Yet never in all that excitement did I think my first words would be ‘Oh Hunny, we’ve all been with a shmuck’ … I’m actually not exaggerating.
If you were there, or at any of her appearances you would understand exactly why there would be no hesitation to speak to Samantha the same way you would to one of your girlfriends. This wasn’t just because she obviously shared her story, but because her demeanour was so genuine and organic, because at the end you didn’t just see the achievements and accolades, you saw a woman who had been through it, and still fights to make a difference in all our lives.
Her story is one of determination, loss, triumph and reinvention and it was my absolute pleasure to have an opportunity to sit down with her for an interview …
Listening to your story was without doubt one of the most moving talks I have ever heard.
Thankyou! I appreciate that very much! x
What inspired you to share your story so openly? Can you give our readers a little glimpse into your journey so far?
I grew up in small town called Port Macquarie. I barely finished school and didn’t go to university, so I stayed in Port for two years after highschool and had many jobs; a waitress at Hogs Breath café, a promo girl for the local radio station (my on air name was Sami on the Street) – and then I got a job at Prouds the Jewellers in Port Central Shopping centre. The jeweller on premise took me under his wing and taught me everything there is to know about jewellery, it was an intensive training course for what I did not know was to come in the following years.
I knew there was a big world out there and that it was time to go and explore it. When I was 20, I moved to Sydney to live with my best friend and started making jewellery just as a hobby for friends, I was working in a surf retail store full time and would make jewellery in the evenings and quite quickly a party plan style business formed, friends would ask to bring the jewellery over to their house and they would invite their friends over and it grew from there.
I started selling down at Bondi Markets, a friend down there had a distribution business and had a booth at Australian fashion week representing multiple designers, he asked me if I wanted to take a small spot on it. It was going to be $500. I took it hoping to make one order back and ended up writing $17,000 worth of orders in the four days! I quit my retail job the next day and decided to give everything I had to building a brand…that was in 2004. I brought a business partner, Geoff Bainbridge into the business in 2007 and with my creative mind and his business one, we had the perfect foundation for a commercially successful creative venture.
The brand continued to evolve over the years and in 2010 Patricia Field selected our product for the Sex and the City 2 film (terrible film!! But was brilliant to have our product aligned with the SATC brand!) and it opened a lot of doors for us internationally.
I made the move to NYC to build the brand over there, and am still there now.
For 15 years you created incredible jewellery loved and worn by so many – what was the most gratifying thing about creating the brand and the most gratifying thing about letting it go?
That’s a great question.
The most gratifying thing about creating the brand was the sense of community. Both internally as a team and externally as customers became community. It became bigger than I could have ever imagined and in that process it meant that we had a large reach and were able to use our platform and community to raise awareness and take a stand on things we and our community were passionate about.
In letting go, I think the most gratifying thing was exactly that; letting go. Surrendering.
While making the decision to close was the biggest decision of my life, it was also the calmest one I have ever made. I would spend 6 weeks in New York and 10 days in Sydney consistently, it was an intense schedule, but one I was committed to. By 2017 I realized I had competed my 100th flight between Sydney and JFK airport. That was almost 2500 hours spent on an aircraft, 2500 hours with my feet off the ground. And that didn’t include the trip to China or our European offices in between.
We (my business partner and I ) tried every which way to solve it, put in a new Creative Director, appoint a new head designer, the base of the strategy was to allow me to travel less, but whatever avenue we tried seemed to be roadblocked. It was as if the universe kept presenting shut doors, and while at the time it was frustrating, I see now there was something ahead on my path that I was being guided towards, it just took me a while to realize it.
By 2018, I knew that I had to make a decision, and I thought the decision was between moving back to Australia to remain dedicated to the brand, but to remove the travel. I went to a holistic retreat in upstate New York to try to get clarity on if that was the right thing to do, I wanted to quieten my mind so I could really hear what my heart was trying to say, and it was up there that I realized it was actually time to close the book on this chapter.
