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Student reaches for stars while supporting family with personal business

Mariella Solano first advertised her burgeoning jewelry business to her friends on Instagram, later expanding to other customers. She said she hopes Soluna will one day be a family-run enterprise. (Jason Zhu/Daily Bruin)

By Aaron Untiveros

Nov. 13, 2019 10:25 p.m.

The stars aligned when Mariella Solano first got the idea of owning an astrology-themed jewelry business.

The second-year political science student launched her jewelry business, Soluna Jewelry Co., on Instagram last month to help pay for her college expenses and has already garnered over 100 sales. Although Solano loves jewelry, she said she mainly sees her business as a way to help her family.

“My parents are both undocumented. It’s hard for them to get jobs,” Solano said. “That leads into why I tried to become self-reliant, so they don’t have to worry about providing for me too.”

Solano said she first had the idea of opening a business last year when she was struggling to balance her classes, extracurricular activities and job as a front-desk intern at the UCLA Community Programs Office. Although she wanted to quit her job, she said she stayed for the income, and her family began selling tacos on the weekends to support Solano financially.

[Related: Digitized horoscopes offer young people sanctuary in chaos, founder says]

After seeing her parents work hard to provide financial support, Solano said she knew she needed to find a way to become financially independent.

With a love for astrology and jewelry, Solano combined the two to create a line of jewelry that, while helping with expenses, would offer a flexible schedule, she said. She also knew many of her friends would like it since they downloaded Co—Star, an app that allows users to share their horoscopes with friends.

The company name, Soluna Jewelry Co., closely resembles her last name – it is the combination of the Spanish words for sun and moon, which she said fit well into the theme of astrology. Solano’s mother, who worked in the jewelry business before she had kids, connected her daughter to people familiar with the production and manufacturing of jewelry to help introduce her astrology-themed products.

To kick off her jewelry business, Solano made an announcement post on her personal Instagram account, which attracted her first customers. After her friends purchased jewelry, they gave shoutouts that brought a new stream of customers outside her close friend group. Solano, in response, created her Instagram business page, which displayed all the jewelry for sale.

[Related: Alumna runs custom clay jewelry business through instagram DMs]

One of her first customers, second-year neuroscience student Casandra Chamorro, found out about the business through Solano’s Instagram story and purchased a jewelry set. Although Chamorro is a believer of astrology, she saw a different item she said she couldn’t resist.

“I purchased the butterfly pack because I think it’s the cutest thing ever,” Chamorro said. “I have yet to purchase my zodiac sign, which is a Gemini, but we’ll get there.”

Before starting her business, Solano said she struggled with taking risks and being proactive. She doubted whether managing her own business was something she had in her. Her mentor, second-year mathematics/economics student Felipe Valdovinos Jr., reassured her and validated her fears.

“One of the hardest things about starting a business is just doing it,” Valdovinos said. “She was laying it off for a while and I helped push her to just do it.”

Valdovinos owns a vintage clothing business that he’s managed since sophomore year of high school. Using Instagram as his main platform for business, Valdovinos taught what he knew about logistics and marketing on social media to Solano. He also shared tips on the different ways to utilize different media styles to enhance the image of her business.

“(Solano’s business) is doing really good based on how short of a time it’s been,” Valdovinos said. “A lot of them take pictures. One of her customers from New York, who she’s never met, took a photo with it in Times Square in New York.”

If the company continues to grow successfully, Solano said she hopes to redesign her packaging and add more jewelry. Although the theme is astrology, she eventually hopes to expand to more jewelry themes to have something for everyone. For now, she will continue with the theme and plans to drop new star earrings sometime in the coming weeks. Solano’s ultimate goal is for her business to become family-run.

“I already told them, if this gains traction, my mom can help me do packaging from home and I’ll handle all the social media,” Solano said. “My sister will be going to college next year too, so I’m hoping wherever she goes, she can also help and maybe we can expand the business that way.”

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Aaron Untiveros
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