Samantha Wills

Meet the founder of the wildly popular eponymous jewelry brand who closed that chapter of her life and started a new one built around helping fellow female entrepreneurs.

We read your book and positively loved it; you’re a beautiful writer. We encourage everyone to grab a copy of “Of Gold & Dust”! Can you explain the title?

Thank you so much! The book went through about 300 title options! The original working title was Public Brand, Private Life. The book was signed to be a business memoir, but the more I wrote, the more I saw it had to be so much more than that: it was the parallels of what people might have seen of—by all accounts—a successful brand, but then it also tells the story of what went on behind the scenes personally as those levels of success were being reached. 

My editor felt that Public Brand, Private Life was too harsh, so while I was still writing the manuscript, I would jot down titles that came to me that were a bit more poetic. In the end, literally the very last title idea I had, was of gold & dust. I felt it not only represented the parallels, but the alchemy of different moments along the journey. Some moments you are in the golden sun, other times you are face down in the dust. That is the reality of it and a reality I wanted to share in these stories.

For those who don’t know your story yet, please give them a little teaser: what did you do before starting the Samantha Wills Institute and what drove you to leave your former career behind?

I started a jewelry business when I was 21 years old on a tiny market table on Australia’s Bondi Beach. I saw it purely as a hobby and then I serendipitously was offered a spot to display my pieces on a showroom wall at Australian Fashion Week. The fee was going to be $500, which to 21-year old me in 2004 was a lot of money! I took the spot opportunistically, hoping to make one order to cover the costs of the fee, but ended up writing $17,000 worth of orders and quit my ‘real’ job the next day. I threw absolutely everything I had into building this accessories brand that I ever so modestly named Samantha Wills. 

There were many peaks and troughs along the way: I was a whisker away from having to declare bankruptcy, but the Universe threw me one of many lifelines and the brand and business went on to achieve international success. We have dressed everyone from Taylor Swift, Beyoncé, Rihanna, and Jennifer Lopez to having our product appear in Sex and the City

The brand became so big, we had prime time spots on QVC and sales offices around the world, but 15 years in, I knew creatively that we had done all that the brand was meant to do. So I made the biggest decision of my life and that was to close the brand (not sell). I wanted to retain the rights to my name and I knew I had more creative ventures to offer in the future; I also wanted the brand to go out on a high. 

We did a six-month closure and celebrated the brand, people, and community and closed the business in early 2019.

We know from reading your book that you went through a tumultuous time both physically and emotionally, but if we may say so, you seem to have come out the other side happier, healthier, and wiser. What’s changed in your life to make that so?

Well the good thing about age is that it comes with wisdom! 

In the early days I would hustle so hard, say yes to everything and just push, push, push, buying entirely into the hustle culture and doing everything I could do avoid burnout. But the truth is, there is no avoiding burnout: I believe the only way to avoid burnout is to actually burn out. It is only then that you realize the value of your health, the fact that you cannot have a healthy business if you, the founder, are not healthy. 

Personally, I also started to value myself in relationships more: for the longest time I felt I would often bend myself into a shape or style of who I thought that person (specifically in romantic relationships) wanted me to be. Outwardly my professional self-esteem was 100%, but personally, my self-esteem was all but nonexistent. After a particulary brutal breakup, I was forced into a time of darkness and in that time, really discovered that at the core of self-esteem is self worth, and that somewhere along the way, I had allowed mine to dissolve. So that was a big personal moment of finding the gold in the dust and having to rebuild.

We’re close to Valentine’s Day, which is of course about so much more than romantic love; we want to focus more on self-love because it’s something many of us struggle with. What daily practices and rituals do you have in place to show yourself love and care?

I have a few rituals that I think are the pillars of my self-care. 

Protecting how you spend your energy is something I have become stringent with in my later years. No longer hanging out with people who I walk away from feeling drained or depleted, no longer over stacking my diary with meetings and things I think I ‘should’ be doing. But really listening to when my body and energy feel good, and honoring that. 

Following my intuition and really listening to it, especially creatively. I really pay attention to ideas that pop into my mind now; I take them seriously. I sit with them and assess if they are for me or for me to pass on and encourage someone else to fulfill and bring to life. Trusting my intuition has become a huge part of my life and one I wish I had leaned into sooner. It is never wrong and always guiding us to exactly where we are meant to be going. The other thing I will add to that is differentiating when we approach something with a thought versus a feeling. For example, if we respond to a question with “well, I think…” vs. “Well, I fell…”, those are very different approaches. We can talk ourselves in and out of anything, but we simply cannot fake a feeling. I think honoring that and feeling into and trusting our intuition is the highest form of self care.

There’s this other component of love in what you do: love for your fellow female founders and creators. Please tell us about about the Institute, and how a female founder who needs a little guidance can work with you.

The Samantha Wills Institute launched in 2016 as a complete side project to the jewelry business. It was a place I shared stories about the realities of business—the bits beyond the Instagram highlight reel. It was never anything I expected to do full time, but there became a bigger demand for it and all the ‘real’ insights into what running a business entailed. 

Now it is a much bigger platform: I post on it daily in our Members Journal, little articles or resources for creative founders. I have also compiled some online programs in which I hand over two decades of business and branding knowledge. We focus on female founders and it is run on the philosophy that sharing resources and working as a community helps us to all rise.

Your aesthetic is also so romantic! We get lost in your Instagram. Have you always had such an impeccable eye?

That is very kind of you to say! I have always been creative, especially with spaces. Even as a teen, my mum and dad kindly let me design my room however I wanted, (as long as it stayed in the four walls of the bedroom) so I painted murals, hung Troll dolls from the ceiling to have a roof of neon fuzz (it was the 90’s!), and was always creating something. 

I think having that early creative freedom and no concept of right or wrong when it comes to creativity (and in my case, being a self-taught jewelry designer!) really allows you to see the world in a different way; in the way you see it, rather than a way that you have been taught to see it.

What’s next for Samantha Wills?

Writing is my big focus at the moment. I hope that of gold & dust will come off the page and we will see her on screen. I am working on a new book plus also on some film script ideas! Storytelling has always been at the heart of what I do, be it jewelry design, working with female founders, or more literally on page and screen. Storytelling is what I am passionate about and I hope to do that for a long time to come.

Samantha's Onda Picks


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