NAME: Jessica Williamson
COMPANY: Ete Swimwear
TITLES: Managing Director / Founder / Designer
How would you describe yourself in 5 words?
Hard working, determined, passionate, adventurous & always curious
What is the long version of how you got to where you are today?
I’ve always had an interest in fashion and completed fashion internships while I was studying; and I’ve also always had a burning entrepreneurial desire to go out and start my own business. I had so many ideas, and in the end, decided what better industry to break in to than the one I am so passionate about. So I decided to take on the fashion industry and run with swimwear. And being born and bred in Perth, I have grown up with a love of the sea and go to the beach whenever I have spare time. So, a swimwear label was the perfect choice for me.
My background is actually in marketing. I did a business degree at uni and then went the formal route of getting a job. I worked in digital marketing, which was a pretty handy background for running a business. I knew how to build my own website, run social media, organise photoshoots, and best position a brand. All of that was pretty helpful in the beginning! I didn’t have any formal design training, I just design what I like and then my boyfriend's an illustrator – so he paints the prints for me.
When I began Ete Swimwear, I was just 22 and uninspired by my job and needed something more. I have always had a strong connection to the beach and the ocean, and noticed a lot of brands were moving toward athleisure and a more minimalist aesthetics which just wasn’t me, so I set out to create designs that were not only comfortable, but beautiful. With feminine prints, boho details and pretty colours, Ete Swimwear was born! We are made for the Feminine Adventurers of the world.
I decided that my brand HAD to inspire other girls to be happy, explore and push themselves to live their best lives, and I am proud of where we have come from in just 2 years, but I wanted to take it one step further and really start to focus on self love and helping girls all over the world be happier with their unique capabilities, beauty and life in general.
What is your elevator pitch on what you do?
Ete Swimwear is made for the feminine adventurers of the world. I set out to create designs that were not only comfortable, but beautiful. From feminine prints, boho details and hand painted pretty prints, Ete Swimwear was born!
Are you doing what you thought you would be doing 10 years ago? (If not, what did you think you would be doing?)
No, certainly not! Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d be where I am today. 10 years ago I was just 15 and actually had no idea what I wanted to do when I left school, let alone what I would be doing in 10 years. I was playing with the idea of becoming an engineer because I loved maths & physics (yes, I was that kid haha). So, I’m certainly very far from being an engineer!
What does ‘success’ mean to you, and do you consider yourself ‘successful’?
I think success can take many forms, and my definition of success changes as I continue to grow but I would definitely consider myself successful. I think it is really important to stop and look back at how far you have come and how much you have grown and learnt along the journey. I absolutely love what I do and it makes me happy so that’s what I consider success.
What do you still want to achieve (personally and/or professionally)
This is hard to say as every day I have a new goal or idea, so for me this always changes and I keep moving the goal posts. I like to move fast and am quite impatient but I think that has been to my benefit in helping to keep the brand innovating. At the moment I am focusing on growing Ete Swimwear more into the USA markets where we have seen a lot of success, but also expanding more into wholesale where we have recently secured some major US stockists.
Did you study anything specific for the career you are in?
When I left high school I had no idea what I wanted to do, and I ended up deciding to do a management degree, because I had decided at the age of 17, that I wanted to be a CEO… No idea what I wanted to be a CEO of, but I guess that worked out for me in some way now! I also chose to study marketing simply because a double major was the same amount of work as a single major, so I thought why not! In the end I ended up loving marketing and worked in digital marketing before launching Ete Swimwear. This was a massive help when starting an online ecommerce business because it meant I could set up all my own marketing, branding, website etc.
What have been the most rewarding things in your career to date?
One of my favourite milestones would have to be showcasing at New York Fashion Week! Just one week after launching the business, I was already being called upon to exhibit the brand in an Australian showcase at New York Fashion Week later that year. And that was just week one...
Tell us about your workspace, and what about it inspires you?
To be honest my workspace isn’t very exciting! It’s just a home office at the moment - very messy and certainly not my dream office but one day I will have a beautiful space!
When was the last time you were overwhelmed & cried from something provoked by work/workload?
Dealing with international manufacturers is always a constant challenge for me. I didn’t come from a fashion or manufacturing background so I have had to learn everything along the way. Of course I want every product I design and make to be perfect which is a major challenge when dealing with international manufacturers. There are always new challenges and delays which cause me a lot of stress, and when you receive a bulk load of stock that is completely wrong, 2 days before the collection launch… you could imagine my stress levels haha!
Would you say you put pressure on yourself? Has this increased or decreased as you progress in your career?
Yes I would say I do. That is because I want to always strive to do my best and provide the best product, service and brand that I can. Since starting my own business the pressure has definitely increased because all the responsibility falls on my shoulders, but over the past 2 years of running Ete Swimwear, I have become much better at managing myself and have put in procedures and surrounded myself with support to help relieve some pressure.
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 truly love what I do, it can often be a great stress reliever for me when things are maybe not going as well as they could. While other people have hobbies, I have Ete Swimwear. In saying this I am so lucky to have some amazing people surrounding me that support me if I do happen to need a small break.
Has your career affected your personal life/relationships? If so how?
