Written by Hannah Pronesti.
I’ve been a fan of Samantha Wills jewellery for quite a few years now, and even more of a fan of the woman behind the designs. An Aussie girl hailing from Port Macquarie NSW, Samantha is a talented, hardworking entrepreneur whose jewellery making has grown from a hobby that started on her dining room table, to a world renowned brand with a bohemian luxe feel.
Samantha is now based in New York, and through a serendipitous turn of events I was given the opportunity to meet up with her while I was holidaying there. We met for coffee at Café Cluny in the West Village, a gorgeous little French bistro. When Samantha walked in, it was obvious that she was ‘someone’ – tall and bronzed, with tousled hair, she still hasn’t lost that Aussie beach babe vibe even after almost four years of living in the Big Apple. With an apartment in Tamarama, Samantha regularly visits home in between work.
“I’m very lucky I get the best of both worlds. Growing up on the coast I constantly took it for granted, but appreciate it so much more now,” she says.
Since making the move to New York, her Samantha Wills brand has become even more prolific and is often seen adorning a variety of A list celebrities. While this still feels surreal, Samantha says it’s seeing her designs worn by the average girl that really excites her. “When you see a girl wearing it on the street you know that she’s put her own money towards it, she’s thought about the purchase and it’s important to her, so that has definitely more meaning to me,” she explains.
The brand has also gained quite the following on social media, with over 115,000 followers on Instagram, and Samantha still personally handles a large majority of the posts. “I think it’s the biggest communication point, the biggest voice of the brand, so I feel it has to come from the creative director. Anything that has the ‘SWx’ is from me and I really want to make sure that that remains. We’re really lucky to be designers and brand builders in this day and age because with digital media you’re talking to your customers and they’re talking to you.”
This kind of interaction was reassuring after the release of the latest Mineral range, which Samantha Wills followers went crazy for. “I didn’t think it would have that big of a response, but it was SUCH a response and that in itself is really motivating,” Samantha admits.
Despite the brand’s seemingly meteoric rise, Samantha admits it has taken a lot of hard work and sacrifice to reach such success. “I started the company so young, it’s officially ten years old this year. Part of the success of taking that leap for me was the naivety of ‘Oh this’ll be a walk in the park’. I had no concept of what lay ahead. For the first 3 years I worked 20hrs a day, I didn’t take a holiday, I ate baked beans. It’s literally throwing your heart and soul on the line.”
Luckily for the designer, the long workdays and canned meals eventually paid off, and the fact that the brand has an office in New York is testament to that. What says success more than New York City!? The move to New York was something of a natural progression for not only the brand, but for Samantha herself. “People come here to further their career, better themselves. You come here to have that experience, and I feel like everyone is sort of moving in the same direction. It’s very much a city of connections and everyone is very willing to share their network.”
Though she see’s the city as a place of opportunity, Samantha also acknowledges the struggles of living in such a populated place “It’s a hustle every single day. There’s so many people here that you do have to elbow your way to the front and fight for everything that you can get, but if you do get it, then the pay off is incredible.”
Though there have been countless memorable moments in the brand’s 10 years, Samantha says the most surreal was when one of her products was featured in the Sex and the City film. “We’d lent the product to the stylist about 12 months before and my general manager Skyped me one night and said, ‘Your never gonna’ believe what we got today!’ and it was a card from Patricia Field that said, ‘Two hands in the air for the big city, thanks for making us look so pretty’ and we were like, ‘Does that mean were in?! What does that mean?!’ Then to see it on the big screen, that was beyond comprehension.”
The Samantha Wills empire, although originally consisting of just jewellery, has grown into something of a lifestyle brand, perhaps helped along by the ‘slice of life’ nature of Instagram, and though she feels the term ‘lifestyle brand’ is overused, Samantha agrees that it’s part of the appeal. “I think because the brand is a person’s name it’s a lot easier to infuse that lifestyle element – because it IS someone’s lifestyle, my lifestyle, that I’m presenting through the brand.”
So has the big city had much of an impact on Samantha’s designs? “Yes and no. I think it has definitely evolved, but that’s probably a mixture of a few different things. I wouldn’t say it’s purely a result of being in New York – I mean, when I started the company I was 21 years old, so I think personal style evolves, as do the designs.”
Samantha says her personal style has remained true to her bohemian origins, “Although probably with a bit more of a luxe finish, which also resonates through to my designs.”
Her latest offering, which launched in August, is the Samantha Wills handbag range, debuting with a series of clutches made from handcrafted leather, raffia and plaited matte satin. Each is encrusted with a signature SW jewel or stone, and this feature provides the common thread between jewellery and handbags. “We felt that with costume jewellery being the origins of the brand, the next organic progression also had to include jewellery. This project has been in the works for over a year now because we wanted to make sure that we were happy with the quality and execution, and we’re beyond happy with it.”
When I met with Samantha, she was preparing to fly back to Australia the following day, then travelling on to China and Hong Kong before returning to New York. With such a jet set lifestyle, it’s clear that Samantha has come a long way from that 21 year old from Port Macquarie, selling handmade jewelry at markets, but meeting her is proof that she is just as down to earth, creative and genuine as she was when she started and the success and support for the Samantha Wills brand continues to surprise her. “We have a group of followers of the brand who are just so passionate, it’s like nothing I’ve ever seen and I think, to see that kind of following for something that I started on my dining room table… it still blows me away.”
Before we parted, Samantha handed me a carved wooden box with Samantha Wills etched on the side. Being the Samantha Wills fan that I am, I always get excited when I’m given a gift that comes in one of these boxes! Inside was a gorgeous gold and turquoise bangle engraved with the words ‘Adventure into the Wanderlust’. I wore it for the rest of my trip and will cherish it always. Thanks Samantha, for bringing a bit of magic to my NYC adventure xx.