Back in 2004, Samantha Wills invested her last $500 to show her jewellery at Australian Fashion Week. The gamble paid off. At just 21 years old, she launched her first collection, but three years later, she was nearly $70,000 in debt and couldn’t keep up with the demand for her pieces.
“The brand was gaining momentum, but there weren’t enough hours in the day for me to make all the jewellery I needed,” she tells Business Chicks.
“In the early days, no one took me seriously as I was so young. I remember going in to present my collection to a large account one day. Just as I’d finished setting up they said, ‘Thanks for getting that ready, but interns don’t normally present to us. When’s Samantha showing up?’”
These days, Samantha Wills mostly splits her time between New York and Sydney. She has a $12 million turnover, and the brand is stocked in 80 countries around the world. We caught up with Samantha ahead of her appearance at 9 to Thrive this year.
Name: Samantha Wills
Reach: 225K followers
Where I live: New York City
Current gig: Creative Director, SAMANTHA WILLS
Tech I use: iphone 7+, Macbook Pro
Apps I couldn’t live without: Uber
One word that sums up your life: Transient
My first email address was: [email protected]…
What I was doing before this interview…
I was running errands around Manhattan, after doing a morning SoulCycle class. I just had a new indoor palm delivered and when I was cutting off the brown paper it was wrapped in, it tipped and dirt went EVERYWHERE.
What’s gets you out of bed in the morning?
I am much better getting out of bed in the summer time! I also have my alarm set to my BOSE speaker, so it’s a bit of a chill / gradual wake up to music.
Have you ever felt like an imposter? When?
Yes. Everyday of my career! Being creative was my hobby. I didn’t study it, so it feel very fraudulent to have a creative venture that is a business. I think a common fear with creative, is they are always waiting for someone to knock on the front door and tell them to jig is up, and its time to go get a real job now!
I also get asked a lot about fashion – I don’t really know a lot about fashion. I know what I like, but because I work in the industry, people think I know what I’m talking about, like I always get asked ‘what’s the next big jewellery trend?’ I have no idea. I just design what I want to wear.
Do you ever achieve Inbox Zero? Or is it mission impossible?
I have twice! And it felt SO good! One of them was an actual clear/file my inbox – the other was because my computer crashed, and I didn’t back up, so I had to buy a new computer and start everything all over again. That was not so good. It was actually a fucking nightmare.
Do you have a fitness routine? What do you do?
Yes. I do SOUL CYCLE in NYC about 8 or 9 times a week. I love it, I ride with one of New York’s best instructors, Mantas Zvinas. I SOMETIMES run, but I would not call myself a runner.
What’s in your fridge right now?
Coconut milk, feta cheese and wine. Lots of wine.
How did you grow your audience to over 225K followers?
By speaking WITH people, not TO them. When Instagram started, the @SamanthaWills account was my personal account and the brand account all-in-one. As the platform, and the brand grew, we had to make the decision to separate them. Also, because I was doing more across different ambassador and public speaking roles, so the content all became too confusing for one feed.
Now the brand has a dedicated one @SamanthaWillsOfficial which is run by the Head Office team, and it pretty focused on product. In addition to mine, I also run @SamanthaWillsFoundation which is very business focused.
Open places offices are the best /worst thing that happened to the workplace because …
I think they are a great thing. (I say that, having an office with a door however!) The majority of our head office is open plan, albeit it is in a split-level building, so it does keep departments together.
I think they have their pros and cons, but I think it makes for a much more in-sync team. I think as a manger / senior manager it can be hard to get your to-do list finished, because you are accessible to what seem like easy questions, but they take time to answer, and interrupt work flow. So as a senior manager, I think you need to be really strict with your time and when you are making yourself available. I think this is a good thing however, as it sets an expectation for your team to come to you prepared, which I think is productive for everyone.
Have you ever been fired? If so, how did that go down?
No. I’ve worked for myself since I was 21 years old! I’ve wanted to quit a few times, so I have definitely contemplated firing myself!
What’s your workspace look like?
My design space in NYC is extension of my apartment. Monochrome and minimal. I think it allows me to create more freely in a simplistic space. Our Sydney head office is similar to that also – its an old electrical substation, its white brick walls, and has beautiful old windows, with oversized greenery.
Where’s the weirdest place your work has taken you?
Once I flew to Vancouver for a 20 minute meeting. I have never been before, and it was in this weird industrial area, I had NO idea where I was and customs thought I was super dodgy just flying into the country for literally two hours and then back to JFK. It was before Uber or even smart phones really, and the meeting didn’t go well, so I couldn’t ask them to call me a cab, and I had no Canadian Dollars, so I just walked in a direction until I saw what I thought was possibly a cab. It all felt very dodgy!
What’s your best timesaving shortcut or life hack?
It’s more a mentality / rule – rather then putting something on your to-do list, if it is going to take you less then three mins then just do it.
Current Netflix binge / Podcasts I’m listening to / books I’m reading?
I am actually in a 1990’s Sandra Bullock rom-com phase on Netflix!
I need to get into podcasts more. I really enjoyed the first season of Serial, and I also listened to Missing Richard Simmonds, which I thought was fascinating. I’m reading The Road Less Travelled right now.
How much time do you spend on social media every week?
Not as much as I used to! It actually feels really good to notably spend less time on there. It becomes a very slippery slope. So I try to be conscious of catching myself if I am on there and down a rabbit hole, looking at how they bake and layer those rainbow cakes, that they then fill with m&ms, or the ‘Here’s what the cast of KIDS INCORPORATED or Degrassi Junior High look like now!’ (I love those ones.)
What do you do to forget about work? Recharge?
Reading or watching films actually switch my mind off from work. I am much better then I used to be, the first few years I had no capacity to step away, physically or mentally, but the older I have gotten, the more perspective I have, and its definitely not as hard to step away anymore.
I also like to have a fun vacation always booked, even if it is six or 12 months away. My girlfriends and I make a point of adventuring, and we are always planning our next one on the one we are on at the time.
What’s the last thing you do before going to bed?
Text my girlfriends, if they are asleep I watch Netflix (I usually don’t go to sleep til about 1:30am) right before I am falling asleep. I always say a little gratitude prayer to the universe, no matter how short, I always acknowledge something I am grateful for.
How many hours sleep per night do you get?
It depends how much of a handle I get on my jetlag! I LIKE to get eight hours, and I am a better person with eight hours, but I would say I average about six hours per night.
What’s one thing no one else knows about you?
I (really) hate being called Sam!
Want to hear Samantha Wills talk about her business experience at 9 to Thrive? Of course you do. Jump over to our 9 to Thrive page for tickets, schedule and the full speaker lineup.
Read more about Samantha’s journey from market stall to million dollar empire.