Amanda Thomas, Designer
LUV AJ – Amanda Thomas Interview
Amanda Thomas is the mastermind behind the brand LUV AJ, an L.A.-based jewelry line. Amanda’s an extremely talented creative with skills that reach far beyond product design. She has built an empire around a lifestyle, a unique point of view and an acute focus on the details. Her products are imperfectly perfect and uncommonly beautiful; they evoke individuality and style that is impossible to replicate. I personally appreciate her brand vision most- Amanda’s dedication to creating memorable lookbooks every season is unparalleled.
It all started with a chance encounter with a buyer at Fred Segal. They picked up her line for their stores, and by the age of 16, LUV AJ was officially created. Today, her line has gained massive popularity among starlets, boasting a client list with names such as Rihanna, Rachel Bilson, Vanessa Hudgens, Whitney Port and Nicole Richie; these women, along with others around the globe, admire her signature heavy-metal spikes and layered chains.
What did you want to be when you were a kid?
I seriously never thought about it. I know that sounds weird, but I was never like, “I want to be a fireman, veterinarian…” I think when it was when I started high school I began thinking about what I wanted to do, but it was kind of generic, like, “I want to work for a fashion magazine.” Even when I went to Otis, I studied graphic design, I thought I wanted to be a graphic designer, but when I had those thoughts, I was actually doing all these other creative things. I just never thought I could turn them into a career. And then it just organically happened. I never woke up and said, I want to be a jewelry designer. Ever.
At what age did you decide that this is for real… “I want to do this.”
My dad always really inspired us to be creative and he tried to teach us to draw. I couldn’t draw, but my sister could. He tried to teach me other things, but when he introduced me to the X-acto Knife, I became obsessed with it. I just started cutting things. So I would cut stencils and I started cutting really really extensive, intricate stencils. One day he saw them and said, “You’re really good at this!” Because I had such precision with it. So then, I’ve always been really obsessed with pop culture. I’m shameless, I read US Weekly every week, I get the emails. It’s one of my favorite indulgences. Just because it’s so entertaining, so ridiculous. The whole thing is so political. I feel like I understand it now, too, especially being in the fashion industry.
So I started making airbrush tote bags and I would do these stencils of celebrities faces and then do a funny tagline about it. I did one that said “Save Mary Kate” and on the back of the bag said, “Because 1/2 Olsens Twins just isn’t enough.” Or like, Martha Stewart, with her face behind bars, and it said, “Because I just can’t keep living without Living.” Like the magazine, you know.
Then I started buying tote bags and airbrushing them using the stencils I would create and people at school were like, “Oh my god, that’s so cool,” because they were book bags- instead of a book bag I would bring those. People became obsessed with them, wanting them. I was in Fred Segal, and I had one, and one of the buyers asked, “Where did you get that?” and I told them I made it. They asked if I could make more, so I made more, and I had my first buyers meeting with them at 14 years old, by myself- my mom dropped me off. They end up carrying my line. And they suggested I come up with a name for my line.
That’s when I came up with LUV AJ. Because I used to tag everything LUV AJ, because my name is Amanda Jane. I was also 14, so I spelled “love” – LUV. I’ve had my bouts with that. Somedays I’m so embarrassed, and other days I’m like whatever.
I was really into airbrushing. I started airbrushing Vans. I would do intricate patterns like wood grain or corral. While I was doing all this, I was spending money on supplies, buying paint and materials, and my mom recommended I start interning, working a bit, just to make some extra cash. I started working with jewelry and clothing designer, Coryn Madley on Abbot Kinney, so my mom would drop me off at her place every weekend. That’s who taught me how to make jewelry, all her stuff is all re-appropriated vintage. We would go to flea markets and buy old chains and brooches, and she would teach me how to string them all together and wire wrap beads. Her stuff is expensive, $500 – $1,000 a piece. At that age in high school, I’m buying shit at Claires accessories, so that didn’t even make sense to me.
