Rapaport Magazine
Style & Design

Rising star

Malyia McNaughton started off designing pieces for her friends. Now the former fashion buyer is launching her own line for Banter by Piercing Pagoda.

By Sonia Esther Soltani

Image: Made by Malya

If a jewel can tell its creator’s story, Malyia McNaughton’s Progression Hoop Revolution earrings are the pieces that best encapsulate her stellar trajectory. The bold geometric design, which the Made by Malyia founder initially launched in 14-karat gold vermeil and sterling silver, is now available in 14-karat gold with diamonds. Inspired by the moon and “signifying the process of gradually moving forward toward a more progressive capacity,” she says, the earrings powerfully celebrate the Bronx-born, self-taught designer’s achievements.

Eight years ago, friends admired a body chain she’d made to wear to a music festival when she couldn’t find anything she liked in stores. Their requests for similar jewels prompted the then-fashion buyer to start a small operation in her spare time, working with semiprecious metals and selling a few pieces on Etsy.

Reaching out

Since then, her fine-jewelry creations have shone bright, starring in a Natural Diamond Council (NDC) campaign as part of the NDC x Lorraine Schwartz 2021 Emerging Designer Diamond Initiative. Next month, her work is set to reach an even wider audience as the collection she designed for Banter by Piercing Pagoda, a Signet Jewelers company, launches online and in over 300 stores. The Made by Malyia CEO and creative director is also attending the JCK Las Vegas show for the first time, debuting her jewels at the Design Collective of the Black in Jewelry Coalition (BIJC) booth.

A savvy entrepreneur and fashion-conscious designer, McNaughton aims to balance financial sustainability and creative vision. “I always try to make sure that my pieces are commercially viable but also stay authentic to my more unique design styles,” she says. For JCK, she has picked pieces that are retail friendly and work as a collection. Nature, aquatic themes and movement inform her sensual, resolutely modern aesthetic. Her jewelry is still divided between fine and demi-fine lines, and she has it manufactured in New York and India based on her sketches.

Always resourceful

McNaughton studied fashion at Florida State University. During her career in the fashion industry, she says, she was always drawn to the accessories closet, so she sees her move into jewelry-making as inevitable. Since her early attempts used semiprecious materials, she had the freedom to make mistakes, allowing herself to tap into her imagination. “When I started sketching, that’s when the whole floodgates opened, and I realized I really had a knack for designing. I enjoyed it, and it reminded me that I always had it in me.”

The daughter of Jamaican immigrants, she came to the industry without an investor or a family legacy, so she had to be inventive. “I didn’t have the ability to pull from resources. But I’ve been very scrappy and creative in how I am able to work with what I have, and do it in a way that’s still elegant and aesthetically pleasing.”

She has been benefiting from the guidance of two mentors. One is gemologist Adrianne Sanogo, whom she met through the BIJC in June 2020 and who has provided advice on gemstones via weekly Zoom calls. The other is designer Sheryl Jones, who has shared pointers on sourcing, the supply chain, and pricing her pieces.

The next step

The NDC opportunity gave McNaughton access to a diamond supplier who entrusted her with stones that had once seemed out of reach. She took De Beers’ “Introduction to Diamonds” course to gain confidence in communicating her needs clearly to the diamond dealer. The 11-piece collection that featured in the NDC campaign starring actress Ana de Armas comprises diamond-set statement hoops, necklaces and rings, playing on negative spaces and glamorous lines.

Her Brooklyn studio doesn’t have a storefront yet, but she hopes it will be the next stage for her brand. Her creations have sold on 1stDibs and Moda Operandi and are now available at Greenwich St. Jewelers in New York. As someone who believes in setting goals, she’s planning on studying at the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) to enter the engagement-ring segment.

“I will come out as a better designer,” she says. “I really want to explore the bridal market, and I know that I want to make sure I have the education...because a lot of times it’s the customer starting with the stone. I want to make sure that I have all the information to provide them with the best possible stone.”

Article from the Rapaport Magazine - June 2022. To subscribe click here.

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