a mother, she relishes opportunities to help her kids depart from the routine and express themselves—even if that gets a little messy, as things often do with toddlers. When her daughter recently colored on the new kitchen island—orange crayon on matte white paint—Decker decided to make the most of the mishap, converting the counter into a creative canvas.
“Don’t get me wrong,” she says with a laugh. “We are major rule followers, but some day when they’re older, we’ll paint over that and cry while we remember how they used to color in the kitchen. At some point, you have to decide not to totally ruin kids with adult rules. Because I had so much joy growing up, it’s easy for me to tap into that when it gets really hard and remember that parenting can be really fun.”
Her grasp on the fleeting timeline of childhood may come from her experience modeling by the age of 16 and moving to New York City by 18. Discovered in a shopping mall in Charlotte, N.C., Decker experienced a skyrocketing career within a few years, culminating in a feature in Sports Illustrated in 2006. By 2010, she graced the cover of the popular magazine.
“As soon as I got three movies in a row, I walked away from modeling. Arguably at the height of my career, I told my agency that I was going to focus all my efforts on acting,” Decker says. “The more I was exposed to it, the more I developed a deep love and passion for it.”
Her decision to follow joy in acting led to her current role in Grace and Frankie, beginning in 2015. A comedy about navigating the ups and downs of modern love, the show traces the journey of two women (Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin) who are forced to start over in their 70s after discovering that their husbands of 40 years are having an affair together. Acting alongside Fonda and Tomlin, Decker considers the show a master class in the craft.
“They both have totally different approaches but they come at it with true joy, and it’s amazing to see two people with such different styles converge so seamlessly,” Decker says. “For me, it shows there are more paths to take, and it’s an absolute privilege.”
With a sixth season premiering this month and the seventh (and final) season currently in production, the sitcom recently made history as the longest-running Netflix original. Decker portrays Fonda’s daughter, a married woman who seems to have it all together before her life falls apart.
“I was drawn to the idea of playing a woman unravelling,” Decker says. “My character has never had a problem in her life before realizing she’s unhappy in her marriage. It’s done in a really lighthearted way, which has been fun to play as I go through the personal change of having my own kids.”
Decker gave birth to her firstborn while filming the first season of Grace and Frankie, initiating another seismic shift in her pursuit of joy.
“Without question, becoming a parent has had the biggest impact on my life,” she says. “It turns your life upside down in the best way. It creates anxiety that never existed before. You’re suddenly so aware of your mortality and what you’re leaving behind.”
With the show’s busy filming schedule, Decker confesses she battles mom guilt, regardless of whether she’s with her kids, and she doesn’t gloss over the support she welcomes from a full-time nanny and from her husband. Roddick retired from tennis in 2012 but still travels for charity events, and the two try to split parenting roles evenly, often calling through FaceTime to celebrate proud moments with their kids.
Perhaps more amazing than having two kids while filming a TV series is the fact that Decker co-founded a company, raised capital and sold the brand within the same time frame. Making the virtual wardrobe from the film Clueless a reality, the Finery app aggregated online purchases for a completely digitized closet. Decker conceived of the idea with her co-founder and CNN anchor Whitney Casey as a solution to stressful sartorial decisions surrounding busy schedules.
“We would text each other pictures of our outfits before auditions and interviews,” Decker says. “And we just thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be awesome if I could send you a link to my wardrobe and you could send me a link back?’ ”
During their research, Decker and Casey discovered women spend the equivalent of two years of their lives deciding what to wear. Astounded, the pair decided to leverage technology to help women be more productive. They refused to let a lack of industry background block their entry into the market, offsetting the deficit with extensive research and great hires.
The company launched in beta with 30,000 users in 2017, and Decker recounts the stress of fundraising throughout her second pregnancy. With firm instructions from her doctor to be back in Austin three weeks before her due date, she returned from an investment meeting at 2 a.m. on day 21.
“Looking back, I do sometimes wonder what I was thinking,” she admits. “But when you’re doing something you love and you enjoy learning, there’s an excitement and energy that keeps you going.”
Just two years later, the pair sold Finery to Stitch Fix. Decker and Casey had looked for a partner company to grow the technology but were committed to finding another female-led company since the app is so intimately tied to women’s wardrobes. As the youngest female founder ever to lead an IPO, Stitch Fix CEO Katrina Lake presented the perfect fit. Decker equates the sale to sending a child off to college: a bittersweet mixture of pride, relief and nostalgia.
