Di Williams was in her early 40s when she spotted a wide, gaping hole in the market.
Of course, it would take her years to realise it was just that – a business opportunity leading her down the path of heading up a company with a yearly turnover of more than $75 million; one that would arguably change the fitness landscape for women in Australia.
In the early days, it was just a genuine, pure, innocent desire to help other women.
Women liked working out, that much she knew. Women struggled in “masculine” gyms, she knew that too.
So instead of fighting it, and trying to make a masculine space more welcoming for the women she knew and loved, she ducked around it completely. It was time to try something new, and that something would be a female-only gym.
It was 1989, and Fernwood Fitness was born in central Victoria.
“The main reason [I started it] was because women didn’t go into the weights room at the gym,” Williams tells Mamamia. “It was very masculine, and there were nowhere near as nice as they are today. But even today, it’s not a place where women want to be. The gym is a very masculine space…women didn’t, and don’t, feel comfortable.
“It wasn’t even a gap in the market, it was just something I thought women would love. It was just so popular that it grew that way.”
Long before we perhaps realised it in ourselves, Di Williams realised that very often, women found themselves “ogled”, “intimidated” and not welcome in the fitness space. So although her big idea – in creating a space for women where they could work out in a space that felt, well, safe – was genuine, it didn’t come without its criticisms.
"Women aren't going there because they don't have confidence, but because it's a choice, it suits them, and it has a nice club feel where they feel they are part of a community," Williams says.
"[The initial backlash] ended up being a good thing, because we got a lot of free PR out of it."
For the last 27 years, Di Williams has had an intricate understanding of the way women work out, and how our attitudes towards exercise have evolved overtime.
"The thing I have noticed mostly about women is that they are a lot more confident. They understand they have to do something for their own self. It wasn't the case back then, you would go to the gym because you wanted to look good. Now it's a little bit more about mind and body."