You know the name, you know the brand, and you sure as hell need to read about the journey.
As one of Australia’s largest export success stories, Samantha Wills has had her jewellery designs worn by the likes of celebrities ranging from Katy Perry to Rhianna, Taylor Swift to Eva Mendes, and creatively collaborated with exceptional brands such as Billabong and Yellowglen… just to name a few.
But, it isn’t the names and the brands that stand out when reading about the success of Samantha Wills. It’s her emotional journey of entrepreneurship, which is passionately driven by the highs and lows of life, while gratefully accepting everything in between.
One thing that you can expect from such an incredible person is a raw, and relatable, story-telling ability that encompasses every ounce of your attention. It’s as if you’re sitting with Samantha at 8.00pm drinking a glass of wine, and planning to take over the world.
It’s at this point you realise; this is no ordinary person! This is a person who has worked tirelessly to get to where she is.
This is a person who has done the hard yards and continues to change the concept and idea of business- not only in Australia but, globally.
This is someone who we all need to be listening to and learning from, as she continues to shine on the US market, with revenue streaming in from Asia, and beyond.
So, for those moments where you have worked so hard, and feel like you are getting nowhere;
For those people who are hustling until they can’t hustle anymore;
For those who appreciate an entrepreneur with a level head, and good heart;
This one is for you.
Cheers to Samantha Wills for being the relatable, transparent, global entrepreneur that we could all call our BFFL.
I’d love to hear more about you! Tell me more about who you are and what you stand for.
I have been fortunate to have experienced a career with the SAMANTHA WILLS brand to date, that has seen my journey go from a Bondi Beach Market Table to the global stage of New York City. (Sounds glamorous, doesn’t it?) Well, some parts of it have been, but some parts have been life altering, gut wrenchingly, cry in the shower, anxiety riddled isolation, fucking hard.
16 years into that journey, I am dedicating a lot of my time to try to put a voice to the actual realities of the hurdles we are all facing, that very few people are talking about.
We are living in a day and age of filtered ‘perfection’, across many topics, and I have no doubt it is really easy to find a success story to read – Will this inspire you? Maybe for a second.
When I started out in business at 21, and had no freaking idea what I was doing, I would rip out glossy designer profiles out of the monthly fashion magazines, and pin them on my inspiration board above my desk. But when the 3am hour arrived, and I was still awake burning past the midnight oil, feeling like the only person in the world, making jewellery til my hands physically bled to ensure I could get the order out first thing in the morning. My hair in a dirty top knot, the dirty plate from my toasted sandwich which was my 1am dinner still sitting on my desk next to me, and an anxiety sitting so heavy on my shoulders I could barely differentiate the weight of the physical tiredness Vs the mental angst of owing $80,000 in credit card debt that I had accumulated trying to get the business off the ground… Was that glossy, styled designer profile picture smiling at me from my inspiration board empowering me then?
Not only was it not empowering me, it was doing the opposite. It was making me compare myself & my journey to a single, styled, perfect looking image, and it made me feel shit, and isolated & only fueled my anxiety even more.
I am beyond grateful for the incredible online community that I am lucky enough to engage with, being able to reach hundreds of thousands of women through social media on a daily basis.
As we find ourselves being propelled into the vortex that is digital media, I am also growing increasingly aware of the responsibility that comes with the impact of social media.
I started the SAMANTHA WILLS FOUNDATION as I wanted to create a platform that was accessible to young entrepreneurs, which would hopefully make them feel less isolated in their journey & experiences. Its so easy to find the success stories, but I wanted to create a platform that, while still celebrating wins, also put a spot light on the realities of start-up business, the anxiety, the isolation, the hurdles, the claustrophobia of knowing everything you have at a risk, with no guarantee of reward. It is hard, and it can be very challenging, not only professionally, but personally.
The SAMANTHA WILLS FOUNDATION is a place for me to write & share what I have learnt so far, and also share some things I am still learning (often, the hard way!). It is a platform, & community for our followers to ask questions, be inspired & connect, but most powerfully, share their journey; the successes & the struggles.
What projects are you currently working on? Are there any future events we should keep an eye out for?
