By Allison Duncan
When Amanda Thomas of Luv Aj jewelry browsed Los Angeles’ Fred Segal a few years ago, she had no idea it would change her life forever. She had spent most of her high school years interning for a jewelry designer in Venice, CA who taught her how to make custom jewelry. She then browsed flea markets in her free time to find vintage chains and charms, eventually making her own pieces.
Thomas says she is inspired by materials and loves to pick out the chains for her collections, sometimes not even knowing what she is making when she chooses them. She uses both new and vintage chains and picks out different colors, different plating. Thomas says she likes to experiment, to just gather materials and create.
“My friends in high school would ask me to make them jewelry,” says Thomas. “I usually wore my own designs and one day I was shopping in Fred Segal when a buyer for the store asked about my necklace. When I told her that I had made it myself, she asked me to bring in more jewelry. They picked up my entire collection when I was a sophomore in high school—only 16-years-old.”
From that point on, Thomas started making more jewelry, and by the time she had graduated high school, all of the major Los Angeles’ boutiques had started selling her designs. Born and raised in the area, Thomas stayed in the city to attend the Otis College of Art and Design where she studied graphic design.
“I interned at Who What Wear and did freelance work for Rachel Zoe,” says Thomas. “I wasn’t sure if graphic design was right for me so I decided to pursue jewelry when I was done with school.”
Her employers at Who What Wear had noticed her jewelry and when she completed her internship with the company, they asked her to send a lookbook and linesheets of her latest creations.
“I had everything on their desk within two weeks and they ended up wanting to dedicate a story to my jewelry,” says Thomas. “The morning the story was published, I was contacted by Shopbop, Nordstrom and 50 other boutiques. They all wanted to pick up the line.”
Soon thereafter, the Los Angeles Times did a full-page article on Luv Aj jewelry, and Thomas says her line really took off around that time, thanks to Who What Wear. Urban Outfitters then approached Thomas, asking her to design a collection for them.
“Manufacturing an entire collection for Urban Outfitters, where I had shopped my entire life, was really exciting,” says Thomas. “It was definitely a ‘pinch-me’ moment to see my designs featured in one of my favorite stores.”
Having accomplished so much at such a young age, it’s hard for Thomas to pinpoint her proudest achievement. Instead, Thomas says she is grateful to be able to run a successful company at the age of 24, and she explains that she never thought she’d be in the position she’s in today.
But it hasn’t always been easy. When she first started her business, Thomas made a lot of expensive mistakes in production, and she wishes she had done more research, especially with manufacturers.
“Running a company can be overwhelming,” says Thomas. “You have to wear a lot of hats – be your own PR person, your own shipper, be on your toes all the time. And you have to be assertive. A lot of times when you start working with new people, you’re the little fish in the sea, at the bottom of the totem pole. You have to work your way up and be a pleasure to work with. If people like working with you, it creates better relationships, ensures longevity and stuff gets done faster.”
Now that Thomas has been in business for a few years, she is looking to expand into other accessories; first handbags, then shoes later. Thomas is hoping to grow her company and hire more employees. In the future, Thomas sees even more diffusion collections.
“Working for yourself is one of the most rewarding experiences a person could have,” says Thomas. “I would encourage anyone to try it, but you have to be working 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It doesn’t end at 5 p.m. You can choose to stop, but if you want to be successful, you need to push yourself and make things happen.”
She goes on to explain that it’s important to work ‘smart’ rather than work hard. It’s a matter of utilizing your time efficiently and finding ways to avoid wasting time.
Thomas spends most of her days in the studio going through emails, sending out online orders, visiting one of her multiple manufacturers and checking on samples. She jokes that her life sometimes feels like it revolves around FedEx shipping and that people would be surprised by how often she’s on the computer.
“I actually only spend two weeks of the year designing,” says Thomas. “In June, I designed 50-60 pieces and now they are being made. It’s easier for me to sit down and do it all at once and then release it sporadically throughout the year.”
Thomas’ favorite design is her Crystal Cross necklace, which was inspired by the Givenchy Panther necklace she says she was obsessed with.
“It’s such a good piece,” says Thomas. “Everyone that buys it loves it. I feel like it’s a really solid piece of jewelry.”
But Thomas’ most treasured piece of jewelry is an Alexander McQueen ring that her father gave her for Valentine’s Day a couple years ago; actually, the day after McQueen had died.
“It’s such a special ring,” says Thomas. “It’s a giant gold skull with a huge heart on the top of its head. I wear it every day, and it weighs like five pounds. It has sentimental value, and I feel like it’s signature ‘me.’”
Thomas says she tries to keep her personal designs versatile and as classic as possible so that while they’re still trendy, people can wear them for a few years and no one will know when they bought them.
“I design for the rock & roll edgy chick, a girl that can wear leather pants and a motorcycle jacket,” says Thomas. “But then my sister, who is very preppy, wears my jewelry too. It’s interesting to see her style the pieces in a way that I would never think of. I try not to be too trendy.”
She goes on to explain that Los Angeles is really laid back, a mix of chic and rock & roll girls, an eclectic mix of style that has laid back sensibility. Thomas says she doesn’t take herself seriously and her jewelry is something to have fun and play with, which fits the L.A. aesthetic.
While Thomas says people probably assume that she wears tons of jewelry every day, she actually believes that less is more when it comes to accessories. She thinks that women should spend money on a few good pieces and then wear those all the time.
“I used to spend fifty dollars on about 400 necklaces at Forever 21, but I think girls should curate their jewelry collection,” says Thomas. “Put some money into it because it should last you a lifetime.”
Thomas’ pieces are the ultimate investment—fun and edgy, yet still timeless. And as the Luv Aj collection grows, one can only expect to see bigger and better things in the future.
“You just have to keep moving forward, and it’s really exciting,” says Thomas. “I feel so blessed and happy that my hard work has paid off.”