WHEN WE SELECTED THILINI'S DESIGN as the winner of the SAMANTHA WILLS x RUSSH Design competition in 2013, I know she had something special. From the very outset, her application to detail was as if she was a global brand. I was lucky enough to spend an afternoon with her, working on her design to get it into sampling & production. She told me she was interested in possibly starting her own brand. This is not an uncommon thing for people to say to me, and I truly wish them every success, & ask them to keep me updated should they go down that avenue. I don't usually hear from them again - but that wasn't the case with Thilini. Not only did I hear from her, but I received a few pieces from her new brand about a year after our conversation, packaged beautifully, with branded stationery, swing tags, embossed branded stickers affixed to the tissue, care labels - THE WORKS! Not only had she done what she said she was going to do, but she executed from the get go like it was a global brand. It was overwhelmingly impressive, and I was so proud of her as I opened every element of the beautiful delivery. Big things await you, Thilini - they actually await all of use, but the difference is that you are out there ready for it, and don't under estimate how rare, and powerful that is; they are yours for the taking. I look forward to watching your continued success.
With much Admiration, your biggest fan, - SWx
The 'Manik' Ring + design sheet, that Thilini designed for the SAMANTHA WILLS x RUSSH Competition
NAME: Thilini Godamanne
COMPANY: Muthu Jewellery
TITLE(S): Creative Director + Designer
How would you describe yourself in 5 words? Honest. Understanding. Creative. Kind. Socially-awkward (sigh … haha)
What is the long version of how you got to where you are today? I was born in Sri Lanka and at the age of two, migrated to Australia with my family. Most of my childhood was spent growing up in Randwick, where my two older sisters and I had quite a common upbringing with the challenges of trying to fit into a western society with very traditional parents. I’m sure this would be a relatable experience to many others as well.
Despite all that, I still always had a strong fascination for different cultures and spent the ages between 10-21 getting in touch with my own heritage, whilst training in traditional Sri Lankan dance (Kandyan and Pahatharata). I’d also travel back to Sri Lanka every few years, but I think it was the most recent trip with my mum in 2014, that I really learned to appreciate where I had come from. My grandfather was a renowned artist, yet I never really got to venture out to see much of his work whilst he was still alive. Seeing his paintings in temples for the first time left me so emotional and proud. It really struck a chord in helping me understanding where I had inherited this creative flame from and to ensure it continued on in any way or form.
Jewellery, I admit, I unexpectedly stumbled upon! The earliest memory of my interest in making jewellery was simply a hobby, where I hand made beaded necklaces for girlfriends as a creative outlet to get me through the HSC. As much as I loved it, I didn’t think much of it at the time.
At university, I was almost through completing my design degree at UWS, when I saw Samantha Wills + Russh Magazine was hosting an opportunity to design a piece of jewellery for the SW brand. Yes, I took this as a sign! I vividly remember the very night I sent my submission. It was 5 minutes before the midnight deadline; I didn’t even have time to colour in my sketch and doubted my chances of being chosen. Thank goodness I knocked some sense into myself because I was literally the last entrant to submit! Voting rounds began, and it was a few weeks later that I received the announcement that my ring design, ‘Manik’ (precious gemstone), had been chosen. YAY!!!
The experience of our collaboration is one I will forever be grateful for. I was a nervous wreck before my meeting with Samantha on a cold rainy day, but the warmth of her down-to-earth personality made all that disappear. We discussed ideas about our final design and was shown around the stunning SW head office #studiogoals. My original sketch was a statement ring, but I made sure I went above and beyond to impress her by presenting a portfolio of my process work behind the design. This included an additional matching necklace that Samantha loved so much, and decided to put both the ring and matching necklace through to production. Umm …WOW! Lesson to learn here: Always do more than what is expected!
We kept in touch and it was several months later that production was complete and Manik launched under the SW brand. SURREAL. The design was so well received and still to this day, I have girls tagging me on social media wearing it as one of their favourites. This experience was definitely a turning point for me as a realization that designing jewellery was a possible career I wanted to create for myself as well.
From then on, I changed my direction at Uni from my digital design based electives and picked up extra units in Contemporary Jewellery for Fashion and metal work classes at UNSW COFA, even if it meant graduating a year later than all my classmates. I’m so glad I made that decision though, because I was finally moving into a direction that was both terrifying and exhilarating, but for the first time, it felt right!
After graduating, I worked as freelance Graphic Designer whilst also interning for Zoe Sernak at Zoemou Jewellery. This was another significant turning point for me. Zoe had always believed in my vision from day one! She took me in under her wing and provided me the guidance, mentoring, friendship and brutal honesty I needed at the time to set my goals straight. I would honestly not be where I am today without her. (Love you eternally Zoe!) It was whilst working at Zoemou, that I gained the experience and insight behind what it would take to start up my own jewellery brand.
