Bangkok jewelry designer, Chanya “O” Thongthai, is known in the fashion world for her distinctive modern designs. Born and raised in Bangkok, O studied graphic design and moving image in London before launching her namesake jewelry brand. The 28-year-old’s work has been spotted on a myriad of big-name musicians from Lorde to A$AP Rocky. We met with O to discuss the fashion climate in Thailand and the importance of giving back.
How did you get into jewelry making?
“I quit highschool when I was 15 and met someone who ran a jewelry workshop in Bangkok, from there I started making jewelry every weekend and eventually decided to move to England and pursue jewelry design. While I was there, I started working as an assistant for the stylist Matthew Josephs and that was how I got into fashion. In 2012 I needed to move back to Thailand. I didn’t plan on starting my career as a jewelry designer at the time, but I needed to find my purpose in Thailand. I was already familiar with jewelry from a young-age and Thailand is the heart of jewelry production and gemstones. So when I moved back, I started studying gemology and my best friend asked me to make some jewelry for her clothing line. From there, the collaborations started coming in—Bobby Abley, JELLY BELLY, Ryan Lo, Casablanca…”
How did you find your place in the hyper-competitive Thailand jewelry market?
“After I left Thailand, I was a bit of a hustler. I was in England, by myself, doing this and that to make money. I had a bit saved when I started my jewelry business but it didn’t go how I wanted because I didn’t know anything about business. I started doing mass production but my prices still weren’t competitive enough. You’ll see a really nice set of earrings for B500 and I was like ‘I can’t even produce that for B500’ but bigger companies are profiting off that. So that really made me realize I have to be in fine jewelry, that’s where I found my niche.”
What materials do you use?
“I normally use 14k gold but it depends on the customer. I work with everything, sterling silver and 9k to 24k gold.”
How much do your pieces sell for?
“My custom pieces start around B8,000 for sterling silver and B25,000 for 9k gold but it depends on the details. The most expensive piece I’ve made sold for nearly seven digits.”
How did your work catch the attention of A$AP Rocky?
“I became friends with Rocky’s stylist, Matthew Henson, and he started putting some of my pieces on Rocky, or if Matthew is wearing something of mine and Rocky likes it, he’ll ask for it."
What do you think makes your jewelry stand out compared to other brands?
“Right now, I only do custom pieces. I don’t really believe in mass production for jewelry. The project has to be fun for me. If someone asks for a piece that isn’t something I’ll enjoy making, I’m not going to do it. With custom pieces, it’s always something that the customer is going to really appreciate. I try to treat my customers like friends and family, so I avoid crazy mark-ups. Making jewelry is my passion, it’s really not about the money for me."
How do you think fashion and music are connected?
“I think they just compliment each other. Music is not just about the sound, there’s always a visual component to it, whether it’s the video, graphic design, or the artist’s image. If the artist is really talented, good style and social media skills are going to help them get recognition way quicker."
Do you have any pieces that stand out to you?
“I feel like my first choker was really good. It’s how a lot of people found out about me. It actually ended up being worn by Lorde. She was the first celebrity to wear one of my pieces, back in like 2013.”
To you, who are the most notable celebrities to have worn your pieces?
“I have a whole list [of celebrities] that I want to eventually sell pieces to. The latest one I’ve ticked off is Pharrell, that was really exciting. Others include The Weeknd, M.I.A. and Swae Lee."
Tell us about your work with the children’s charity Sati Foundation, and why it’s important to you to give back.
“I’ve been donating to them and hanging out with some of the kids they help for a while now. There’s like short-term happiness and long-term happiness. For me, the recognition from celebrities and people I admire is very short-term. Doing something to give back to society is so important to me because I feel like I’m lucky and someone else should be able to be given a chance in life, everyone deserves a chance."
Any words of wisdom about the business?
“A lot of people will try to take advantage of you. There will always be problems. I had to learn that some things are out of my control and how to let go. I’ve learned a lot from mistakes too. Sometimes you’ll feel like a failure but you haven’t really failed unless you’ve given up.”