Of Gold and Dust by Samantha Wills

Reviewed by Wendy Lipke

This book is written by a talented young woman who founded her own global self-titled jewellery company and is a must read for all business students especially those who may aspire to start their own companies. It is a memoir of her own creative life to date, and as such, talks about moments and places and the people that have impacted her signature brand, expressing how she felt about each experience, what she has learnt and how each experience affected her. The same thoroughness and precision apply to her book as helped her build her brand.

This is also her first attempt at writing a book to be published, and the result is well presented and easy to read. Her face adorns the front cover with the title in a written script with no capital letters. Her name is in gold in keeping with her skill of jewellery designing and making. The contents are divided into twenty segments with titles of single words or sayings (in written script) followed by a definition of the title, especially as it applies to her experiences. There is no word ‘chapter’ to be seen anywhere. Sixteen pages of glossy photos can be found in the middle of the book.

In her introduction she speaks directly to the reader. “Did you know that the name given to the movement of petals in response to darkness is ‘nyctinasty’? – the closing of a flower at night’ “(ix). She says that “the concept of a flower opening in the light and retreating in darker times is as much a human response as it is botanical. It is the very make up of our experiences that sees us made of gold and dust, our elation and our grief” (ix).

In the first segment, titled Hustler, the reader discovers that Samantha Wills is an only child to parents who own and run a clothing shop. As such she often gets bored and this led to her early entrepreneurial escapades, helped by the skills she learned from a school holiday workshop in jewellery making. By age eleven she was running a small business selling hand-made jewellery in the school grounds. This was followed by busking and creating a space in her parent’s shop where she could display her wares.

From the time she was legally able to work she had a job, but a sports injury had her once again turning to her jewellery making to overcome boredom. In a following segment in the book, she contemplates fuel as the things that happen in life which ignite us into action. While retaining her daytime job, she took to presenting her jewellery at the Bondi Markets and private parties. An opportunity to display her jewellery at Fashion Week led to her creations being worn by celebrities and later featured in the TV series Sex in the City.

It is about this stage in the book that the reader makes several discoveries about Samantha Wills as a person. From the beginning it was obvious that she was not afraid of hard work and that she had a skill that people were prepared to pay for. It was becoming obvious that she had a talent for branding her merchandise. She had the ability to engage people through emotive story-telling and creative presentation. These skills are also evident in this publication. But the reader also learns that despite her success she suffered from ‘Imposter Syndrome’ where her inner voice kept telling her she was a fraud and an imposter. She doubted herself hugely as a designer, because she didn’t have a graduate diploma or any official qualifications.

Another discovery the reader makes is Samantha’s belief that the universe is playing a huge part in things that are happening in her life. “The universe will only put up with this idleness for so long before she sends something or someone to propel you forward” (30). When one obstacle surfaced it was not long before another opportunity arose to solve her problem – “The events that had unfolded over the past seven days had been perfectly timed, like characters in a play arriving for their scenes on cue” (83). And she experienced many problems in her journey, both in her business and with personal relationships.

The Samantha Wills jewellery business thrived over the years. Starting with an olive-coloured fishing tackle box full of beads and crystals that her mum had given her when she was eleven, it developed into a worldwide brand. At twenty-eight years old, Samantha Wills had a $6.5 million business. By 2015, it was on track to hit $10 million. One night alone reaped $80,000 in twenty minutes in an American shopping giant QVC promotion. By 2017, she had designed 11,000 pieces of jewellery and made 99 flights between Sydney and JFK airport.

During her fourteen years in business, Samantha Wills had learnt much. She had discovered that “starting your own brand is a self-indulgent pursuit. As a creative founder and director” her job was “to have a clear vision to where the brand was going and to lead the team from design through campaign and marketing initiatives to get there” (142). She had also learned that she knew how to build a brand, but she didn’t know how to build a business; however the last could be learned with the right support.

When she first started on this journey, she made a promise to herself that if her heart was no longer in it, it would be time to close that chapter and begin a new one. Although everything was running brilliantly, in 2019, she discovered that she was feeling detached from the process, that “she was designing with her hands, not her heart” (238) and so she made the decision to close the business. Ever conscious of all those who had helped her develop her business, the employees were informed of the decision and worked with her in this wind-up process.

I was most impressed with the skills with which Samantha Wills can produce emotive story-telling; of her willingness to expose herself to the reader, all the downs as well as the ups, and her understanding of what people need in a product. Here is a young woman who has achieved more than most will in the fifteen years she was working with this brand. I hope that the next stage of her life will bring her lasting love and contentment in her personal life as, although she has always been hard on herself, both physically and emotionally, she comes across as a beautiful person full of compassion for others.

A very inspiring memoir.

Of Gold & Dust

(2021)

by Samantha Wills

Allen&Unwin

ISBN:978-1-76087-654-8

$32.99; 320pp

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