At 16, when most of her contemporaries were trying to pass their driver’s tests, Los Angeles native Amanda Thomas was busy starting her own company,Luv Aj. The costume jewelry collection, featuring industrial-looking chains, big spikes, chunks of pyrite and other tough-chic touches, quickly gained the attention of buyers from emporiums of cool such as Fred Segal, Shopbop and Planet Blue.
Now 23, Thomas has had the good fortune of seeing pieces from her collection on some of the most tabloid-worthy celebrities, including Kim Kardashian, Nicki Minaj, Vanessa Hudgens, Nicole Richie and Solange Knowles. But it’s not her celebrity clientele she’s thinking about when she designs each collection. “I designwith myself in mind, and what I want to wear,” she says. Here, Amanda Thomas talks with The Inside Source about her design process, the importance of internships and what’s currently taking up space in her jewelry box.
Luv Aj founder Amanda Thomas
The Inside Source: You’re only 23, yet you’ve had your line for quite a while. How did you get started designing jewelry and when did you launch the line?
Amanda Thomas: It started out when I was 14 or 15 years old. I used to intern for a store designer on Abbot Kinney in Venice, CA, called Cory Madley. My parents would drop me off after school and on the weekends, and I would help in her studio. She taught how to do wire wrapping and gave me insight on running a small business. I just fell in love with it, so I started buying chains and beads on my own, and going to flea markets and finding cool trinkets to mix and match on charm necklaces. I would always wear my own creations, and one day when I was in Fred Segal, one of the jewelry buyers complimented my necklace and I told her I had made it. After setting up a meeting to show her my collection, Fred Segal picked up my line my junior year of high school, and the rest is history.
The Inside Source: Did you study jewelry design or some other art discipline in college?
Amanda Thomas: My only jewelry design training came from my internship. However I went to Otis College of Art and Design here in L.A., and my art school background has really informed my experience as a designer. I studied graphic design, so now I’m able to design every visual aspect of my brand, from packaging to my website, and can have control over every image of Luv Aj that goes out into the world.
The Inside Source: What drew you to jewelry?
Amanda Thomas: I have always been an accessories fiend, even when I was really little. I went to an all-girls Catholic high school, and since we had a pretty strict uniform policy, the only way I could really express my individuality was through jewelry. My internship was where I actually learned how to make jewelry, and I loved the hands-on quality to the whole process, so that’s what really drew me in.
The Inside Source: How would you define your aesthetic?
Amanda Thomas: Luv Aj jewelry is a one part feminine and one part bad-ass. I mix and match a lot of heavy chains, antiqued metals, interesting silhouettes like bodychains and handpieces… But there’s still always a chic and wearable quality to every piece. The collection has a wide range of pieces-some more daring and some that are really easy to integrate into your everyday wardrobe.
The Inside Source: From where do you draw your inspiration?
Amanda Thomas: I am always inspired by materials and figuring out how to make something into a piece of jewelry. I love finding an awesome rock or crystal and figuring out how to make it into a pendant or a bracelet or something. Also, there’s nothing more that I love than hunting for cool chain or interesting vintage components and figuring out how to incorporate it into jewelry.
The Inside Source: You incorporate a lot of vintage elements into your designs. Do you ever hunt for vintage pieces or inspiration on eBay?
Amanda Thomas: I’m always hunting for vintage finds on eBay! I actually base a lot of the little details of my jewelry on vintage pieces I find, so eBay is a great place to build my vintage jewelry collection. I also love going to flea markets and bargaining with sellers for pieces.
The Inside Source: What do you see as the biggest costume jewelry trends right now? And what are you loving in particular?
Amanda Thomas: Crystals are a huge trend in costume jewelry right now. If you go to any e-commerce store online, you’ll find necklaces with crystal shards and rings with crystal chunks, so everyone is really feeling that right now. I developed a unique plating process this season where I can actually plate real crystals with antiqued metals, which has really made my collection standout. Each crystal varies, but once they’re plated in antique rose gold or oxidized nickel, each facet really shines.
The Inside Source: You must have an insane jewelry collection. Tell us what’s in your personal jewelry box.
Amanda Thomas: I wear a ton of vintage jewelry-lots of chain bib necklaces, big cuffs, a lot of vintage Chanel… And then [as far as new brands], I really only wear Luv Aj. People always call me out if I wear other brands when I’m out, so I’ve gotten in the habit of only rocking Luv Aj 24/7.
The Inside Source: What three items should every girl have in her jewelry repertoire?
Amanda Thomas: Every girl should have a chunky cocktail ring, which is always great to dress up an outfit before going out, and a surprisingly good icebreaker if you’re on date. They should also have a bib necklace: a short and flat statement piece that works with anything from a tee shirt to a cocktail dress. And lastly, stackable rings are great for layering with your other jewelry and easy to wear every day.
The Inside Source: You’ve had a lot of great internships since your first-with style webiste WhoWhatWear, designer Rachel Pally and stylists Estee Stanley and Christina Ehrlich–which I imagine helped you to navigate the fashion world. Was there one internship that you feel like really set you on the right course?
Amanda Thomas: There’s definitely been a few mentors along the way. Rachel Pally has been supportive since day one and encouraged me to pursue Luv Aj from the get-go when I interned for her back in 2006. She was really showed me how much you could accomplish with a bit of creativity and a whole lot of business savvy. Also, Hillary Kerr and Katherine Power, the founders of Who What Wear, have been extremely instrumental in the launch of the collection [since I graduated from college]. After I finished my internship with them last spring, they were the first people to believe in my brand enough to do an entire story about Luv Aj, which was so major. It instantly put me on the radar for buyers and other big fashion media outlets.
The Inside Source: In the future do you plan to stick with jewelry or will you expand your line to include other accessories or clothing?
Amanda Thomas: My dream is to see Luv Aj expand into bags and shoes, and really be a recognizable brand across the world. I would love to get into leather goods, and if I ever was an expert in anything it’s shoes. My collection has been growing since high school, and every year I look forward to the one or two statement pairs I have to get.
Meredith Barnett is the Editorial Director for The Inside Source, a digital style magazine presented by eBay. The Inside Source writer Beth Whiffen authored this article in its original form. Click here to read it in full and to check out Amanda Thomas’ eBay wish list. (Images courtesy of Amanda Thomas/Luv Aj.)