Shelley Sanders, the brains behind the LA jewelry label The Last Line, is changing the way young women think about fine jewelry. With celebrity clientele the likes of Katy Perry to Rachel Zoe, Shelley’s offering includes cooler-than-cool multi-layered earrings in the most charming rainbow colors, vintage-inspired tennis bracelets and enamel work that would make your grandmother swoon. The brand successfully manages to merge old world sophistication with a new wave millennial mindset.
I first became acquainted with Shelley’s brand last spring, when it began popping up on the feeds of some of the of-the-moment influencers. But it wasn’t until I had the opportunity to meet the designer at her press preview this past summer that I realized the brand was something truly special. Her mission is to become the last place you will ever need to purchase jewelry, and The Last Line lives up to its hype. With an ever-growing business and a new capsule collection just in time for Valentine’s Day, we thought it was the perfect time to pick Shelley’s brain about running her own business, managing her family and career, and looking effortlessly chic doing it all. Without further ado, Pretty Birds, read ahead and fall in love with The Last Line.
Did you always plan to go into jewelry design?
I have always been creative and loved design, jewelry, interior, etc. I can remember being a little girl and being interested in jewelry and not just the glamorous side of it, but the intricacies of a piece – the shape, the design, the metals and yes, the stones. I would collect coins and always be doodling shapes and designs, at that time I had no idea I could and would make a future career of this. With time my creativity and curiosity to design became more serious and I started to research how I could continue to create and make a career out of this. I studied Fine Arts at Parsons, but they cancelled the Metals program and I was so bummed. I ultimately returned home to California to train with Master Jewelers in San Francisco and from there I knew I was going to work in jewelry for a living, but I don’t think I ever would do it at this level.
When did you first decide to start The Last Line, and how did you come up with the name?
Truthfully, the idea and ultimately the decision to launch was a long time coming. Long story short, I had been working in the jewelry industry since college but always for someone else from celebrity jewelry brands and high-end jewelry houses. The idea and opportunity for my own line came up many times, but it wasn’t until I felt like I could bring something new to a very crowded and noisy space that it was time to create something of my own. Almost four years ago, I was ready for a career change and I felt I could bring something new to the market, so together with my husband Teddy, we decided we would launch The Last Line. (The name came later, of course.)
The inspiration behind the name of The Last Line is it is the last place you’ll have need to look for your jewelry and I plan to live up to the name. If you don’t see what you’re looking for, e-mail me and we can talk custom.
You’ve been in the business for over 15 years. What was the biggest difference with working for other brands and starting up your own company?
You could argue easily the pits and peaks of both scenarios. When you’re working for someone else’s line, it’s more of a black and white role, you have an assignment and you’re making pieces to answer a need, it’s much more rigid. When you have your own line, there is much more freedom in creativity and techniques, especially when building a brand from the bottom up. You have flexibility to be reactionary in a good way and you’re much more in tune to your customers. I like creatively directing the company beyond just the jewelry.
What were some of the challenges you’ve come across with starting up your own brand and in particular why did you choose to go with a direct-to-consumer model instead of selling third party?
For me personally, launching The Last Line quickly became much more than designing jewelry, it meant managing a business, which is a challenge in its own right. You’re knowingly (and unknowingly) signing up for many roles, it’s been a sharp learning curve, but I’m so happy. A friend once told me it’s a marathon, not a sprint. I have to admit that’s difficult for me, I’m a sprinter, I have so many ideas, but people can only digest so much at once, so I have to slow down, space it out and keep it exciting for everyone, myself included.
We chose to launch direct-to-consumer so 1) I could be close to all my shoppers, which I love and 2) to present better pieces at better prices. We could have absolutely wholesaled to retailers, but I knew I could give women more value if we are direct to consumer. I wanted bigger diamonds, nicer pieces, and more luxurious materials for better prices and I can’t imagine I’m alone in that! I think one thing that is not talked about very much (and can be overwhelming) is the price of fine jewelry and why something costs what is does, but it’s important for me to use the best materials in my designs.
