Emma Hakansson


Willow Creative Co

Just two years out of high school, Emma has created a business that is making a positive change in the world – but not before making some courageous career pivots. So how did she get there?

What work do you do?

I run my own business Willow, which is a production agency for businesses making the world a kinder, better place. Willow also works in ethics consultation, helping brands move away from animal products, to become more ethical and sustainable. Through Willow I work for Animal Liberation Victoria, creating campaigns for them about animal exploitation, and helping people to see the alternative. I am also a freelance writer, writing on ethical, vegan and sustainable fashion.

When you were at school did you know what work you wanted to do?

I wanted to be a whole lot of things; a graphic designer, a psychiatrist, a marine biologist, the Prime Minister, an artist, a fashion designer. I worked out what I wanted to do in my gap year and I ended up letting go of my spot in the university I had worked to get into.

How did you get started?

I’d been working as a model, I’d moved to Sydney to push that, and the more I struggled with balancing that work and my ethics, the more I wished there was another way. When I was ‘dropped’ by my agency I panicked a bit, and then decided it was an opportunity. I networked and met with lots of people. I worked in a call centre, so I could do free work for a bit, to gain connections and experience. I suppose I just started!

What makes you feel powerful at work?

I love that I have created a work environment where I am surrounded by people who all care, who want to make positive change. I always feel respected and seen as a person with ideas and value – which I certainly did not feel when I was ‘just the model’.

What was your biggest ‘fail’ so far?

I don’t think I have had a failure, but I have had what I would call ‘misdirections’ – things I thought would be a great and good thing to do, but that I realised were not core to what I wanted to achieve long term. I suppose those things took my time up, but I learnt a lot from them.

What was your biggest accomplishment?

I’m pretty proud to have gone essentially straight out of school and into working for myself, with the clients I want to work with, who my values align with. How has technology changed your industry in the last 5-10 years?

Not that I have been working in this industry for that time, but I know that social media changed everything. Messages can be spread cheaply and effectively. Your audience is right there in front of you, once you find them. You can change the world with knowledge, and you can change the world with consumer power, and social media affects both of those things hugely.

Who helped you get to where you are today?

My Mum. For a while I would have a big cry about once a week. I would cry and say to her ‘why did I ever think it was a good idea to put faith in myself’. It was very scary taking the plunge like I did, especially because I had moved out of home and I had made myself independent and wanted it all to work, to not be a failure. She was always there to support me and tell me to keep going. There are also lots of women who are older than me who I’ve worked with, who I see now as mentors. They’ve been important to me and taught me a lot.

What’s your advice for young girls thinking about a career in your industry?

Bet on yourself. The best version of you, and of your life, is the one that you can feel sitting inside of you waiting for a chance to come out. It’s scary and it’s hard but putting faith in yourself or pretending to have faith in yourself until it becomes real, is so important. Act like you know what’s happening, like you have value to share, and people will believe it too.

In your wildest dreams, what would you love to do every single day and get paid for it?

What I’m doing. Of course, I would say I’d like to work with some larger clients, write for larger media outlets, etc. Essentially, I’d like my reach to go farther, but everything I’m doing now. I would also really like to speak in schools and universities in classes around fashion, about animals in fashion.