How Amber Atherton Used Reality TV to Grow Her Jewelry Business

Amber Atherton started her successful jewelry e-shop out of her boarding school dorm room at just 16 years old.
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Amber Atherton started her successful jewelry e-shop out of her boarding school dorm room at just 16 years old.
Founder Amber Atherton with looks from My Flash Trash lookbook. Photos: Courtesy

Founder Amber Atherton with looks from My Flash Trash lookbook. Photos: Courtesy

Some people just have entrepreneurship in their blood. To wit: Amber Atherton, a former model, founded her UK-based jewelry website My Flash Trash when she was just 16 years old. She started by selling jewelry out of her boarding school dorm room, pieces that she'd brought back from her native Hong Kong, through a simple website she'd set up on WordPress.

Then, suddenly, Atherton didn't have to wait for trips home to find jewelry to sell. "It blew up from my dorm, and then I had designers approaching me asking if they could sell on the site as well," she explains. Business looked promising -- and that was before reality TV came calling.

Yes, for those who aren't familiar, Atherton starred in the first few series of UK network E4's Made in Chelsea, a scripted reality show in the vein of The Hills (only way posher -- get thee to YouTube immediately for an idea).

"It was my main incentive for going on the programme, to use the launchpad of television as a sort of marketing campaign," Atherton explains, and by and large she was successful in that respect. The very first episode opens with a "launch party" for a then-19 year old Atherton's jewelry website, and My Flash Trash comes up several times through the course of her time on the show.

Looks from My Flash Trash's 'Dreamer' look book. Photo: Courtesy

Looks from My Flash Trash's 'Dreamer' look book. Photo: Courtesy

"It was also super fun, so it definitely got the word out there to an international, viral audience," she says. "There's nothing that can compare to the kind of traffic that TV can bring you, so it was really cool to use Chelsea as a way to get Flash Trash out there."

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With that boost to business, Atheron left Made in Chelsea mid-2012 and focused solely on My Flash Trash. An angel investment followed in January 2013. The team has since grown to six people, and the site relaunched a few weeks ago with a complete facelift.

The redesign's primary aim was to serve up bigger and better images, but there's also a fun twist. "I took a lot of inspiration from the gaming industry, so we have a lot of little javascript characters that pop out and take you to different levels and take you to secret pages on the site," Atherton explains, adding that all designers that My Flash Trash carries designed exclusive pieces for the relaunch.

There's also an in-house line, designed by Atherton herself, called Flash Trash Girl. Atherton tells us that 40 percent of sales for the '90s-inspired line come from the U.S., which means in the next few months she'll be launching a U.S. homepage for My Flash Trash and, even bigger, Topshop will carry Flash Trash Girl in U.S. stores.

"We have a really great fanbase in the U.S. of really great girls," Atherton says, citing "It" girls like Chelsea Leyland and Kylie Kuhn as fans.

Looks from the My Flash Trash 'Fashion Fox' look book. Photo: Courtesy

Looks from the My Flash Trash 'Fashion Fox' look book. Photo: Courtesy

That's no accident, as Atherton purposefully courts women who are looking for jewelry off the beaten path, whether it's high-end unique pieces or cheap-thrill costume jewelry. "I think all the girls who shop with us have a sassy, confident edge," she says of her customers. "I think our stuff is quite bold and on trend, a bit different from the mainstream jewelry that you get on other sites."

And a note for any jewelry designers hoping to be carried on My Flash Trash: Atherton has a very organic way of selecting the pieces she sells, combing through blogs or taking suggestions from friends of friends.

"They're chosen purely from what's on trend, but also pieces that start conversations," she explains. "A lot of the jewelry that we have is quite fun and unique, so it's got to have that kind of edge."

Atherton hopes to continue expansion, perhaps even bringing a pop-up shop stateside. But until then, fans can check out her offerings at My Flash Trash -- the site ships internationally.