Geoff had sent me an email, and the title of the email was “the business is at crossroads”, in the email he outlined that the choice was up to me how we proceed forward as a brand, and whatever my decision, he would support it from a business structure perspective. I received the email while I was upstate at the retreat, and when I checked my phone and saw the title, the business is at crossroads, I looked up and I was standing at a literal crossroads.
Rather than looking at it as an insane coincidence, I put my hand on my heart and just knew in that very instant, for the first time ever, that it was time to close.
It was 15 years into the journey and I knew we had done all we wanted to as a brand.
It wasn’t financial, and I had no interest in selling the business, that would mean selling my name and there is much more I want to do in my career. I also didn’t have the heart to hand the brand over to a new owner and see what they do with it, I felt that closing was the right decision to honour the legacy of everything we had achieved. I took a leaf out of the Seinfeld book to go out on a high.
I didn’t tell anyone, then the next morning I woke up and asked myself “you don’t have a company anymore, how does that feel?” I asked as if I had already implemented the decision, and it felt right every time I asked myself that. Two weeks later, I told Geoff, a few weeks after that we told the team, and then we announced it publicly.
It was the biggest decision I have ever made in my life, but it was the calmest one, and for it to be calm meant I had to truly surrender to the unknown. To really sit in that uncertainty. And for the first time in my life, that felt gratifying.
One of the things that really resonated with me when listening to you is, if you strip back all of our different careers, statuses, beliefs – in the end we’re all just women, we experience heart breaks, joys and disappointments in the exact same way. Do you think there’s a need for us to be even more compassionate towards one another and share our stories to lift each other up?
I absolutely think there is a need for us to share our stories. I think it is through storytelling that we find connection, through storytelling that we see a little piece of ourselves in others stories, and when we can see ourselves in others there is natural empathy and compassion because it connects us.
It connects our wins and celebrations and it also connects our heart aches and our pains. That is important, especially on the latter. The power of feeling you are not experiencing something alone can only be felt when we share vulnerably with each other.
What are your hopes with the constant evolution of female empowerment?
My hope is that we can start to treat ourselves the way we treat our best friend. Talk kinder to ourselves and really mean it, to take responsibility for when our thoughts turn to self judgement – we are so hard wired in areas of our own self value that our conditioning of inner shit talk to ourselves has almost become white noise – there is great danger in that.
As my girlfriends started to have children, I found myself thinking about their new babies, but especially their daughters. It made any thought I had about feminism – about how far we had come, but how far we still had to go – so much more meaningful. Suddenly I had these little nieces who were in my life, and it was an immediate reality of the effect of the work we are doing today and how it will directly effect people I know and love.
One day I shocked myself by coming to the realization that I actually wasn’t worried about my nieces generation, they would know no different, they would have a myriad of examples of how women were at the end of their bullshit tether, they would only know a world where the Times Up movement is, a world where a collective of voices is now speaking up with their own experiences, many stories that have not been spoken till now for as many reasons.
They would not be raised in a time in society where if you spoke up about something that made you feel compromised you would ostracize yourself in the work place or socially, and as such your reputation, such is the digital fingerprint created in this time we live in.
The core of empowerment is self-worth and we are a generation in the midst of great change.
I was born in December 1981 and the experiences and observations I’ve gathered over those years have become a blueprint in my mind. Seemingly little things add up to the major things and your reality is formed. These experiences form your opinions, of others and of yourself. “Its just how it was back then” is a sentence I think we are all finding ourselves saying as a new normal is upon us, as finally we are now hearing from women who have been violated and are now having the opportunity to talk about it, not easily or without risk of losing their job or reputation, but talking about it out loud – a concept that has been impossible before – we see our own experiences in them and when we flash back to when the same or similar thing happened to us we probably recall the uneasy feeling that the event brought but as it was happening to most of our peers we just assumed that’s how things where – we now know that it was wrong, but that doesn’t erase that it still happened, we still have the memory of it, the experience of it. So what do we do with all these memory files?
