"It's everything I love. It's this very bizarre manifestation of pop culture, but in the form of necklaces," Lisa Sahakian, founder of Ian Charms, chuckles to me as she tries to succinctly encapsulate her beaded jewelry brand. What began in 2020 as a personal project has exploded into a jewelry brand frequently worn by some of the biggest celebrities in the world. We caught up with Lisa ahead of the Ian Charms drop this afternoon to hear about the genesis of her brand and how it has evolved since its nascency.
Pop Stars' Favorite Jeweler: A Conversation with Ian Charms
Lisa Sahakian's work has been donned by Justin Bieber, Dua Lipa and more
Ian Charms is Born
Lisa’s decision to start making beaded jewelry was the culmination of a myriad of influences in mid 2020. The tumultuous summer of 2020 threw a spotlight on the insurmountable mountain of systemic inequality embedded in our culture and led many people to reconsider the ways they could work to chip away at these plagues—financially.
“I wanted to donate more, but wasn’t making any money,” Lisa tells me; she was working as an assistant in reality TV development at the time, and had recently had her overtime hours cut. So Ian Charms was initially birthed out of a desire to raise some extra money to donate to the numerous bail projects and individuals doing criminal justice reform work in 2020.
List was simultaneously on the hunt for a gift for her boyfriend, and was dismayed to find it difficult to uncover interesting jewelry. “Everything super cool was really expensive,” she explains. So she bought “$600 worth” of beads, and started her practice. Within a month or two, the custom necklaces she was posting to her meager few hundred followers on IG began to attract the attention of some celebrity stylists. First was Post Malone. And soon after, Dua Lipa. Dua wore two pieces back to back, and afterwards: “It took off and became basically my full time job,” Lisa recalls. She completely departed her full time job in early 2021.
“It was the only fun colorful thing that happened during COVID; the neck was really having its moment over zoom,” Lisa explains to me how the pandemic impacted the escalation of the business. People wanted to wear pretty things that they could show off from within the confines of a virtual meeting.
It’s kind of this crazy, unexpected, very bizarre accidental job.
- Lisa Sahakian
The name "Ian Charms" is a nod to Lisa's Armenian heritage. Almost every Armenian last name ends with -ian, so she chose to employ the ubiquitous suffix as the moniker for her fledgling brand.
What initially began as a line comprised entirely of first-come-first-serve customs had to snowball into the larger distribution we see today. At the time when they shifted over from the one of one model, Lisa tells me that they had a wait list as long as four to five months. They started doing drops every Friday, and currently do the drops on a biweekly cadence.
Despite beaded jewelry picking up popularity over the past two years, Ian Charms still sets itself apart by relying on some beads that are not replicable. “Now we get a lot of the beads custom made for us, which is great because people can’t really duplicate it,” Lisa explains, going on to emphasize the importance of the brand’s unique style: “If you’re making something that’s easy to copy, you’re not gonna grab people’s attention.” And while other beaded jewelry creators have cropped up, you can always spot an Ian Charms piece by the beads. “That’s why it was really important for us to build moats around the castle, so it was really hard for people to duplicate it. And so that people can see it and know right away it’s Ian Charms,” Lisa explains.
I ask Lisa about her design process, which she explains revolves around pop culture and what people are talking about. “A lot of stuff is themed to pop culture. So when something will happen, I’ll make a necklace based on it that day, and those are the ones that get the most attention, because they’re so chaotic and inappropriate and bizarre,” she chuckles.
One of the biggest celebrity supporters of Ian Charms is a fairly recognizable pop singer who goes by the name of Justin Bieber. “On a personal note, I wanted to get stuff to Justin Bieber for a long time. I was obsessed with him,” Lisa tells me, recounting her childhood fascination with the heartthrob.
Apparently, he saw his wife Hailey wearing the products and began wearing them himself; today, you’re hard pressed to find a paparazzi shot of Justin not wearing an Ian Charms necklace. “I had a cardboard cutout of him in my room when I was younger, and now he follows us and wears them all the time. My younger self would never believe it,” Lisa smiles.
They also launched an apparel line last year, which similarly relies on some recognizable Ian Charms iconography: “It’s like our beads in clothing form. If you just saw the clothes, you would know that they were ours.” All of the clothing is sourced and produced in LA.
Lisa owes a lot of the success of Ian Charms to the malleability allowed by remaining a small business. “A huge part for us has been being super taboo and playful with social media,” she explains, adding: “And kind of doing what you can’t do as a big company, really using that to your advantage. And rewriting how you market and brand things. People really resonate with it, because it’s more realistic, and it’s not about these cheesy product shots. It’s just more fun and casual.”
"It originally started because I had made my boyfriend a necklace," Lisa recalls warmly. Two years later, they still sell a similar necklace—and a whole lot more.
Shop the necklaces dropping today at 12pm PST on the Ian Charms website.