When Lisa Sahakian and her partner upgraded to a new apartment in Los Angeles last year, it wasn’t because the couple wanted a dishwasher or central air conditioning. They desperately needed a spare room to store their ceramic beads and charms.
“It’s really an entire wall of beads,” Ms. Sahakian, 27, said of the makeshift studio. “It’s crazy.” On display are hundreds and hundreds of eccentric, off-kilter gems. The charms, which resemble the cartoonish style of emojis, cover the full spectrum of irreverent camp. There are teensy-tiny ceramics of hamburgers and miniature dachshunds and frozen margaritas strung together. But these are not the charm bracelets and necklaces of elementary school. The necklaces fetch between $160 and $250.
From this color-soaked space, Ms. Sahakian and her partner and co-founder, Max Riddle, 27, run Ian Charms, an if-you-know-you-know accessories label that has been worn by celebrities including Dua Lipa, Justin Bieber and the Kid Laroi. Occasionally, Ms. Sahakian’s mother comes in and works as a beader.
The arrival of Ian Charms, which was introduced in August 2020, was perfectly timed. That’s because what younger shoppers want to wear around their necks and wrists changed over the course of the pandemic. The minimalist, dainty jewelry popularized by millennials a few years ago fell out of favor, and statement pieces were in.
As Audrey Peters, 24, a fashion influencer on TikTok, put it: “You see millennials going to Catbird and getting permanent bracelets put on them. Gen Z has not much of an interest in that. They care more about personality.”
Indeed, eccentric, D.I.Y.-leaning jewelry blew up during the pandemic. Necklace beading tutorials, a practice once reserved for summer camps and crafting classes, have become popular on TikTok. And Ian Charms capitalized on the trend.
Up until late last year, multiple designs were released on a weekly basis and never restocked, ensuring that each piece felt unique and tied to the dizzying carousel called internet culture. A chain could feature a charm that pulls lose inspiration from “Squid Games” one week and a viral “Real Housewives” moment the next. The company now releases new charms about every two weeks.
Ms. Sahakian, who has no previous design experience, credits Ian Charms’ successes largely to luck. “It’s weird when I think about it because this whole wave really started right when I jumped on it,” she said of the company she started with little more than a $600 investment in beads. Only two years in, and with no major outside funding, Ian Charms’ designs can now be found in Dover Street Market Beijing and Selfridges.
And the spare room is no longer cutting it. Ms. Sahakian is shopping around for an office space.
How does a 20-something start a jewelry label with little to no experience?
“I wanted to get my boyfriend a chain,” Ms. Sahakian said on a video call, speaking from the apartment that doubles as the Ian Charms headquarters. Searching for the perfect gift for Mr. Riddle (the two met on the dating app Bumble), Ms. Sahakian came across necklaces that were either “really expensive if they were super-cool” or “boring.” So she decided to make one herself.
The necklace was a hit, winning praise not only from Mr. Riddle but also from her friends. Requests flooded in from friends and strangers who had heard of the brand through the grapevine. Ms. Sahakian obliged and made more. Money was a motivating factor: Ms. Sahakian, who was working as an assistant for a reality television development company, had recently received a “really fat pay cut.”
“I think, at first, my friends were like, ‘I’ll buy this and help support you,’” she said.
Ms. Sahakian bought beads from Peruvian factories — they are a “very specific style,” she said — and deadstock resellers. She came up with designs and paid her mother to make copies of the necklaces. Mr. Riddle helped to steer the company.
Word spread quickly online and among fashion insiders. Soon Ms. Sahakian found herself connected with Catherine Hahn, the stylist for the musician Post Malone, who wanted a beaded necklace for the performer to wear to that year’s Billboard Music Awards. Ms. Sahakian quickly made three one-of-a-kind pieces and gave them to Ms. Hahn.
A few days later, Ms. Sahakian and Mr. Riddle watched the awards, eager to see an Ian Charms necklace flash on the screen. “He didn’t end up wearing one,” Mr. Riddle said. “But it was OK, because it opened our eyes to the stylist world. We realized that’s the way to get stuff to a lot of these celebrities.”
Ian Charms necklaces are also popular with the “Saturday Night Live” star Pete Davidson. A friend introduced Ms. Sahakian to Britt Theodora, Mr. Davidson’s stylist. The two chatted over Zoom, and Ms. Sahakian sent a custom piece for Ms. Theodora to show Mr. Davidson.
“We did little things to make it feel personal to him,” Ms. Theodora said. “We put a little pizza on the necklace to represent New York.” Since then, the “S.N.L.” star has ordered numerous necklaces and taken to wearing them on air during skits.
Is there anyone left on Ms. Sahakian’s wish list? “Anyone Armenian is iconic,” said Ms. Sahakian, who is of Armenian heritage. “If I had, like, Kim Kardashian in Ian Charms, that’d be sick.”
Ms. Sahakian has set her sights on expanding Ian Charms. Soon to come: a line of fine jewelry.
Ms. Sahakian said she has turned down offers to sell the company. “The brand is so personal, it feels weird to sell something that literally has my name in it.” (“Ian” is a reference to the end of Ms. Sahakian’s surname and many other Armenian surnames.)
The reality television development company she used to work for is even interested in a show about her and the company.
Ms. Sahakian laughed when recounting this, her pearl necklace shifting ever so slightly. “It’s sort of interesting the way that the tables have turned,” she said.