All those files make up the blue print of our mind, the folders that hold the files of information of the comments you would over hear at backyard BBQ’s in the 80’s like “that’s a women’s job”, “don’t cry like a little girl” (to a male) or how our parents would refer to the girl in your year who wore a short skirt and had multiple ear piercings as a “tramp” as if the title was a natural affiliation for the hemline and earrings.
Or if a boy in your year made out with two different girls at the one party, he was labeled a hero, and if a girl did the same she was a slut. Or if a girl spoke up about not being comfortable in the position she was in, she was thought of as making a fuss, or even possibly inconveniencing someone because of it, we became accustomed to laugh it off. We make a joke out of it to lessen how much it diminishes us. I list these things as they are all instilled thoughts in my mind from what I knew as my normal growing up.
Even though I don’t agree with any of these things today, they are still ingrained in my psyche, they contribute to a default thought process in how I approach thoughts; never more so than about myself. An example I can give of this is when I noticed that I often speak quicker when talking about myself to a man, as not to take up any unnecessary amount of his time, because once a boy a few years older than me in high school told me I had wasted his time because I accepted his invitation to hang out at his house one Saturday afternoon but didn’t sleep with him.
So it shouldn’t come as a shock to me when I look back with hindsight that when I found out my boyfriend was cheating on me with multiple people, rather than move on to find someone who was respectful and kind, I went about analyzing myself with a magnifying glass to identify all the things about me that he might not have liked and as such that I needed to change. My blueprint thought process didn’t naturally compute that he cheated on me because he is an arsehole, it went back through the files and found that he must have cheated on me because I was not good enough, that I needed to find a way to make life easier for him so that he would stay. I was 33, and while I knew better, I still felt that way.
So I sat with myself. Like really sat, cross legged on the floor and closed my eyes and tried to bypass the blueprint computer files that would flash up in my mind like Tom Cruise in Minority Report, and I went beyond the home screen folder. I went deeper and darker into them – no longer content to accept that because these are my blue print files, than these are my thoughts, I wanted to understand how every blueprint file got into my hard drive. Let me tell you, it’s a pretty fucking confronting process.
And while I feel it is a process that will have no end to it, and I don’t know if I have truly even scratched the surface, I wanted to take the time to go through each file because each held the answer of why I feel the way I do. About life, about love, about my body, about it all. And I felt that I had to read all the files to be able to start to clear them and replace them with new ones. So I started to write about them. Some might make it into books, some might never leave the pages of my note book. But the process was important to the journey of understanding why I felt the way I felt about things, about what my personal truths were vs what my generational conditioning was, because our personal truths are our beliefs – and our beliefs are what we use to make our choices and decisions.
There is much to dissect, much to sift through, much to let go.
Our personal truths and our beliefs form our self-worth.
So to answer your question, my hope for the future of female empowerment is that we can be strong enough to sit in our own darkness, to sift through the murkiness, to touch the very bottom of it, to understand it and release it. That is my hope for the future of female empowerment, it starts at the core of each and every one of us.
I, along with I’m sure so many, would love to know more about the Samantha Wills Foundation – why did you to start it and what is the goal?
I wanted to create a platform that spoke about the realities of small business. Not the fluff and the glamorous ‘overnight success story’, (because that does not exist), but the hardships and hurdles. Everyone is experiencing them, but no one was talking about them. We had become so accustomed to working in such isolation.
There is nothing more isolating than to feel you are experiencing a tough situation alone, so with the Samantha Wills Foundation I wanted to create a 24 hour always accessible portal that entrepreneur’s can log into at any hour of the day and read real stories able how others have faced hardships. They might simply feel comforted enough that someone else has experienced it also and that’s enough to push them to keep at it, or they might find the answer to their solution in the sharing’s of others.
As a young designer starting out, all I saw was the glossy monthly designer profiles. If I could have had access to a platform at 3am when I was up with anxiety about the debt I was in, and have been able to read that others had experienced the pressure of debt also – that would have been a game changer for me.
The goal is to share truths, not just the highlight reel.
We can’t be what we can see.
What does the next chapter hold?
What does true success mean to you in 3 words?
Honesty. Empathy. Integrity.
Image courtesy of Scott Ahler Photography