Up until then, I was hand crafting all my pieces but soon made the realization that with the volume I needed for potential sales in upcoming market events, I needed to hand the task over to a much more skilful team of artisans overseas. That was such a scary moment to emotionally and financially invest in. I did not sleep properly for months!!! Yet in time and between trial and errors, it all slowly came together. December 2014 is when I launched my first collection and Muthu Jewellery finally became official! I chose the name ‘Muthu’ because it’s the nickname my mother gave me and in our language, sinhalese, translates to a 'Precious Pearl'.
I think it is really important people can explain their main message in a concise paragraph – if the above is the full version - What is your elevator pitch on what you do? I want to share my story and heritage through my love for design and break through cultural and social barriers. Jewellery was an opportunity that came to me, but it was my decision to actively follow it through, despite going against my parents expectations of what my future should have been. I would love to be able to inspire anyone reading this to also take that leap of faith.
Are you doing what you thought you would be doing 10 years ago? (If not, what did you think you would be doing?) Absolutely not! Exactly 10 years ago I was in year 11 stressing over the HSC being the life or death of my future (which I know now is obviously not true)! I definitely knew the corporate world was not for me, as I have always been creative and hands on. I needed a career path that would both challenge me and gave me creative freedom. I certainly never thought that my pastime of hand making jewellery in high school for friends would have evolved into establishing my own business one day though!!!
What does ‘success’ mean to you, and do you consider yourself ‘successful’? I think success is very much a personal goal of what is important to you and will continue to evolve throughout your life. To me personally, success is happiness and content - no matter what you have or do not have. I consider myself successful and lucky in many ways, but there are definitely so many more goals and dreams I wish to accomplish. Another aspect of success I believe is to be in a position to give back to your community, your loved ones your mentors and teachers.
What do you still want to achieve (personally & / or professionally) Professionally, I want there to be a meaningful purpose behind Muthu Jewellery and not just building it up into a ‘brand’. I understand that jewellery isn’t going to directly make the world a better place. Like Samantha herself says, “our industry is a want, not a need” and I too recognised this very early on before even thinking to start a business. I want to be able to use my platform as a creative to build a brand towards being in a position to give back … and you can mark my words on that!!! My goal would be to contribute towards empowering underprivileged women and girls. I have some projects in mind lined up, so stay tuned for those when they are ready to be announced!
Personally, I would absolutely love to travel more and broaden my perspective on life. A goal I’ve put aside for now to focus on my career, but I hope in time it will pay off and my work will bring me those opportunities later on.
Did you study anything specific for the career you are in? I completed a Bachelor of Design (Visual Communication) at UWS and Cross Institutional studies at UNSW COFA in Contemporary Jewellery for Fashion and Introduction to Jewellery Skills.
What have been the most rewarding things in your career to date? Launching Muthu Jewellery is of course the biggest accomplishment to date that continues to grow and has been a huge learning experience for me both personally and professionally. The honour to say that I have a design collaboration in the archives of the Samantha Wills brand will forever be a surreal milestone as well!
But I must say, the daily wins are just as incredible to me! I absolutely adore when girls share photos that they’ve chosen one of my pieces to wear during a special occasion in their lives. I also regularly host markets at The Grounds of Alexandria and I love the opportunity it gives me to meet customers in person. It’s always so rewarding to connect in person, as this allows me to better understand my audience and for them to connect on a more personal level getting to know me as well.
Tell us about your workspace (Office / café / couch / aesthetic) what inspires you about your workspace? I’m lucky enough to currently work out of my cosy home studio! Well … ok it’s actually my parents home because I don’t have a ring on my finger yet to move out LOL (cause, traditions). But don’t worry I plan to make my way out eventually (with or without a ring) because working from home is actually the biggest distraction for me! Unfortunately taking breaks to work in lovely cafes does not work for me either. I get way too excited about eating my way through half the food menu than to actually getting any work done! I dream of a shared studio workspace in the city, I love being surrounded by beautiful creative spaces and inspiring, hardworking people!
But for now, my little home studio does the job! I have warm grey walls, white furniture and a minimalist approach. A2 metre long white bench as my work desk that displays my SW jewellery chest on the right and I work on my laptop to the left, closer to the window that looks out to our garden. Natural light is very important for me to be productive and keep me sane. I have drawers of neatly organised jewellery supplies and packaging at easy reach for when orders come through to pack. Luckily my mum has been pretty easy going, as I’ve slowly taken over almost every room in the house for other storage … oops, sorry mum!
