Many talented, successful and independent business owners quietly reside in the American Riviera. A prime example is jewelry designer Thoi Vo, who sells her delicate, vibrant designs nationwide.
After being born in war-torn Vietnam, Vo’s parents struggled to immigrate to the United States for nearly a decade. She recalls her time in Vietnam with mixed feelings. She says it was a simpler time, but laced with anxiety and unrest. Her mother, a clothing designer, dressed high-ranking soldiers and politicians. She recalls crawling through reams of material under the bench in her mother’s sewing workshop.
Once in the United States, Vo’s parents manufactured clothing and materials for large companies such as JanSport backpacks. Through seeing their work flow, she learned business fundamentals. Growing up, she also spent a fair amount of influential time with her aunt and uncle, a musician and a sculptor.
“I can’t tell you how many times he caste my face in plaster of Paris,” Vo said, “and I watched him carve creations and I, too, began to try to make and build things.”
While she initially attended college with an international relations focus to please her parents, Vo said she eventually rerouted to her true passion: art. She attended the School of Visual Arts in New York, followed by Otis Parsons in downtown Los Angeles for a degree in fashion design. As part of her final project, Vo designed an intricately beaded, flapper-inspired swimsuit.
“Everyone thought I was crazy to commit to that amount of detail, which had to be done by hand, but I loved it,” said Vo, adding that it also led her to her ultimate career as a jewelry designer.
Knowing she didn’t want to work for a big company, Vo initially took a position designing for a Carpinteria-based surf brand, which turned out to be boot camp.
“We worked ‘round the clock for nearly a year, and I earned next to nothing,” she said. “But I learned an incredible amount about the full process — from designing to taking items to market.”
Moonlighting in the evening, Vo began making her own designs, which she sold to friends. She later decided to go out on her own to find buyers and steadily grew to Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York markets with the help of a rep and by tirelessly exhibiting at jewelry trade shows.
“I was working 110-hour weeks and constantly traveling,” she said. “It was too much, so we downsized and focused our efforts.”
Today she has a staff of four and oversees the design, assembly and marketing. Every piece that comes out of Thoi Vo Jewelry is handmade and guaranteed for life.
Vo describes her core customer as a classic woman with an edge and a free spirit. Vo’s relatively high price point ($80 to $900) means her typical clients are 30- to 60-year-old women who enjoy classic, feminine jewelry without excessive flash. Her pieces are delicate and combine brightly colored stones — her signature style. She uses all metals and finds inspirations in a host of avenues, from flowers to fashion. She points to a magazine tear sheet pinned to her office wall, with a fashion model sporting shocking orange hair and vibrant aqua blue eye shadow. Vo points to a new piece in her summer line that echoes those colors.
Vo recently celebrated 10 years in business and counts several Hollywood celebrities as clients. Click here to see her work and to sign up for her locals-only trunk show list.