An Inside Look at The Online Jewelry Store Vajzë

How an Oakland University finance major accessorized her way to success and celebrity recognition.
Vajzë is made to fit many styles, including glam, casual, and elegant. // Photograph courtesy of Mode Creative Agency/Vajzë

Immigrating to the United States is kind of a big deal. Suddenly, you’re immersed in a brand-new environment and may feel overwhelmed by the prospect of navigating this capitalistic jungle. And while many children of immigrants say there is pressure to get a safe 9-to-5 job, Valentina Juncaj — an Albanian who immigrated to Sterling Heights from Montenegro with her family in 1989 at the age of 5 — was trusted by her parents to make her own decisions.

The Macomb County resident grew up drawing images inspired by nature and her childhood toys, but when it came time for college, her decision was to play it safe: She obtained a B.S. in finance from Oakland University, believing it was a wise decision that would grant her financial independence. “Being the oldest in an immigrant family, I did not think art was a career,” she says.

After graduation, she spent nearly 14 years working in the marketing and branding sector of corporate America before her longtime dream of starting her own business came to fruition.

Once she started her first office job, Juncaj took dressing up for work seriously yet would accessorize her outfits by creating small belts or swapping out the buttons on her sweaters. Her friends quickly noted her stylish eye and asked her to accessorize their outfits. At this time, Juncaj says she noticed how versatile jewelry can be.

“I was giving people my jewelry to go with their gowns if they were going to a wedding, or I would wear those crystal necklaces with my T-shirt and jeans and go out to dinner.”

In 2014, she began the process of creating Vajzë — an online jewelry store named after the Albanian word for “girl” and inspired by the women in her life who always dressed to impress.

One year after her 2016 launch, Juncaj’s chunky gold Francina choker would sit on the neckline of Bebe Rexha — the Albanian American pop singer known for chart-toppers “Meant to Be” and “I’m Good (Blue).” Juncaj approached her the old-fashioned way.

“She was here [in Detroit] for a concert, and I just gifted it to her,” she says, recalling how she handed her product to Rexha’s brother, who was managing the merch table at the time. She thought, “‘Let me just shoot my shot and gift it to her.’ … I think she noticed it was an Albanian brand.”

Valentina Juncaj is accessorized head-to- toe in jewelry from her online store Vajzë. // Portrait by Rose Catherine Hohl

Rexha proceeded to wear Juncaj’s choker on tour and was later seen wearing the glimmering neckpiece during an interview in Boston.

Two years later, Marquis Bias (now a dresser at Saturday Night Live) was the first celebrity stylist to reach out formally to Vajzë and request jewelry to accessorize his then-client — former Miss Universe Catriona Gray, who wore the brand’s gold Bleta chain-link earrings at an event.

“That was really amazing,” Juncaj says. “I don’t even know how the stylist found out about me. … I’m just so humbled by that.”

Requests from stylists continued, resulting in Vajzë appearing on countless celebrities, like Netflix star Richa Moorjani from Never Have I Ever, country music artist Mickey Guyton, and fellow Michigan native and fashion stylist Chelsea Von Mach, who used the gold earrings to style The Real’s co-host Jeannie Mai.

“Valentina’s jewelry is fun, feminine, and strong,” Von Mach says. “I love that she designs pieces that you can wear every day and for dressier occasions.”

While on her entrepreneurial journey Juncaj created the Heritage collection to highlight her cultural background, featuring pieces that incorporate the design of the Albanian flag in different ways, like the Shqipë necklace depicting the two-headed Albanian eagle. She says plenty of her non-Albanian customers have purchased items from this collection.

“It’s just different and something cool to wear, like a pendant,” she says. “It doesn’t mean you have to be Albanian.”

The jewelry designer — who also has a men’s jewelry line, Burrë (the Albanian word for “man”) — has spread brand awareness throughout metro Detroit by hosting local pop-ups at venues such as Planthropie, Coup D’état, and the Detroit Athletic Club.

Although her father passed away 10 years ago and was unable to see Vajzë come into being, Juncaj’s mother fully supports her and even helps out with her business. “I would love to have my dad see this part of my life. … I feel like he would have really loved what I am doing.”

This story is from the February 2024 issue of Hour Detroit magazine. Read more in our digital edition.