I think it has, in both good and bad ways. Some people just don’t get it, they never will and that’s ok because being an entrepreneur may not be the typical life journey society thinks you should have but I love that it’s not the ‘norm’. On the other hand, I have met so many inspiring people on my journey! Running my own business has allowed me to meet so many other like minded women (and some men too) and they are some of the most supportive people you could meet.
Has your journey at times felt lonely? How?
Being an entrepreneur can certainly feel lonely at times. I work mostly on my own and that is tough sometimes but there are so many amazing networks and events where you can meet people going through similar things to you. As mentioned above I have met so many amazing people on my journey and they are the ones I turn to for advice or just a chat, and that certainly helps to feel less lonely.
What causes you anxiety/sleepless nights?
Hmmm where do I start… I think when something is ‘your baby’, when you have built a business from nothing and have put so much love into building every single part of it, you naturally get stressed if something isn’t going quite right. It is certainly not a 9-5 job where you can leave and someone else will sort it out. I love to be super organized, and working with others can sometimes mean that I can’t be across everything happening. So often this gives me sleepless nights, especially working with international stakeholders, different time zones and communications can be at any time of the day or night and I’m often thinking about this when I should be sleeping. I am getting better at managing stress though, it’s something that can have a massive impact on your life and health so I have began to really focus on working to reduce stress where possible.
If you had your time over again, from when you started your career to right now, would you do anything differently?
Nope! Everything I have done so far has lead me to this point so if I changed anything in my past I wouldn’t have learnt the lessons, or become stronger because of certain experiences, and all of which make me who I am today so I am super grateful for my journey.
What advice would you give your 21 year old self?
21 wasn’t too long ago for me! But, I would remind myself to not sweat the small stuff, sometimes I still get caught up in the small details but need to take a step back to look at the larger picture.
Who are some women in business you admire & why?
Lisa Messenger is someone who inspires me and many other entrepreneurs out there, she has been a pioneer in breaking the rules and going after what you want. I was lucky enough to meet her in Sydney and actually convinced her to visit Perth to share her wisdom.
What traits do you admire in people you surround yourself with?
I really admire people who just go for what they want, they don’t let any doubts or barriers get in their way! One of the things I hate seeing is people making excuses for why they haven’t done what they’ve always dreamt of doing. I truly believe that anyone is capable of anything they want!
Work life balance; does it exist (I don’t think it does!) and how to maintain it, or a sense of it?
This is something I am still working on. For the entire first year of Ete Swimwear I was still working full time, so this meant I would get up extra early to pack the orders before heading to my full time job, then in my lunch breaks I would run to meetings or run to the post office to send off the orders for that day, then after work I would get straight onto the computer and work until it was bed time. The weekends were full of work and I had to give up some of the fun things with my friends because I was so dedicated to my new business and I had to keep my job because it was funding the business. This wasn’t great for my health or mental stability so I am so grateful that after a year I decided to take the leap and go full time on Ete Swimwear.
It was the best decision I ever made because now my timetable is so much more flexible which allows me to have more of a worklife balance. Even though I am still working 24/7, I allow myself to have lunch breaks, I take time out for pilates each day and also try to stay relatively work free on the weekends (even though I am always still working from my phone, it means I don’t usually open my computer unless I really need to).
Have you ever thought about giving up / quitting? If so, does that feeling hit from the same triggers? Why haven’t you quit?
To be honest I haven’t ever thought about quitting. I have certainly felt like giving up at certain times but that soon passes and I get back onto whatever it is. For me, I find it more stressful to leave a situation than to fix it, so the sooner I can find a solution, the sooner I get to relax.
What is the biggest misconception about what you do?
Everyone thinks I am living one big holiday! They think I’m off to the beach or on vacation to a tropical destination every chance I get, but the thing they don’t see is me sitting behind my computer 90% of the day. All people see are the highlights on Instagram and don’t realise that owning a swimwear brand is actually a lot of hard work!
What advice would you give someone who is starting out in your industry?
Get ready for hard work!! I get asked all the time, “what is your secret?”… or they say “you are so lucky to be doing what you do” but to be honest it simply takes a lot of hard work, determination and perseverance when times get tough. There is certainly no secret and no ‘easy answer’, you just have to work through it, make mistakes and learn from them, pick yourself back up and keep going!
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?
Yes I would do it again and again! I have learnt so much along the journey, things I would have never learnt had I never tried. I also think it is super important to continue to pivot, the world is moving so fast now and you want to make sure you are always one step ahead but my past is all part of the journey so I wouldn’t change a thing.
I like the quote ‘Don’t just have a job, have a purpose’ - What do you want your legacy to be?
I want my legacy to be that anyone can achieve their dreams, and not to let anything hold you back! I could’ve very easily held myself back, I had a stable job, I was young (22), I was a female, I had no experience in fashion or running a business, and I barely had any money… but none of those things crossed my mind at the time because I had my eye set on what I wanted to do and just went for it.
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)?
It has been so inspiring and uplifting to be part of the women’s business community not only within Australia but throughout the world! We are here to support each other when things get tough and to celebrate each other when we have a win (no matter how small it may be). This is super important to have a supportive culture to help us all be the best we can be!
What are some of your favorite quotes?
“stop wishing, start doing”
“fail fast, take risks, push the boundaries, start before you are ready, just go!”
“be a seeker of everyday magic”
“no one is you and that is your super power”