What are some frustrations you have experienced on your career journey? I think my biggest frustration would be keeping myself disciplined with my own deadlines. I am huge procrastinator when it comes to tasks I set for myself. Not because I don’t enjoy what I do, because I absolutely love it, but because I get so overwhelmed with the amount of tasks to be done single-handedly that I go into panic mode, waste precious time and stress my head off come deadlines. I’m definitely working on this though!
When was the last time you where overwhelmed & cried from something provoked by work / workload? So far I haven’t shed any major tears work-wise since staring the business. But I know the time will come when it will all get too overwhelming to handle on my own. I don’t think you can ever prepare yourself enough for those moments and challenges are inevitable. Once the tears have dried, try taking it as a blessing that gave you an experience to learn and grow from.
Would you say you put pressure on yourself? Has this gotten more or less as you progress in your career? Definitely! I’m guilty of comparing myself to others, which is quite silly in hindsight! There’s a great quote, “never compare your beginning to someone else’s middle.” Gosh, this is so true! It’s great to aspire towards your idols, but don’t put yourself down because you may not be getting the same results as they are, you are on completely different stages of your business! I’d say that this pressure I put on myself is getting less the more I focus on my own accomplishments first.
If you are a business owner – and you often can’t just check out / have a week off when you are dealing with personal things – how do you keep on keeping on with your business when things get tough? I honestly think my business is what initially saved me at a very dark time! My collaboration with Samantha in 2013, followed by the launch of Muthu Jewellery in 2014, happened during an emotionally painful family breakdown and as a result, my health slowly deteriorating. Not many around me knew, so my dreams for Muthu and the loved ones that did choose to stand by me, allowed me to refocus on something else rather than overanalysing all the external negative energy.
I think my past experiences have definitely helped me to become more resilient to external factors affecting my day. Of course there have been those times where I would just curl up in bed and cry myself to sleep, having wasted an entire day dwelling over negative thoughts. Yet over time, growing this new venture has given me the strength and confidence I needed all along! A special shout out also to all the beautiful people that write such lovely comments or emails to me on a daily basis … you have no idea what a blessing you are in my day :)
Has your career affected your personal life / relationships? If so how? Lets just say it’s definitely shown me who my real friends and family are! My mum taught me to be able to count my closest friends on one hand and I am grateful that I can do that. Don’t get me wrong though, I have such a lovely extended support group around me and it’s those absolute dearest of friendships that keep me grounded.
I’ve also been breaking out of my comfort zone by attending business conferences and joining some aspiring female entrepreneurial networking groups! Through these, I’ve met so many talented women in business at all different stages from Start Ups to CEOs. It’s been great to connect with such an uplifting group of women who constantly help me learn and succeed. I cannot stress the importance of having genuinely good people around you!
Has your journey at times felt lonely? How?
For sure! Working as a solopreneur definitely has its lonely days. I’m naturally an introvert so I’m quite content being on my own, going about my day. But in the midst of creative projects and developing new ideas for collections, I miss that team environment to bounce ideas off other creatives, ask for second opinions or just have a conversation over lunch at the least! It’s just not the same via lagging emails and text messages haha!!
What causes you anxiety / sleepless nights? Not being able to switch off and give my mind a break! My mind is always buzzing and I am in a constant battle with myself when it comes time to relaxing because I just don’t know how to switch off from work mode to relax mode. Any tips!?
If you had your time over again, from when you started your career to right now, would you do anything differently? To be honest, I feel like I’m still quite early on and bound to make of plenty bad decisions, but I guess I kind of need to make them to learn from them as well! If I had to say one thing though, I wish I would have trusted my own gut instincts more when making decisions in the very beginning.
What advice would you give your 21 year old self? Wow, I would say a lot … Don’t be afraid to ask questions or ask for help. Stop caring about what other people think of you because everyone is too busy thinking about themselves (totally fine by the way). You can’t keep everyone happy. Follow your gut instincts and step out of your comfort zone. Stop focusing on them negative people in your past because your own success and happiness is the best form of karma in my opinion!
Who are some women in business you admire & why? Samantha Wills: I honestly don’t personally know anyone else that is so hardworking and successful that still remains so incredibly humble to this day. My utmost admiration for you! Your values are such a great example for all women. Thank you truly for the support and guidance you have always given, not only to me, but also the many that will aspire to follow in your footsteps. [Thilini! You have inspired ME! Love watching you're continued success!! - SWx]
Malala Yousafzai: Her exceptional drive to never give up no matter what obstacles she faces is beyond amazing and her work is equally astounding. I love her words “I raise up my voice not so I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard.”
