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Samantha Wills went from $80,000 in debt to a global jewellery empire

The New Investors video series brought to you by Yahoo Finance reveals the secrets of the most successful entrepreneurs and business people in Australia today. This is the fourth episode of the season.

When Samantha Wills announced in August 2018 that she was shutting the doors of her global jewellery empire, it left her millions of fans stunned.

But this wasn’t just another Aussie label buckling under the ‘apocalypse’ that was sweeping the Australian retail sector.

The eponymously named Samantha Wills jewellery brand wasn’t cash-strapped by any means: iconic pieces designed by Wills had graced the screens of millions through Sex and the City and had famously been worn by Hollywood A-listers such as Eva Mendes, Taylor Swift, and Pink.

But, after the 15-year journey that the jewellery empress had embarked on as a 22-year-old, Wills decided it was time to close the $10 million business.

While a fast-paced designer lifestyle might seem glamorous and ideal to some, it was beginning to take its toll on Wills.

It was on her hundredth flight from Sydney to LA’s JFK airport that she realised she didn’t want to continue the lifestyle she’d created for herself, and penned a letter of resignation to her business partner.

“It was essentially to say, I want to take a board position with the company. I want to step out of the day-to-day. I was just done with the travel. It felt very ungrounding,” she told Yahoo Finance Editor-in-Chief Sarah O’Carroll.

(Source: Instagram/@samanthawills, samanthawills.com)

The $10 million dollar business that Wills was saying goodbye to was a far cry from where she’d started as a 22-year old at Bondi Markets saddled with $80,000 in debt and five maxed-out credit cards.

“By the time I was 24, the bank wouldn’t give me any more money, probably rightly so,” Wills recalled.

“I built this empire of a brand, but the business structure just didn’t follow.”

The major turnaround came when Wills found herself the right business partner in 2007 who would help her clear the debt within a few months.

From there, the business leapt from strength to strength, but caught on fire when Eva Mendes – emerging from rehabilitation and fronting the public eye for the first time in a while – was seen wearing the Bohemian Bardot ring in 2008.

“We sold out of the product within 24 hours. That placement for us really changed the trajectory of our entire business,” Wills recalled.

“That ring did not leave our best sellers list for the 10 years that was in circulation from the day Eva wore it to the day that we close.”

Fast forward another two years and Samantha Wills jewellery would go on to feature in the Sex and the City film. It would see the label rub shoulders with fashion houses such as Chanel, Manolo Blahnik and Ralph Lauren.

“It was the pinnacle in a global projection sense,” Wills said.

The label showed no signs of slowing down. In 2011 Wills would launch the Samantha Wills Bridal Division, followed by Samantha Wills Eyewear. Wills’ professional profile was also picking up, having been named the creative director and face of Yellowglen, a sparkling wine brand.

But the dream run had to end somewhere.

“I’d set my alarm for 90 minutes earlier than I needed to wake up, and I did that so that I could fall apart.”

At the time, Wills was spending six weeks in New York and ten days in Sydney on a consistent basis. Like a Jenga tower, everything was holding everything else up, she said. When Wills found out her boyfriend of three years was cheating on her, the whole structure tumbled around her ears.

“When I found out, I just couldn’t function. I couldn’t put a sentence together, I was just distraught,” Wills said.

“My friends would come over and get me out of bed long enough to change my sheets, and then I’d crawl back into them.”

But with the weight of a number of major contracts and several public-facing commitments that Wills had to fulfil, there was no room to hide. In between magazine cover shoots, though, Wills would be breaking down.

“I’d set my alarm for 90 minutes earlier than I need to wake up, and I did that so that I could fall apart.”

It was amid the darkness and grief that Wills launched the Samantha Wills Foundation to help business women share their personal stories.

“I think there’s a real need for vulnerable story-telling.

“We live in this Instagram age of this polished highlight reel and it’s not healthy and it’s not helpful.”

And after a 15-year run, Wills was ready to let go.

“I didn’t take this decision lightly by any means, but I knew the brand had achieved everything that I wanted it to.

“And we’d said everything. We were a brand that stood for a lot of things and we had a voice, and I wanted to take a leaf out of the Seinfeld model and close when we’re on a high. And I just need to honor the legacy of those 15 years.

“That was the right thing to do.”

The New Investors video series brought to you by Yahoo Finance reveals the secrets of the most successful entrepreneurs and business people in Australia today. This is the fourth episode of the season.