At the table with Samantha Wills - Part Two
Raised in Port Macquarie, Regional NSW, Samantha Wills always had a passion for her craft. Hand making her own designs Samantha, would sell her jewellery at the Bondi Markets as a hobby, before she launched at Australian Fashion Week in 2004. Since then Samantha has turned her hobby into an international business success, with the likes of Eva Mendes, Katy Perry, Jennifer Lopez, just to name a few, wearing her designs. Now based in New York, Samantha shares her journey with us in an interview for young women everywhere looking to turn their passion into action.
What is one of your biggest strengths that make you who you are?
This is a really good question, and one I have never been asked before. I have been sitting here for the last 20 mins trying to think of how / what the answer is to this.
I think I would say, empathy. It has not always seen me come out on top, but it is something that has always allowed me to see something from the other person perspective, right or wrong. I think this has been a factor in building a brand that has a very relative voice.
Have you ever experienced sexism and if so, how did you deal with it?
Yes. And this also goes back to what I said above about not simply accepting the status quo. If you would like to read more about my experience with it, you can do so in this article I recently published; WHY THE FORCE HAS TO BE FEMALE
How can we better support women to become leaders in their fields?
I think by asking more questions.
‘What do you want to do?’
‘What is inspires you, professionally & personally?’
‘How can we best support you?’
The landscape of workplaces is changing, people are working remotely, office hours are not only 9-5 now. We can, and have to work with more flexibility to accommodate the society we are in, the digital nature of how many business operate, and the global reach and as such the need to be working on international time zones.
Everyone is motivated differently, when you have the information on what that is, you can provide opportunities to get the best out of your people, to have an empowered leadership team.
How do you balance the busy life of business with family/social time?
One of the things I value most about my career, is that I have structured it to be able to run my own diary. This is something I do not take for granted, and appreciate it greatly.
For so long, we have been told to separate our professional & home life. Like when you finish at the office (or close the door on the home office) you switch from work mode to family mode. I thing this is very difficult, and almost more stressful. I try to fuse to the two as close together as possible – An example of this, is you might work through the entire weekend, but you might be travelling for work the following week, and you can add on an extra two days to the trip to see the city as a tourist.
Nothing is without sacrifice – I think that is also important to acknowledge. But at the end of the day, most things will still be waiting for you in your inbox tomorrow, so don’t miss out on the family & social moments for things that you may place greater urgency on, then is actually required of the task.
What tips or tricks can you offer other aspiring young women who want to pursue their dreams?
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, or to change careers. 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 and do it.
Also, don’t be afraid to fail. If you are not failing, you are probably not pushing your capabilities hard enough.
Where do see yourself and the brand in 5 years’ time?
I don’t know to be honest. I am in writing college at the moment, so I hope to turn my focus to writing over the next few years. The brand is going through a really exciting time as we move to be more of a best practice Retailer that has a branded offer, rather then just a brand that has a retail avenue. I have never really looked to far ahead. I feel like if I did that, I would be too set on a singular outcome, where as I try to stay open minded & wide eyed on how we can re-adjust along the way, possibly in ways we didn’t even think of previously.
What keeps you motivated?
Doing different projects. I am currently writing a lot. I want to start painting also. I think it is important to step away from things at times, not only does it allow you to get inspiration from other places, but it also allows you to re-visit with fresh eyes. It is very valuable.
What skills do you wish you had gained earlier in your career?
I definitely wish I knew financial management and business management earlier in my career. Maths was never something that came easily to me, and I when I started my own business, I naturally just lent towards things that I enjoyed doing – and as such, got myself into a real financial dilemma!
Who was your favourite celebrity that has worn your designs?
What’s the next big trend in jewellery for Spring 2017?
I have no idea! People think because I work in fashion, I know what the trends are. I don’t. I design what I want to wear, and I design for the SW Woman; she is gracious enough to speak with me daily on social media, so we have an ongoing conversation. I know her & we are very similar. That’s how I design.
Was there ever an ’OMG, I actually did it!!’ moment?
Every single day! Ha!
As a kid, I would be the ultimate dabbler… Like I would start a musical instrument, then a few months (sometimes weeks) later, would loose interest and be on to something else. I would be ALL IN on something, and then leave it just as quick.
When I started the SAMANTHA WILLS brand, I remember about two years in, I had this great press placement and excitedly sent it through to my parents. My dad says ‘That’s great Possum! I mean, I just bloody impressed you’re still doing this, I thought it would a three week phase, but here you are, two years in and still going! I never thought I’d see the day!’
Australia is very isolated geographically from the rest of the world, add to that growing up in a more rural area, it can often feel like lots of experiences or opportunities are either out of reach, or even not at all even a possibility. I think my mind-set growing up was the latter. Growing up in Port Macquarie, Sydney was SO far away – the big city! So to be now based in NYC, it is greater than what my dreams could ever have been!
Let us know if this advice will help you achieve your dreams!