You may not recognize her name, but you certainly recognize her line, LUV AJ. Inspired by her nickname and signature, “Luv AJ”, Amanda Jane Thomas decided she wanted to sign her goods the same way she signed her postcards. At only 22 years old, Thomas is a much-talked-about newcomer in the accessories industry. Known for spiky knuckle rings and multi-strand chain bracelets, her aesthetic combines rocker edge with feminine simplicity. Although she’s young, her styles have already graced the likes of Ashlee Simpson and Lindsay Lohan and during her first year of college, her pieces were featured in ELLE magazine. Now the recent Otis grad is excited to go full speed ahead with her namesake line and she stopped by LadyLux to tell us all about it.
LadyLux: You’re only 22 and your accessories have already made it on WhoWhatWear (more than once). What got you into jewelry so young?
Amanda Thomas: It started out when I was 14 or 15 years old. I used to intern for a store designer on Abbot Kinney called Cory Madley (store is Madley in Venice Beach). My parents would drop me off after school and on the weekends and I would help in her studio. She taught how to sew and how to make jewelry… wire wrapping and stuff. I just fell in love with it. I really, really liked her stuff but it was all really expensive. My friends and me couldn’t afford. I started going and buying chains and beads on my own, and going to flea markets and finding cool trinkets. That’s when I started working on my own line.
LL: How’d LUV AJ start?
AT: During prom season, everyone asked me to make their jewelry. It just turned into this thing…and I was making steady money. When I was 16 years old, I got my business license and had my friend Brad make this dinky e-commerce Web site. I started shooting stuff in my kitchen (my cousin was the model) and just cranking stuff out. Then it started selling. I’ve always frequented stores like Fred Segal and Madison. I went in one day and the head buyer at Fred Segal saw my necklace. She said, “Oh, that’s really great. Where did you get it?” I told her I made it and she ended up buying the whole collection. That was really the beginning of everything.
LL: How old were you?
AT: That was my junior year of high school. Yeah, I was always a full-time student, high school and in college, so LUV AJ was never something I could do full force. I got press here and there. I was in ELLE magazine my first year in college, which was pretty cool. Lindsay Lohan and Ashlee Simpson wore a bunch of my pieces. It wasn’t until now, when I graduated from college, that it has really become my career. Literally, the day I graduated, I just hit the ground running.
LL: Even though you’re young, you’ve had almost a decade of experience.
AT: It was a natural impulse to make things and be creative. I wasn’t like “I want to start a business.” It was just a natural progression. I realized I was getting so much positive feedback from it, so it made sense to turn it into something.
LL: Have you learned a lot?
AT: It took a couple years but I think I figured it out. During the summers, I did LUV AJ but I also worked for a public relations firm, celebrity stylist, and WhoWhatWear. I worked in all areas of fashion – PR, designing, and editorial. I’m ready.
LL: You’ve had so many different experiences. Will you continue to dabble in other things as well?
AT: No, LUV AJ is definitely my calling. I have such a deep, deep love for accessories (she laughs).
LL: Why accessories?
AT: For me, when I get ready in the morning, I choose the accessories first before I choose the outfit. I think, “Okay, I want to wear this necklace today. What shirt will look good with it?” I think accessories are the way to stand out. Everyone might have the same Forever 21 mini dress but if I’m wearing a body chain and a spiked bracelet, my style looks different that someone else’s.
LL: Your aesthetic is very distinctive – kinda girly rocker, lots of stones and metals. Did it start out that way?
AT: My first pieces are so different. I hate them now. I worked a lot with vintage chains, broaches and charms. I would make short necklaces with a couple charms. My big seller was the cluster necklace. It was one really long vintage chain and at the bottom there would be a mishmash of different beads, broaches, and dripping chains. It was a big ball of craziness at the bottom. They sold really well.
LL: Oh yeah, I still see those around.
AT: It worked out because they were really cool at the time. Plus, they were all one-of-a-kind and handmade, so people were really into it, but now when I look at them I’m like “Oh my gosh, I would never wear them.”
LL: So you kind of grew up through your jewelry.
AT: Yeah. I also matured in terms of how I approach the jewelry that I make. In the beginning it was more scatterbrained, I would just make what I wanted, but now I think about it as a collection. I try to use cohesive pieces and have a connective strand throughout so everything makes sense.
LL: What’s it like seeing celebs wearing your pieces?
AT: It’s really cool! Most of the time I know, because I sent it to their stylist, but it’s really cool when I didn’t send it or they went to a store and bought it. It’s really flattering to know that people who have style you admire, are into your line.
LL: Do you make it all?
AT: Yeah, right now I’m making it all. I’ve been inundated with orders and stores wanting to purchase the line, so my goal is to have a manufacturer locked down. Hopefully I’ll be able to design all the samples and then have someone else make all of them. Then I can focus on the business side.
LL: You’ll hand-make the samples? Well, at least you’ll keep designing.
AT: I definitely don’t want to lose the hand quality of everything…but I also don’t want to be up until five in the morning making 600 rings.
LL: Are you a one-man show? Or does LUV AJ have a staff?
AT: I am a one-man show right now. However, my family has been awesome. I have my mom. I call her Kris Kardashian because she’s my “mom-ager” (mom manager). She manages a lot of the production and manufacturing. My sister has been great. She’s my photographer and shoots all the lookbooks. I have the whole team on board. Yesterday I had my mom, dad, brother and sister, all packing boxes at the same time.
LL: You just graduated from school. What’d you study?
AT: I studied Graphic Design at Otis College of Art and Design. That has been a lifesaver. It allows me to control every single visual aspect of the brand. I can do my Web site, printed materials and lookbooks. It’s nice to control it all myself, versus have someone do that for me.
LL: Where do you see things going?
AT: Hopefully we will expand into shoes and bags. One designer I really admire is Tory Burch. It might not be everyone’s style but she has this ubiquitous quality to her. She is everywhere. Her accessories can fit into any type of outfit. I think she’s done a really good job of branding herself and staying true to herself as a designer.
LL: I like her handbags.
AT: Yeah, it’s cool. There are a lot of pieces that cater to moms and older women, but there are also a lot of pieces that 16-year-old girls want to wear. I think that’s rare with designers…the fact that she can transcend all those different age groups. I hope to be something like that…one day.