How would you describe yourself in 5 words?
Having: Empathy & Energy. Being: Considered, determined.
Oh, and redhead!
What is the long version of how you got to where you are today?
I’ve always been fascinated by beauty and wellness. As an 8-year-old, my best friend Jess and I would escape into the national park behind our home in the Blue Mountains to pick flowers and soak them in water to make perfume. After school, I studied Beauty Therapy at the Ella Bache College & worked in a local salon for a wonderful lady who helped set up the fundamentals of my training. At this point, I decided to take my trade with me and travel the world!
I’ve been fortunate to have travelled widely, working in beauty and health over the last ten years which has afforded me the opportunity to think about how I could bring those experiences together back home. Having worked in high-end boutiques in London and then working as a full-time private therapist aboard private yachts, I was able to understand the height of luxury and the demands of such clients. This work had a focus on the ‘finest’ materials and experiences though often had little regard to the origin or story of the products and tended to have a certain stuffy aesthetic. Returning to Sydney and living by the beach, I saw the opportunity to harness Australia’s natural zest for health and beautiful natural products and combining that with a new level of luxury delivered in a clean, fresh way.
This was the start of the idea for Tribe and led to where I am today. I found a space in my local community with the village feel which underpins the customer journey for Tribe. I have worked hard to engage and collaborate with the local businesses and people to create a great vibe and an honest context for the business. Next, I worked with a creative group of friends to create a beauty space which reflected the values above. Together with family and friends we sanded, painted and furnished the space to create something great. Since then, I’ve concentrated on offering wonderful service to a growing Tribe of clients and friends, whilst continuing to bring together great ideas and people in the space.
I think it is really important people can explain their main message in a concise paragraph. What is your elevator pitch on what you do?
Tribe is a place dedicated to healthy skin, inside and out. As a salon, it captures Sydney’s zest for health and natural beauty and distils that into a place where people can come and be completely pampered whilst achieving their skin health goals. Tribe is natural, nurturing, fresh & luxurious.
Are you doing what you thought you would be doing 10 years ago?
That is a little hard to answer as 10 years ago I just didn’t think about it! I was in Canada, snowboarding, having the best time! I learnt my trade thinking it would be a great way to explore the world and here I am! I guess it would be better to say I am doing more than I could have imagined 10 years ago!
What does ‘success’ mean to you, and do you consider yourself ‘successful’?
Success for me means building a business that means spending your days doing what you love and coming home to share the stories with people you care about. I get a lot of joy making people feel good, so if I can grow a strong and viable business, which gives me the luxury to keep doing what I love, whilst maintaining balance for myself and my family, I am enjoying success. Shorter term, success is growing Tribe and continuing to learn about running a business.
What do you still want to achieve (personally and/or professionally)
On a personal level, achieving balance is a real goal of mine. Spending time with family & friends, growing as a person and assuring I get enough time to stop, breathe and rest so that I can be the best version of myself. The last few years have seen me focus a lot of energy on the business, so would like to achieve balance over the next 12 months and set a rhythm for moving forward. Professionally, I would like to focus on the next stage of growth and sustainability for the business, and continue to find, train and nurture like-minded staff who i can share the journey with.
Did you study anything specific for the career you are in?
I studied a Diploma in Beauty Therapy. This covered the basics and enabled my start in the industry. The real education in this industry is working with great people. I was lucky to train with Eve Lom in London who really developed my facial technique. This was the foundation for me to develop my own style for Tribe. As a therapist, I am passionate about constantly growing, learning and evolving my style. For me, that means continuing to train with people in everything from products to massage to meditation and nutrition. I am passionate about having a holistic approach to skin health and sharing that with Tribe’s clients.
What have been the most rewarding things in your career to date?
Opening Tribe and welcoming clients into the space for the first time was incredibly rewarding. At the time, all I could think about was all the things I still had to do, but to have a client give me a big hug after a treatment and tell me how special they felt in the space really cut through the stress and made me feel super lucky and empowered to keep going.
Tell us about your workspace, and what inspires you about it?
I wanted to create a calm, natural and luxurious beauty space. Together with a small talented team, we thought about all key aspects - natural light, fresh air, greenery, beautiful scents, calm vibe, good music, even the right temperature… it’s all important! We have worked hard to ensure that Tribe feels like a space where you needn’t worry about anything, and that energy makes it a very inspiring space to be in every day.