Can you describe the brand in three words?
Barely! Updated classics with a little nostalgia.
What are some tips you would give to someone wanting to start a jewelry design business?
Starting any business is difficult. If you asked me ten years ago I would have never believed that I would have my own company and definitely not one as developed as The Last Line. A lot of people told me before launching “Do what you want and never look back,” but I think it’s really important to look back, that’s how you learn. I am constantly checking in on what I did, what worked, what didn’t work, etc. it’s such an important lesson for growth, personally and professionally!
Equally important is to establish (and believe in) a clear vision of what you’re setting out to do, the worst thing you can do is lose authenticity of your goal, your business, and your product. That’s not to say that you can’t do new things, but do them with your own lens. I have made the rule that I will only ever produce things that I am happy to present and wear myself, if I don’t believe in it, why would someone else?
Take us through your design process. Where do you find your inspiration, source materials, etc.?
I have three children and a husband, all whom I love deeply but when I’m designing, I have to be alone. I sketch every piece before we go into production, so that takes time. The intricacies of design have always been important to me, it’s these details that make a difference, when setting a bracelet or necklace, I want to actually be able to see each of the stones, it’s not just about a piece looking pretty.
I find inspiration everywhere, I love design of all types and I love to create. I can’t stop—it is an obsession. My children bring so much color to my life, figuratively and literally (read a lot of hearts, rainbows, and glittered items) in my house and they are always picking me flowers. Those elements of course then translate into my design process and provide inspiration. There is also a bit of nostalgia from my own childhood that I feel now as a mother that also translates into my designs. With the Soul collection, I wanted to create future heirlooms, pieces that can transcend time and be handed down generations. Almost all the Soul pieces are handmade in LA and with painstaking care.
You’re the queen of layering jewelry. Any tips for how to create the perfect jewelry look?
I love most things in excess and jewelry is no different, but personality is key. I love hearing people’s stories about their different pieces, where they came from, the significance of the piece, etc. I’m a believer that combinations and contrast define your style. Depending on your vibe, I feel like good stacks could be more subtle, like graduated hoops up the ear or a ton of expected pieces, mixed and matched in size and style. For me, it is how women mix their jewelry that makes it cool; I love peppering in vintage (even if actually stolen from you mom), with new additions. Graduation is really cool up the ear if you have lots of piercings; I do this often with huggies and the slim hoops. But then, I do it with the safety pins and the studs! For the arm, I subscribe to the more is more mentality, pile them on! Rings, same, break it up by adding in some midi or pinky rings.
What do you believe is the one staple piece that every woman should have in her jewelry collection?
If you’re just beginning to invest in fine jewelry, diamond huggies are perfect, you can wear them forever and they’re a great foundation piece. As you build your collection, add in a statement earring like the flowers or tennis line earrings. For something bold try wide hoops or doorknockers or for something classic and chic go for a diamond tennis bracelet and necklace. I guess I believe in a handful of staples…
With Valentines Day coming up, what tips do you have for someone buying jewelry for that special person in his or her lives?
Fine jewelry is personal, before you buy think about this person’s personal style, not what you may like (unless you’re secretly buying for yourself!) I also recommend looking at their existing pieces, do they only wear yellow gold, never wear hoops, and if you’re really stumped, pick something and show them before you buy. Tennis bracelets are always a winner if price permits. Something memorable is key, whether it’s an initial earring or a rose gold safety pin or ruby stud, something that has a story is important
What are some tips or tricks you have to keep jewelry in good condition?
Take care of your jewels, please! For best care, use a soft cloth and non-abrasive jewelry wash and don’t let your pieces rub against each other when you store them.
If you had one tip on how to live a more stylish life what would it be?
Contrast. I like a jewelry collection, outfit, interior, that has an unexpected twist. It’s the unique twists that create the best style.