Why would someone walk away from a $10 million business they’ve spent 15 years building? Samantha Wills was only 21 when she began her boho-chic jewellery line from her kitchen table, before reaching the heights of success with Hollywood celebrities snapped wearing her designs and The New York Times calling her a ‘break-out star’.
For a girl who grew up in Port Macquarie, north of Sydney, it was a stratospheric rise to success. But no one saw the turmoil she endured behind the scenes – the bleeding, calloused fingers and all-nighters trying to fulfil huge orders.
All they saw was that her designs were featured on Sex and the City and stars like Nicky Hilton and Eva Mendes were wearing them.
“From 2008 when Eva Mendes wore our Bohemian Bardot ring, it never left the top of the bestsellers list. We moved nearly one million of them and released them in 366 colour ways. It changed the trajectory of the business and very much, my life.”
Ms Wills drew the attention of international media, moved to New York city and was living the dream. But it wasn’t the jewellery she loved; it was the opportunity to be creative, and when that creativity began to wane, she realised it was time to call it quits. Having designed 12,000 pieces of jewellery, once she decided to close her business in January 2019, she didn’t miss it at all.
Ms Wills ventured into jewellery design at a young age, never dreaming it would become a career. Back then, she wanted to be a dolphin trainer, but when her mother signed her up for a beading class when she was 12, she soon began to sell her designs at her mum’s fashion boutique in Port Macquarie, making $20 or $30 a week.
Fast-forward to the creation of the popular Samantha Wills brand, and she couldn’t keep up with orders at Bondi Markets, where she first began to gain a following.
“For the first three years, I did absolutely everything myself,” she says. “You get really excited when an order comes in for 40 pairs of the same earrings, but then you have to sit up all night making 80 earrings. Sometimes I made jewellery for 23 hours a day. I still have callouses.”
Ms Wills speaks of being featured in glossy magazines and feeling like no one knew the truth of the many years of hard work that went into becoming “an overnight success”. She felt compelled to share the reality behind the glittering success story.
While living in New York, she did a course at Gotham Writers Workshop and decided to write a tell-all memoir. The result was her recently released book, Of Gold and Dust, a revealing look into her life and a blueprint for those who want to follow their passions. On May 26, she’ll visit the Coast to discuss her book at the Gold, Sparkle, SHINE Ladies Lunch.
“I liked the vulnerability of writing memoir,” she says. “It was like a literary time machine. You have to sit with yourself at 25 and 30 and it can be confronting, especially in darker times. I share a lot of personal elements in my book. It was torturous in parts, but also cathartic in parts.”
In 2016, she launched the Samantha Wills Foundation, a platform that offers articles, insight and resources that can be accessed any time of the day or night.
Ms Wills has a genuine desire to help others avoid some of the pitfalls she encountered during her 15 years in business and wants to encourage people to follow their dreams. Looking back on her life, she believes everything happened the way it was supposed to.
“There’s a cosmic choreography about it,” she says. “I can look back on a 20-year journey and pinpoint these star-crossed moments and believe there was a higher power guiding me.”
Meet Samantha Wills at the Gold, Sparkle, SHINE Ladies Lunch, Wednesday, May 26, 11.30 to 2pm at the Mercure Sunshine Coast, Kawana Waters. To book, visit shinebusinesswomen.com and click ‘events’.