I was accepted into a small writing college here in NYC, as I am back at school part time. I have always enjoyed writing, but wanted to learn more about the craft of it. I am hoping to put focus to writing a book… Well, a few books actually! That’s the goal.
Success and failure, both hold important lessons. Tell us more about your successes, failures and the things that drive/inspire you.
This is a great question, and one I have never been asked about in the same sentence… I am going to talk about the failures; because it is from those that the biggest successes have come from.
I have a theory, that if you are not failing often in branding, you aren’t pushing the boundaries enough. From this, I use failure like research – to look at things a different way, to reset… re-route. So often, in the early days, I would just give up if something became too hard, I’d just quit it, and not really think about it again. It took me a while to learn about quitting, and surrendering. When something doesn’t work out, there is a reason – I believe it is the universe pushing you in a different direction for a purpose, but it’s often impossible to appreciate & understand that at the time when you’re ‘in it’.
Around 2008/2009, the SAMANTHA WILLS brand was booming. We were known as a boho luxe brand, our design language was consistent in being known for large, statement pieces. Lots of turquoise stones, burnish metals & lots of layering.
I spoke very transparently about the brands journey to that point, the start up on a Bondi Market table, from very humble beginnings on my dining room table, and how without a design degree, or university education, I would hustle my way through, in my bid to reach my dream of creating a brand that people wanted to be a part of. (That was my WHY from the very start). Our consumer was highly engaged, because she related to my story, and when your consumer is engaged, their spending pattern matches this. As such our retailers couldn’t keep product on the shelves, we were dressing every A-List celebrity as the category of costume jewellery was on fire, and every day would see a new celebrity placement hit our inbox out of the USA, Rhianna, Katy Perry, Drew Barrymore, JLO, and then Eva Mendes wearing the Bohemian Bardot ring – which put us on the map.
Due to the celebrity placements, retailers from the USA where calling, placing orders without seeing samples because they just wanted the brand so much, and we were opportunistically sending orders over. It got to the point where my business partner said that it was probably high time I spent more time over there, and managed the brand for how we wanted it to look globally – with the view, that when we rolled out through Europe & Asia, they wouldn’t be asking ‘what does you brand look like in Australia’, they would be asking, what does your brand looking like in the United States.’ Needless to say, we were having a stellar run, both brand wise & commercially, it was like everything had just aligned.
So, I packed my bags & moved to New York City. I was in my late 20’s, it was the first time I had lived outside of Australia, and the first time I had ever really had a disposable income.
As soon as I landed, I was instantly romanced by everything that was New York City. I had stars in my eyes – and for the first time, had an income that allowed me to buy into luxury brands. I was besotted with the CHANELs & JIMMY CHOOs of the world, not only their product, but their brands. I would attend luxury brand conferences learning all I could about branding, especially Heritage Brands.
In branding, you can hope & wish all you want that your brand sits where you want it to in the market place, but at the end of the day, the consumer is the one who dictates where your brand sits. Whatever price point they are purchasing the most of, is your core price point, and want & wish all you will, but if you want a commercial business, you need to have a very sound understanding of where your consumer is spending & how they see your brand. And it should go without saying – if something is working, booming even, probably best not to fuck with it….
So, here I was in New York, in the middle of a stellar moment for our brand. We couldn’t keep product on shelves, retailers where doubling their orders season on season, we were bohemian, and layered, and bright stones, and burnished metals, and statement size, and relative & authentic in our communications…. And in a hot second, I made the decision that I wanted the SW brand to sit a tier, to a tier & a half higher in the market than where we were sitting.
So, I instantly changed the design language – not over a few seasons, or subtly to progress it….. no. I made the decision that the next collection was going to be minimal. And absolutely NO turquoise. Lets show shiny metals! And petite sizes – nothing statement. And minimal styling, definitely no layering! Yes! … and then I thought, starting on a market table is not very glamorous!? Nor is working from your dining room table – I am going to remove those elements from our story (Which, given I didn’t go to design school, or have much else to say, left our story pretty uninspiring & down right boring.)
Coming off the back of such a successful season, retailers backed me & my hasty change of direction, and ordered big on our new Minimal, shiny, turquoise free collection.
(Not so) shockingly, it didn’t sell.
Also (not so) shockingly, the consumer became quickly unengaged, because they didn’t relate with the unauthentic narrative I was now telling.
