Jewellery designer Samantha Wills has been living her life between Sydney and New York for the past year, growing her global brand. It’s a far cry from the Bondi market stall she had just a few years ago.
“We are in the luxurious position of being able to research the market and refine our offer so that we are presenting strongly first up,” Wills says. “We sell to the USA online and we’ll be presenting to department stores from August this year.
“We had large distribution through the USA three years ago, but didn’t feel it was right from a global branding perspective. That is something a lot of brands lose sight of. If you are serious about positioning yourself as a global brand over the next 10-to-20 years, your distribution in the USA sets your place on how retailers and consumers see you.”
Q: How do you split your time between New York and Sydney?
A: I currently live in NYC so I am there most of the time but I do come home around two-to-three months out of the year. I absolutely adore NYC. It sounds so cliché, however it is just beyond inspiring. The creative and business people I have access to are leaders in their field, on a global scale. I feel very blessed to be able to work with such a talented pool of people and it allows me to really hone my craft and take my creativity to the next level. Australia will always be home and I’m always a little bit sad when I have to board a plane back to NYC, but I look at it as having the best of both worlds!
Q: The business has really ramped up its social media presence in the last year?
A: We track our digital presence like a hawk! This is crucial to our business. We do our very best to reply to every mention of the brand, whether that be re-blogging the post, directly commenting or engaging in full conversation. In this day and age, digital is the new conversation. Imagine if someone was talking about you and you just completely ignored them? If you do not acknowledge the people talking about you online (good or bad), I think it is extremely rude.
Social media is an instant way for retrieving direct feedback, delivering promotional material and developing relationships on a much more personal level with fans of the SW brand. It allows us to further reinforce our core value of exceptional customer experience. Hard as it is to receive negative feedback, I rely on such criticism to improve our customer service and experience. Without the direct and instant communication that Facebook and Twitter provide, we are unaware of our weaknesses and thus cannot grow as a business.
Q: How important has online marketing been to your brand and sales?
A: Online marketing has allowed us to become a truly global brand. Our online marketing allows us to connect, interact and share with our customers all over the world. Although we do use things such as the Google Adwords Keyword Tool, to help us use the right keywords to use when writing content on our website, our aim is really to build a relationship with our customers. Over the last year, we have focused on using Facebook, Twitter and our email database to build our brand and support sales. We have been able to gain a better understanding of who our customers are. Knowing this, and what they want, has been invaluable for driving the business forward.
Q: When we last spoke you were still modeling your own jewellery. Now you’re not. Did you make a deliberate decision to step away from being the face of the brand?
A: Yes! My time was in much more demand on the creative side of the business. The plan was never to have me at ‘the face’ of the brand at a global level, but more so as the creative face. Modelling for the brand in the early days of the label did the job we needed to and allowed many more PR avenues and exposure to raise the brand’s profile. The face of our next season’s campaign is the current face of Chanel. It was a no-brainer to move away from that role for me and it has allowed me to focus on what I am good at: designing!
Q: You also have a new logo and some changes to your website. What was the thinking behind that?
A: As we moved onto a more international platform, we realised we needed an insignia, so creative agency Fabio Ongarato Design implemented a complete rebrand. The new logo now reflects a much more mature Samantha Wills brand. Our website is one of the strongest areas in our business. To not update it, invest resources in it and continually innovate it would be very foolish. We have an entire team dedicated to digital. This year our digital team has a year-long project of planning and implementing and 2012 will see version 3 of the SW digital evolution.
Q: Most people say you haven’t really made it as an international brand until you break America. Do you agree?
A: The US market is certainly a big one! So to make it there, I guess I see why they say you could make it anywhere. Though that’s not to say entering other markets comes without its challenges. The US market is hard! It is extremely tough and if you think you can simply replicate a successful Australian offer in the USA, you are very mistaken. I think just from the sheer scope of the USA, if you can be successful at just a slice of it, you are doing well! As I said earlier, the USA is primarily a branding standing for us, setting up the brand for how we want it to be seen in a global market. After the USA we will move the brand to Asia and the UK then to greater Europe.
Q: You’re still not 30! Do you sometimes have to pinch yourself at how successful you’ve become?
A: This is all I have ever known! Starting the business at 21, it only hits home to me when people make a fuss about my age. I can honestly say I love what I do and being able to say that is the biggest success.
Q: Are you still responsible for all of the creative side?
A: I act essentially as creative director across the brand. I still design the majority of the range but I do have an amazing team. It is an amazing feeling to work with a group of likeminded people. The energy is addictive. I put a lot of this down to my business partner Geoff Bainbridge and general manager, Sarah Moore. They are the structured ones and I am the messy one! But all in all, the combination of structure, mess and creative chaos works!
Q: What’s next for the brand?
A: The next phase of our digital evolution is hugely exciting for the brand. As mentioned, we will be focusing on the USA rollout and then other offshore markets. We are also looking at SW pop-up stores to bring our brand environment to our consumers. No rest for the wicked!