My girlfriends in business, big and small! Over this past year I have been able to connect with an incredible amount of women hustling towards their dreams! Wiana from Wanderluxe.Co, Helani and Samanali from Gather and Stitch, Neddie from Huntd, Rebecca from Of Dreamers and Dancers, Emma from Emte, Lorna from Boxt Jewellery, Annika from Paradise Road Sri Lanka, Hyein from The Beauty Table, Vivian from For The Love of Stationery, Daniella from Amity Created … gosh there is SO many of you that I admire. YOU are all my inspirations and I cannot wait to see how each of you will blossom further in your careers!
What traits do you admire in people you surround yourself with? Thoughtful. Humble. Wise. Open-minded. Authentic. Passionate. Humour. Kindness.
Work life balance… Does it exist and how to maintain it, or a sense of it? For the most part, outside of my friends and family, my work is currently my life and I am grateful that being my own boss comes with its perks of allowing me to be flexible when important things come up.
But I think this also comes down to what you do and your circumstances, so it will differ for each person of course. It helps to plan ahead as much as you can and set your priorities straight! Easier said than done yes, but that shouldn’t stop you from trying to make it work! I have a yearly, monthly, weekly and daily planner plus a note pad to scribble on!!! Sounds a bit dramatic I know, but it’s what works for me and keeps me somewhat sane. It allows me to take all the stress of tasks out of my head and visually broken down in front of me.
Have you ever thought about giving up / quitting? If so, does that feeling hit from the same triggers? Why haven’t you quit? Thank goodness I haven’t no. Doubts do play in my mind all the time, but I feel like I need to give it more time and hard work before giving up so easily. I truly love what I do and the venture so far has been so rewarding that it excites me to keep pushing further and see what its full potential could be.
What is the biggest misconception about what you do? Working from a home studio has the misconception that I get to sleep in and bludge most of the day (not the case guys). I love the quote … “they call us dreamers but we’re the ones that don’t sleep!” There’s also the assumption that I get to play with pretty jewels all day … this is surprisingly only a very small part of what I do.
Being a soloprenuer, I am responsible for absolutely everything associated with the business. From the design concepts, manufacturer spec sheets, website, branding, packaging, styling, campaign and product photography, post-production, social media, marketing, emails, meetings, finances, sales, hand written thank you notes every customer receives, post office runs, supplier runs, weekend market stalls … just to name some main ones!
What advice would you give someone who is starting out in your industry?
Be confident in your own creative ideas and be authentic to who you are and your values. There is only one of you and you will have a unique vision that will be the point of difference to stand out from the crowd!
Also, get out and learn as much as you can! Whether it be enrolling in a degree, a short course or through self-teaching. Don’t waste time waiting around for someone else to get the job done for you when you can save time and money getting it done yourself (within reason). I learnt this from my amazing partner who has been a huge influence in pushing me further than I thought I was ever capable of.
If you knew what you know now, about how much work was involved to get you to where you are now, would you do it again or do something different, if so, what? I had absolutely no knowledge of how to even start a business, run a business or what it takes! Heck, I still don’t fully understand what I’ve gotten myself into! But I think this nativity has served as a blessing in disguise for me. If I had known what mountain I was headed towards, I think that would have given me more reason to run away! I’m still at the very beginning with plenty of obstacles yet to face, so I shall definitely re-ask myself this question in a few years time! … Will keep you posted Samantha :) xo
I like the quote ‘Don’t just have a job, have a purpose’ - What do you want your legacy to be? I would simply be so grateful to inspire anyone around me to follow their dreams towards whatever their passions or goals are and not conform to social norms.
The SAMANTHA WILLS FOUNDATION is about bringing women in business together – why do you think this is important / (why did you want to be involved in this interview)? I am a huge believer in empowering and investing in the futures of women and I despise the notion of tearing each other down. “You get out of life, what you put into it” … just saying! It was such an honour when Samantha reached out to me for this interview! In fact, it was on my list of 5-year goals, not knowing that it would have come by so soon. One can never dream too big right? Not only do I think Samantha has set an admirable example and great platform through this Foundation, but I also believe all the women that have been featured here, their stories and honesty will be the muse behind the next generation of female entrepreneurs and mentors to come.
What are some of your favourite quotes?
“Be a rainbow in someone else’s cloud” – Maya Angelou
“You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step” – Martin Luther King, Jr
“Be kind. For everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about” – Wendy Mass
“New beginnings are often disguised as painful endings” – Lao Tzu
“If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door” – Milton Berle
“What you think, you become. What you feel, you attract. What you imagine, you create” – Buddha
“The struggle you’re in today is developing the strength you need for tomorrow” – Unknown
“Keep in mind that someone else is happy with a lot less than what you have” – Unknown