March 07, 2020

Meet Chief Will!

You may know her as Lauren, Loz or Lozy but to us, she's the Will to our Bear.

In celebration of International Women’s Day, we sat down with co-founder Lauren Williams to chat about being a woman in business and running hers from a van.

Lauren Williams wearing William Brown hat taking her portrait in the reflection of vans side review mirror

Let’s start from the beginning, tell us a little bit about life post-high school and how you arrived here as a business owner?

I left high school at 17 and had no idea what I wanted to do so I became a hairdresser and stuck that out for nearly two years before getting a job at a Bank. I worked my way up the ladder and ended up becoming a mortgage broker but in between all of that, I also decided to open my first business: Bowtie Shoes, selling shoes to people with small feet because (like I mean kid-size feet), if you haven't noticed, I have really small feet!

And between all of that, where does Will & Bear come in?

So I ended up working at the bank for 10 years, sold my shoe business about 3 years after I started it and Will & Bear started a year before I left the bank. At the time, Will & Bear was just this little side hustle, but after that year of working full time and slinging hats on the side, I decided to take the leap and do Will & Bear full time.

So was there anything you and Alex (Bear) were striving for before Will & Bear started?

Between the time we met and the time we actually had the idea of Will & Bear we never even thought about starting a business together. We both worked full time and felt really content so hats were just a looming idea and it ended up being a matter of “okay, here’s this opportunity, do we take it? If so, what do we need to do? Place a massive order of hats and figure out the rest”. So we decided to use the money we had saved for a deposit on a house to order a bunch of hats instead! Our family literally thought we were crazy, we thought we were crazy.

Lauren wearing Calloway Fawn and friend laugh whilst sit on grassy hill looking at images taken on their cameraLauren Williams wearing Harvey Amber hat strolling through the vast landscape of the Australian DessertLauren wearing William Brown hat taking a photo of a subject on the shoreline

Can you remember the exact point, moment or thought that helped you arrive at the decision of ditching the house deposit and starting a hat brand instead?

Yes! We had just bought our first van (Marty 1) and a month later we were placing the order for the hats and we said to each other, alright, if worse comes to worse and we’ve literally just paid for a massive learning experiences to learn what-not-to-do, we can just move into our van and live on 2-minute noodles if we have to. I remember thinking how fun that sounded and how our exit plan suddenly became a less stressful, exciting idea. It turned out that we didn't need the exit plan because the business grew steadily and we were living in the van anyway (without the 2-minute noodles this time haha).

You speak of exit plans, do you have a new exit plan?

Haha! It’s still the same, just run away in the van. Oh, actually, maybe buy a tiny home in tassie and bunker down for the rest of our lives.

Tell us a little bit about going from the conventional, everyday house lifestyle to moving into a van full time?

It was really tough. We’d only ever done little trips, getaways or weekend adventures in the van but by the time we decided to live full time in the van we had just done our very first trade show and our wholesale list grew from 2 to 40 in one week, which we weren’t really equipped to handle at that point. It was a HUGE learning curve, learning how to outsource everything you need and can't achieve from a van, you also have to make sure the space you’ve designed to live in is actually liveable. But all in all, it was an amazing experience, it taught us what we truly needed in life and what we could live without.

Being the co-founder and female powerhouse behind Will & Bear, what has been your biggest obstacle and your biggest highlight?

My biggest obstacle has been myself. I was a mortgage broker and a hairdresser who hadn’t finished high school so I didn't have confidence in running a business of this size. I’d also never been in a creative space within a business before so I was constantly questioning and doubting myself. I think it took me 3 full years to realise that no one actually knows what they're doing and the trick to succeeding is admitting that and asking for help. My biggest highlight would be the females I'm surrounded by. 80% of our team are women and so many of the relationships we’ve made throughout this journey are with females who are walking to the beat of their own drum, building their own empires.

Two females run through a grassy field topless at sunset throwing hats in the airTwo female friends recline on beach chairs wearing Will & Bear hatsTwo female friends wrapped in a blanket huddle together around the campfire wearing Leavie Copper beanie and Tasman Brown beanie

And what's been your biggest career highlight?

Definitely our Africa trip. A year and a half ago we went to Senegal, Africa to visit the tree planting project we’ve been working with almost the entire time we’ve been operating. The tree-planting project is the purpose behind our brand and finally seeing how that purpose translates in the real world and how it's directly impacting the lives of others was absolutely life-changing for me.

For any female-identifying person out there who is already in business or is thinking about it, what would be your one piece of advice for them?

Share. Share your ideas, your struggles, your thoughts. Don't hold anything in because the more you put your idea out there or anything out there, the more you get back. I’m a big believer in asking people for help and starting conversations around what it is that you're doing and trying to achieve. Even if you’re afraid someone will judge you or steal your idea, don’t be, don’t hold things in (unless it’s a fart on a plane, hold that in! haha)

As a fellow female, I know how hard it can be to balance our nurturing, empathic nature with undulating hormones and mental health issues, so how do you stay focused and inspired to constantly come up with new designs and ideas?

Well, a massive part of my existence now is to maintain a healthy life to be able to support my brain and body through running a business, being a partner, friend, sister, daughter, and aunty. I’ve struggled with depression my whole life and running a business has been, in equal parts, incredibly freeing and incredibly limiting in regards to headspace so for me it’s a daily focus to maintain my own version of what a healthy life looks and feels like. I always feel at my optimum when I’m eating well and I’m exercising because your mental health and physical body go hand in hand. One does not operate well without the other.

two female friends sit on the bonnet of vintage land rover Lauren Williams holds baby goat in Africa wearing Baker Tan capLauren and Monique wearing widebrim hats as they laugh and cheers their glasses in the air

So we decided to use the money we had saved for a deposit on a house to order a bunch of hats instead! Our family literally thought we were crazy, we thought we were crazy.” - Loz

What changes would you like to see in the stigma around women in business/power?

I want weakness to be looked at as strength, if a woman comes to work and cries, then that means she's being vulnerable enough to cry at work and strong enough to be vulnerable. I feel like women are loving, nurturing creatures and that's exactly where leadership should come from. We as women are so much stronger than we’re given credit for, especially in the workplace because vulnerability is strength and unfortunately that's not the case in most workplaces.

So this International Women's day, how will you be celebrating women or yourself?

Well this week I attended a “women in business” panel discussion with a fellow Will & Bear woman, hosted by a couple of our friends and it was 50 women in a room talking about the shitty sides of running your own business, it was epic. Having real conversations with real women is probably more empowering for me than talking about how much everyone’s “killing it” so I think I'll just continue having more of those conversations!

Women wearing widebrim hat sits on the bull bar of her vintage van parked on the sandLauren Williams sitting inside her vintage van working on her laptop

Owners of Will & Bear Alex and Lauren sit side by side in front of their collection of hanging wide brim hats



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