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Of Gold and Dust, Samantha Wills on jewellery, heartbreak and hard work

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Samantha Wills is coming to Canberra on Friday to share her journey and inspire businesswomen.

She is known the world over for adorning the earlobes and fingers of Hollywood celebrities with her must-have statement jewellery designs, but Samantha Wills now started a new journey—in storytelling.

After making the choice to leave her New York base and close her eponymous jewellery empire in 2019, Samantha has this week published her autobiography Of Gold and Dust, which provides a brutally honest account of her rise from crafty kid selling homemade jewellery in the schoolyard, to A-list fashion accessory it-girl and marketing guru. And for every massive high, Samantha reveals the equally massive lows—in business, her personal life and her health.

Samantha is a keynote speaker in a special Canberra business event Inspire on Friday. It is part of her move from the design and marketing of jewellery collections into the mentoring and master-classes of new generations of entrepreneurs.

Samantha will be providing first-hand advice and lived experience on everything from starting up a business to propelling it forward into a globally successful company.

“I think my story hands over two decades of everything I know about branding and business and the human element in between,” she said.

“Social media has plenty of Instagram cheerleaders and highlight reels, but a big part of my story is addressing my vulnerability. Some parts of my journey were so incredibly hard, like, crawl-up-in-a-ball-on-the-floor hard. It is important to talk about how you can possibly handle that side of things.”

Her journey was fraught with setbacks and near-misses as well as some devastating personal episodes.

One minute, her designs are being chosen for the Sex in the City movie, the next, she discovers her partner has cheated on her with eight other women and she is alone in New York wondering how she can pick herself up off the bathroom tiles.

Meanwhile, she continually has to defend herself in the press against the misconception she’s an overnight success.

The book quickly dispels this notion as it catalogues Samantha’s entrepreneurial life—including the 12 years of long, hard slog that it took for her to reach her globally-recognised position and the rollercoaster of personal set-backs she endured along the way.

At just 11 years of age, she began selling handmade jewellery from the playground of her primary school in the east coast surfing town of Port Macquarie. Her mum had enrolled her at a beading workshop during the school holidays—never realising that those craft shop walls would help shape Samantha’s future to such an enormous extent.

The only daughter of two small business people, Samantha started earning more serious money when she scaled a ladder to the roof of her parent’s clothing boutique to clean the sign. Showing a keen eye for closing a business deal, she washed half the sign for free before charging her dad $20 to finish the job—a strategy she employed as she washed signs right along the shopping strip.

Enrolling in visual retail merchandising at TAFE, Samantha and her bestie decided to make a break for Sydney. But a basketball injury turns Samantha’s attention to her old craft box and she starts making jewellery again.

And her journey begins. She spends years making each piece herself, selling them at the Bondi markets, running jewellery parties and relying on word-of-mouth for sales, never quite convinced that her pathway is as a jewellery designer and relying on a day job in a surf-wear shop.

And she almost turns down an invitation from a friend to take a tiny stall at Australian Fashion Week. Samantha is open about her self-doubt all the way through her book. She could barely afford the $500 registration fee and survives the rest of the week on the $9 left in her account. That is another thing she is disarmingly open about—the financial calamities she faces regularly as she learns to juggle the finances behind a small business.

This includes one point in her journey where she owes $80,000 on credit cards and very nearly sells a majority share of her own company.

But Samantha’s design ethic speaks for itself. Her pieces catch the eyes of those who matter—everyone from the staff at Australian Women’s Weekly (who dress a young Delta Goodrem in a pair of ornate earrings for her cover shoot) to Sex in the City stylist Patricia Field.

As her business takes off, Samantha shows a dogged determination to work. She forgoes sleep to fill her ever-increasing order book, she hand-makes each piece until her fingers bleed and she simply refuses to give up.

“Sometimes I think it would have been far easier if I just admitted defeat,” she says with a laugh as she remembers where she got all those callouses on her hands.

Of Gold and Dust chronicles her entire journey, her fortuitous meeting with her eventual business partner Geoff Bainbridge, her insatiable thirst for his business acumen and mentorship, how she juggles the enormous sacrifices in building something big, in taking it international, and the emptiness she also feels as her star ascends.

And she finishes her story with by revealing her underlying battle with endometriosis which she ignores to her own peril in order to put the business first. Eventually, after making it to the top of her profession, Samantha decides to walk away.

Of Gold and Dust should be a textbook for anyone thinking seriously about their own start-up or just someone needing to be inspired by the power of hard work. It is a memoir told with warmth and honesty and it is a sobering reminder that “success” is not always a glittering prize.

THE ESSENTIALS

What: Canberra Outlet’s Inspire
When: Friday 5 March from 9.30 am–3.30 pm
Where: The Social Club, Green Square, Kingston
Tickets: $100, includes morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea and a luxe goodie bag. Purchase via Eventbrite
Website: eventbrite.com.au/e/canberra-outlets-inspire

 

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