So retailers were left with a massive black eye, and a shit load of stock that wasn’t selling. Our consumer, as she was now unengaged with the brand, naturally adjusted her spending to reflect this (shopped elsewhere). In one season, I nearly folded the company. I had lost the trust of retailers, our consumer, and worst of all, my team. All because I was trying to make the brand something it wasn’t. I was not being authentic, and I had completely lost sight of WHY I started in the first place.
SO – I had a long hard talk with myself, and had to do a lot of reflection & work on the WHY. And then it was time to rebuild. Rebuild the brand how I wanted it to look, but with authenticity & owning our story. Time to rebuild trust with our retailers (taking back the shit load of shitty stock), re-engaging the consumer through relativity & talking WITH her, not TO her, and regaining the trust of my team. It took about a year & a half to turn around that one (massive) mistake – but it all stemmed from me completely loosing sight of my WHY.
…..So how does that all relate to building a business on Instagram? Well, it doesn’t directly, because at that time, a business on Instagram wasn’t even a thing! But the point is, if you are truly authentic, in everything you do with your brand (and everything you do on Instagram), and you are doing everything to fulfil your WHY, then the business will grow, and the money will follow.
People don’t want to be sold to. They want authenticity, and realness, and validating, and purpose. Never underestimate the power in sharing your vulnerabilities. No one cares about a perfect, glamorous story (one, because its not true, and two, because perfection is boring). Tell people your why, share your hurdles, share what inspires you. So in answer to the original question, my advice is don’t focus on WHAT you are selling, but WHY you are doing it.
What is a moment that changed your life forever?
There have been thousands! One of the biggest would be taking the risk of the $500 booth at Australian Fashion Week 2004 – I had $509 dollars in the bank at the time, and was offered the spot. I took it, hoping to at least make a few orders from retailers, to cover the cost of the stall. I ended up writing $17,000 worth of orders, quit my ‘real job’ the very next day, and decided to be a jewellery designer, and dedicate myself to building a brand that people wanted to be a part of.
How do you use words to get your message out to your audience/followers/fans?
I talk to them like I would my friends.
In a book I read recently, by Rebecca Campbell, 'Light Is The New Black' she mentions; ‘Don't post to teach or preach, post what YOU need to hear/read, because I guarantee you that someone else is feeling the same way and needs to read it right now’.
This really made me appreciate the power in sharing your story with transparency and vulnerability.
I also try to take the approach of treating people on social media like I would in a real life conversation, and do my best to reply, interact, engage. It does become tougher the bigger the platform grows, but its something I try to maintain on some level – I think it very gracious that people want to talk & interact. It’s very humbling.
What’s your favourite quote?
‘You can’t please everyone. You are not a jar of Nutella.’
How do you believe words impact business?
Words impact everything, more so now than ever before. We live via text, and DM & status updates. This removes the tone in delivery, making word choice all the more important.
I do however, think that the most important thing, is that your actions match your words.
If you could choose three words that showcase you/your brand to the world, what would they be?
For the SAMANTHA WILLS brand, while its more than three words, the three statements I would use would be; Luxe-Bohemian, Down To Earth, Relative.
For myself, I would use; Honest, Loyal, Empathetic.
What Words of Wisdom do you have for inspiring business professionals who want to succeed, while doing something that they love?
I get asked this a lot – and I always preface my answer, by saying that it is not revolutionary… its’ actually quite uninspiring!
My answer is; Do Something. Anything.
There is never going to be a right time to start something, so if you are waiting for that, it will never happen. Often times in start-up, like I did, you have a ‘real job’ that pays the bills (and funds your passion project!). You might be in a position to call it quits on your day job, and pursue what you actually want to be doing. It took me about two years to quit my ‘real job’. But every spare second I had when I wasn’t working 9-5, five days a week, I was hustling to get my then handmade, market stall slash party plan, jewellery business off the ground.
Make little steps to be working on the project you love. It could be an hour a day; it could be what you dedicate your entire weekends to.
Don’t be someone that always talks about doing something. Go, & do it.
Amen to that!
Follow, and be inspired by, Samantha on Instagram;
Or contact Written Communications for more information about how words can impact your life.