What are some frustrations you have experienced on your career journey?
I have had many! However, I have found that frustration has been the source of a number of ‘jumps’ in my career journey. I am fortunate to have a personality which does not endure frustration for long, so I tend to jump soon after it appears! Frustrations generally mean there is a question which needs answering. These will often lead to a new opportunity.
That was the case with TRIBE. I was frustrated that no one was offering that essence of Australian natural beauty, or harnessing natural ingredients to bring that to people in an elegant, no-fuss kind of way. Not being able to find that, and not feeling passionate about what I was doing, frustrated me, and hence lead to TRIBE!
When was the last time you were overwhelmed & cried from something provoked by work?
HA! Weekly?! Having your own business is more demanding that I could ever have imagined, and it takes its toll. The personal satisfaction is immense, but you work for it!
Would you say you put pressure on yourself? Has this increased or decreased as you progress in your career?
Yes - I put a lot of pressure on myself. I think that is a common trait in any start up founders or business owners. I have always been pretty competitive… Growing up, my brother and I spent lots of time together in the bush and playing sport, and that sort of ‘grit’ has stayed with me. Those close to me have described me as ‘quietly determined’, which I think is fair. I put pressure on myself to succeed and tend to go it alone before sharing with anyone. I think that this pressure has stayed consistent throughout my career, though as I get older I am learning to manage the pressure better, and I am lucky to now have a great team around me that I can share the pressure with. On the flip side, as the business grows, and the stakes get higher, pressure continues to grow, but I am aware of it now and try to manage it!
As a business owner, you often can’t just check out or 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?
My business is very physically and emotionally demanding. In order to be my best self and present during the treatments, I need a level of headspace. If I am not ‘healthy’ in every sense, then my business is not healthy. I try to use nature as a way to cleanse my mind and spend time swimming and walking. I am lucky to have a great group of friends, many of whom are working on their own businesses so sharing a wine or two among us is a great help. I think the reality is that you don’t ever check out or have time off, the business and its needs are always in my mind, but little, frequent breaks give me the energy to keep on.
Has your career affected your personal life/relationships?
For sure! I’ve really been in a bit of a Tribe Vortex for two years now and the time required, particularly late nights and weekends, impact my personal and social life. Working Saturdays means that weekends away with friends are largely off the cards which can be frustrating for sure! At the same time, I have also learnt a lot about who I am and what I want, and that has meant surrounding myself with like minded people, so in that sense I think it has been very positive.
Has your journey at times felt lonely?
Very much so, on two fronts. Firstly, setting up the business alone was tough as there was no one to bounce ideas off or share the ups and downs with. I think having a business partner would really make that part of the journey a different experience, from conception, to working through brand name, setting up space and the like. Then once it was set up, working solo has definitely been challenging. Not feeling part of a team, not having a Christmas party or after work drinks to go to, no-one to bounce off for the first 18-months was, at times, super lonely. I’ve recently hired my first employee and the camaraderie of being in it together is fantastic!
What causes you anxiety/sleepless nights?
So many things! I think being a business owner means you have to wear all the hats and pull your big girl pants up nice and high!!! Reasons for sleepless nights are endless! Thinking about TAX, BAS, stock, managing bookings, it’s endless!
If you had your time over again, from when you started your career to right now, would you do anything differently?
It is hard to say. I definitely think there are learnings from things I could have done differently, however largely I feel like all of my experiences to date have been a huge learning curve and helped form who I am and how Tribe has evolved. The twists and turns are all part of the journey so, as hard as some of the times on the journey were, I am really happy with where I am now.
What advice would you give your 21 year old self?
At 21 I was having the time of my life doing a ski season in Canada! I wasn’t really thinking about the future and spent lots of time with great friends. Owning a business puts this sort of freedom into perspective, so looking back I was right where I needed to be. So I guess my advice would be to enjoy being 21, travel, live and find out who you are, because without that time I would not be here today.
Who are some women in business you admire & why?
So many! I admire Ali Webb, the founder of Blow Bar in the US. I love that she saw an opportunity and has grown an incredible business from a small idea. I was lucky to be able to tell her as much when she came in to Tribe last month! I also admire Alex Donohoe from DECUS interiors for her strength of character and style which comes through in her design as well as business. However there are so many great women doing great things across all industries at the moment. In startups, politics, finance, law, medicine, media - they are all around us. I feel privileged to be a female leader in a time where support by other women in business is a real movement. Whenever I feel down I listen to any of the great podcasts out there about strong women doing incredible things and it is so inspiring, liberating and exciting.