“Anyone who’s raised money while raising two children—especially while doing a full-time job—wants to see that company grow,” Decker says, confiding in the same breath that she also enjoys the step back from a hectic schedule. “There’s a scary excitement to entrepreneurship that gets you out of your comfort zone, so I am definitely interested in doing it again.”
INVESTING IN JOY
For now, Decker satiates her love of learning with a focus on investing in other female-led and female-focused companies. As an investor, she enjoys sharing the energy of a startup without the 24/7 demands. Summarizing the link between Finery and her current investments, she connects them all as lifelines for women. Where Finery acted as a sidekick for the closet, each of her current partnerships is with a brand that represents or supports women.
The companies range from local favorites like Tiff’s Treats (Decker and Roddick recently helped the cookie-delivery service expand in North Carolina) to Argent, a brand featuring functional pantsuits for women that include pockets. Decker discovered the brand through the Emmy-nominated costume designer on set atGrace and Frankie, which is also how she learned about The Jane Club, a business that’s also backed by Decker’s co-star June Diane Raphael. Started in Chicago and based in Los Angeles, The Jane Club provides a co-working space for women that includes child care, a need Decker perceived while building her own company.
“At Finery, we had so many women working for the company,” she says. “So, to create a space where women can come and feel supported and have a bigger voice is really important to me.”
One of her most recent partnerships is with Bodily, a platform providing education and postnatal care for mothers and their communities. After delivering her children, Decker felt blindsided by the long process of postpartum recovery.
“No one told me that golf-ball-sized blood clots were going to come out of me,” she says with an unapologetic laugh, “and it’s shocking how much information is message-board-based.”
Inspired by her own experience, she started making hospital care packages as baby-shower gifts for pregnant friends. One friend’s husband, also an investor, connected her to the CEO of Bodily, and it was a meeting of minds.
“I love how all of these companies are female-founded or working to solve everyday problems for women,” Decker says. “I’m a person who definitely likes to stay busy, and I think investment is satiating that desire to start something new.”
Decker’s investments are also fueled by a new-found focus on future generations, which she attributes to becoming a parent.
“I think I was always aware of environmental issues,” she says, “but I am much more concerned about what the future holds for my children. There is something about motherhood that has fueled my desire to advocate, speak out and get loud on their behalf.”
Inspired by her Grace and Frankie co-star, Decker joined Fonda for a Fire Drill Friday in 2019. Prioritizing education, the weekly event starts with a moderated panel before an organized act of civil disobedience.
“Everything is done civilly and peacefully,” says Decker, who shared a few words before the event but did not engage in the protest. “The No. 1 goal is to keep people talking. Noise is important but the education piece doesn’t get as much attention, so I asked Jane what I could do to add volume.”
Locally, Decker supports education through promoting her husband’s now 20-year-old foundation, which provides after-school and summer programs for communities in East Austin. Roddick started the nonprofit to serve children being left behind by Austin’s economic boom. Decker loves the mission to inspire and educate through enrichment, noting the influence of exposure to the arts in her own career.
“My interest in acting only developed because I was exposed to it,” she says. “How does a kid know he wants to become a chef or a potter if he never gets to try those things?”
As for her own kids, Decker hopes to leave the same legacy of joy she inherited from her parents. When she returns from a trip, her husband calls her a Tasmanian devil; she throws on music and starts dance parties, swinging the kids around in circles.
“I think I bring a wild energy, but it’s a chaos that connects and supports and brings joy,” Decker says. “Ultimately, I try to be a person who shows up, whether as a mom or friend, investor or supporting cast member. I’m not always present, but I want to be a lifeline when you need it most.”
BROOKLYN DECKER’S TIPS FOR NEW MOMS AND THOSE CARING FOR THEM
For friends and family: “The best thing you can do is save time. Do the dishes. Take care of things around the house so that she has nothing else to worry about but the baby.”
For moms: “Take time for yourself. Stay-at-home moms have the hardest jobs in the country because it’s unpaid labor and it’s not given the credit it deserves. I think the healthiest thing a mom can do is escape the chaos of the house, reconnect with adults and remember that you’re more than a food machine or study buddy or all the consuming roles you play as a mom.”
How to manage stress in the moment: “Sometimes, when I’m exhausted but my kids are wired, I’ll put on wild music and we’ll dance to Taylor Swift. It lifts our mood and gets all the energy out together. So, we turn a moment of chaos into something that fuels us instead.”