I thought it was a really cool concept, but I just didn’t think it was lucrative. So I started making my own stuff. I took the skills she taught me and I’d go find a shark tooth and wire wrap it and put it on a vintage chain, that’s when the jewelry thing started.
By my senior year of high school LUV AJ was in Fred Segal, Lisa Kline, Madison, I was making jewelry. I wasn’t on the tennis team; I was making jewelry or bags. I started working with silk screeners, wholesale jewelry vendors. And that’s really when I started to think this could be something.
What do you love?
Just lately, something I love so much is my freedom, I love that I am able to financially support myself, I can make my own schedule, I love the freedom that working for yourself brings. I love the freedom to do whatever I want. If I want to make a lookbook, if I want to put mud all over a girl and drag her through dirt and make her look like a boy, I can do that. I can literally do whatever I want. I can say anything and do anything. I have been trying to take advantage of that and make sure I don’t take it for granted. I think that’s one of the most beautiful things in my life right now, the freedom that I have with my work.
What is your process like?
I do have a process. It’s not necessarily traditional, but it’s also not real involved. I don’t like to think about things too much- I like to do things. When I am making a line, I start with inspiration. I have a huge inspiration folder on my desktop, it’s categorized by style: bracelet, ring, necklace, etc. It starts by seeing something else, or seeing a detail in something, and then I sit down and make it. And tweak it from there. Then I think about materials, I figure out what I can work with, I try not to work with stuff that is too hard to find or too expensive. I figure out what is in my price point, what is replenishable and what is easy to get, then I work with that.
I’ll sit down and mess around and play with chains and silhouettes and lengths. It’s very literal, I don’t see a movie and get inspired or I don’t try to channel eras or anything like that, I physically make things I want to wear. I want a necklace covered in spikes. It’s that literal. Then I figure out where the spikes are coming from and where the chain is coming from and put it all together.
What personality trait do you think is most important to success?
The willingness to grow. You can’t be defensive and also roll with the punches. Be critical of yourself and your work, but in a way that is productive. Be open to change, not stuck in your ways. Have the ability to adapt and grow- you can stay true to your aesthetic, but you need to be easy to work with.
One thing I have grown into is patience. I work with 15 different grown men in downtown. An Indian guy, a Hispanic guy, a Puerto Rican guy… they are like 40-year-old men and I’m this 24-year-old little white girl. They choose to complete my order when they decide they want to finish them. If I ask for them on Tuesday, it might not be done Tuesday, I just learned to be patient. I’ve learned to be kind and easy to work with so they’ll want to get my shit done. They want to see me on Tuesday. I want people to want to work with me. It’s really important to me.
You don’t need to be a ballbuster, you need to be confident and amicable. That is one thing I learned from Hillary [Kerr]. She has one of the best reputations in the business. She’s really funny, she has a great sense of humor. She finds a way to connect with everyone she works with. From the Fed Ex guy that drops of the packages and knows her by her first name, to the editor at Glamour Magazine, she finds one thing to connect with each person and solidifies her relationship with them. People genuinely want to work with her. That is one thing I really admired about her. I also see that with my mom, people really like working with her. I want to get work done, but I want people to come away from working with me and say, “I really enjoyed that. That was nice.”
We live in a complicated time. What do you think people can do to make the world a better place?
No matter what you are doing, being kind to people is really important. In my position, I have a company that is getting more and more successful and I’m starting to think, “How can I give back?” I’m now in a position that I can do that. I can work within the community. I started working with this amazing charity, Freed by Design. They teach women in Thailand how to make jewelry, to give them a trade, give them something to do so they don’t have to prostitute themselves. You can’t live in your own bubble; you have to think about other people- whether it’s as simple as being an easygoing person to work with, or spreading your success to others who aren’t as fortunate. You can’t do you all the time, because other people matter.
Amanda Thomas and LUV AJ:
Featured photo by: Duane Fernandez
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