What traits do you admire in people you surround yourself with?
Hard work. Passion. Creativity. Ambition. I am really inspired by people who are giving something a good go.
Work life balance; does it exist (I don’t think it does!) and how to maintain it, or a sense of it?
It MUST exist! Rather than breaking the year into ‘work’ and ‘life’ with holidays or time off, I find I can achieve balance within each day. As I said earlier, for me, taking a little holiday for an hour in the morning at the beach I find is just as ‘balancing’ as having a week away every couple of months. This is something which I am passionate about achieving. I agree that it is hard, especially in the first five years of a business where you are solely responsible, but finding the balance it is a key priority for me.
Have you ever thought about giving up / quitting?
All the time! There are times where it does all just seem too hard and the easiest option would be to quit!! I don't want to sugar coat how low some moments can be. The triggers are usually similar, and often caused by lack of balance in my life or just being exhausted and overwhelmed. Why don’t I quit? I guess because I think back on how far I have come, and that it would be for nothing if I didn't just keep going. I think it’s a bit of that grit and determination I mentioned earlier, and also being surrounded by supportive people. It’s super important to have a great network of friends to support you when you’re facing challenges and put you back on the road and give you a little nudge to keep going
What is the biggest misconception about what you do?
Firstly, the ‘beautician’ image has become one of ‘service industry’ rather than ‘customer service’. Tribe is the opposite! It’s a space to stop and give back to yourself. When everyone’s lives are so busy, you are creating a space to feel truly nurtured. The misconception is that I make people ‘look’ nice, where really my job is to make them ‘feel’ great. My role is to create a space which, when you walk in, it’s like a vacuum to the world, you just forget about the other noise.
What advice would you give someone who is starting out in your industry?
First, find the best person you can to work for. Learn as much as you can and make sure you find someone who can mentor you. Effectively, it is the ancient apprenticeship system, so you want to find the best ‘master’ possible! Also, be prepared to work hard. This is a physical job and your body needs to be up to the task!
Do you think you are a disruptor? If yes, what has been your bravest/scariest move to disrupt?
I certainly felt that luxury beauty here tended to have a certain stuffy aesthetic. Returning to Sydney and living by the beach, I saw the opportunity to harness Australia’s natural zest for health and beautiful natural products and combining that with a new level of luxury delivered in a clean, fresh way. That was the inspiration and Tribe certainly stands apart from most of the offerings in the market in that way. So yes, I would be say that i am a disruptor. The bravest move was taking the lease on the space at Bronte and hoping that my idea would have legs!
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’ve heard it likened to childbirth - if anyone knew how hard it was then they’d never do it!! But we do, and the rewards outweigh the challenges most of the time! I really was quite naive as to the scale of the challenge. A great mentor of mine often tells me to ‘put my big girl pants on and pull them up really high’!
If i did it again, i think would be better at learning to ask for help earlier on, and not trying to do it all by myself.
I like the quote ‘Don’t just have a job, have a purpose’ - What do you want your legacy to be?
I love making people feel great. There is nothing more satisfying than when someone comes in super pent up and stressed and they leave floating. I feel like I have special powers and I would love my legacy to be giving people the best mind, body, spirit beauty experience they have had, and inspiring people to take time for their wellbeing. .
The SAMANTHA WILLS FOUNDATION is about bringing women in business together – why do you think this is important?
I feel like i’ve had to seek out my own little network of women who support each other.
In the beginning, I felt really alone having been through a very uncomfortable start with a previous employer. It was frightening and I was lucky to find women who supported me. This is something I would never put someone through and in hindsight was a lesson.
Women should help each other up rather than drag each other down.
What are some of your favorite quotes?
For the last couple of years, we have visited National parks in the US. John Muir, often referred to as the ‘father of the national park’ was instrumental in preserving nature as America industrialised. His writing about adventures in nature really strike a chord with me. One of my favourites;
“I am losing precious days. I am degenerating into a machine for making money. I am learning nothing in this trivial world of men.
I must break away and get out into the mountains to learn the news”