Azzi Williams, 37, is the founder of Williamspro, an Australian-owned luxury cosmetics brand that manufactures products that are PETA certified as 100% natural, vegan and cruelty-free, she’s a freelance journalist and was once a lawyer! Azzi was also my lecturer when I attended Macleay College. Oh, and we can’t forget that she is also mum to 10 month old daughter, LJ (who is absolutely adorable!) We chatted to Azzi about all-things makeup and that one time she walked the red carpet with (okay, behind) Robert Downey Junior…
I went to James Ruse Agricultural High School and I always loved art and writing, but because I received quite high end of year marks, I almost felt obliged to ‘use them’. Interestingly, I actually loved studying law and writing about it, but never really felt like I was being 100% true to myself, that I always had a creative and entrepreneurial side that needed exploring.
I studied Arts and Law at the University of Sydney – the same degree as a lot of senators, politicians and high court judges completed – so I was actually initially destined to go into the legal profession! While I was studying, I began working at retail counters in cosmetics like David Jones and also trained with MAC, so that is all where my love of makeup began.
After graduating and becoming admitted as a solicitor, I left my grad role at Gadens in banking & finance after only 18 months, a role that just was not for me on so many levels, to pursue my two loves – writing and art. In my mid-twenties I became a legal editor at Thomson Reuters, while dabbling in makeup artistry on weekends. But being competitive and a dreamer, I wanted to push myself and my career journey to further heights. So I quit my job, sold off everything in Sydney and moved to London.
It was a massive risk, because I had no contacts, I had never even been to the UK before! But I just went with my gut instinct. But the risk paid off, because within months I was writing for The Times UK, thanks to some great legal editors who discovered my ability to write about law and business. At the same time, I signed up with a number of creative agencies as both a commercial model and makeup artist.
And that’s when things really took off into an exciting direction. I was suddenly on set doing makeup for designers like Burberry, Vivienne Westwood and Diesel, as well as brands like Eurostar, Sunsilk and Lloyds Bank. I was also going to some amazing parties, meeting celebrities like Lindsay Lohan, Janice Dickinson, Boy George – and I even walked the red carpet for the premiere of Sherlock Holmes behind Robert Downey Junior!
But the more I was involved in fashion, TV ads and film, the more I realised that the talent I was working with were having the same issues – clogged pores, breakouts, allergic reactions – mainly from over-use of heavy stage and screen makeup and lack of using natural, talc free and skin-friendly options. That’s when I started formulating my own products.
In 2013 I returned to Sydney with my husband who is a photographer. We’d met in London a few years’ earlier through some mutual friends and he was extremely supportive of my idea. During our time of settling back into Sydney life, I also took on a journalism lecturing role at Macleay College, as well as a pro makeup tutoring role at QC Makeup Academy. Both organisations – the students and my colleagues, also highly encouraged me to get the Williamspro brand underway.
We launched Williamspro in 2015 with only three products, but since our launch we received over 1000 positive customers and influencer reviews of our products. Through feedback and customer engagement, we have now expanded our product range from 1 to 15 new products, completely rebranded, created a new ecommerce shop and now want to further expand our sales by targeting the retail consumer.
If I had stayed in corporate law, I probably would be on a lot more stable income, that’s for sure. Working freelance and starting your own business, managing your cash flow and the financial risks associated with startups is definitely something not everyone can cope with. There’s never really any financial peace of mind. But I love what I do and passionate about Williamspro, what we stand for and it’s potential to grow into a global brand, so I’m going to keep on at it!
In all honesty, I do feel in many ways all my choices led me to where I am today – and a lot of people may think I may have ‘wasted’ my time and efforts becoming a lawyer only to throw it all away to do something completely different. But looking back, I feel in many ways my years studying law gave me added skills that have helped me in my business – like managing product and public liability, our trademarks, contractual terms and wholesale negotiations.
A lot of students write to me and say ‘ooh I want to make products and sell them like you do’ – you make it look so easy. Well, it’s not easy, it’s a LOT of hard work, be prepared to try and fail, be prepared for long hours, late nights, and if you’re also becoming a first-time parent, like me, work around 24/7 baby feeding schedules.