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.
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!
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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!