Student seeks to spread aloha spirit in Hawaiian-inspired line of wire jewelry
Second-year business economics student Malia Zoraster started her own metal wire jewelry business, Mai’a Hawaiian Jewelry, last August. (Amy Dixon/Daily Bruin senior staff)
By Vivian Xu
May 6, 2020 4:47 p.m.
Metal is putty in Malia Zoraster’s hands.
With just pliers and coils of wire, the second-year business economics student started her own metal wire jewelry business, Mai’a Hawaiian Jewelry, last August in person and recently moved it onto Etsy. Using her wire-working skills, Zoraster said she draws upon her Hawaiian heritage to craft pieces that feature traditional symbols and evoke the island’s natural elements.
“I really love the whole process of making jewelry and spreading it to other people,” Zoraster said. “It feels like I’m spreading the aloha and culture of where I grew up to people on the mainland.”
As an experienced artist, Zoraster discovered metalworking in a high school jewelry class, where she said the medium pushed her to extend her work past two-dimensional pieces and ceramics. Her business specializes in wire-worked jewelry, a subset of metalworking that utilizes pliers to bend and manipulate wires into a desired shape, she said.
The simplicity of wire can be deceiving, Zoraster said, since its plainness hides the versatility of the material. Wire can be bent into many different planes – just a twist of the pliers can transform a piece from occupying two dimensions to three dimensions. Its malleability also encourages experimentation, since designs can be easily changed during any time of the jewelry’s creation, she said.
“Wire is kind of like a string, and if you take the string, you can play with it to turn it into something,” Zoraster said. “It can be frustrating when the wire’s not cooperating, but the nice thing about wire (is that) it’s very forgiving.”
All of Mai’a Hawaiian Jewlery’s wire pieces are infused with Zoraster’s Hawaiian culture and the tropical environment she grew up around. The word “mai’a” is Hawaiian for banana, which is symbolic of her upbringing growing bananas on her family’s small farm. Her childhood home looks out onto Kāne’ohe Bay, with the mountains and the Pacific Ocean within eyesight. This scenic view, combined with natural textures like heliconia petals and mango tree leaves that Zoraster finds in her tropical surroundings, serve as inspiration for many of her jewelry designs.
Her Mai’a Signature Necklace, a round pendant that depicts Kāne’ohe Bay, features a spiral that symbolizes the Hawaiian peoples’ spirit and the island’s nature, Zoraster said. This spiral motif is also found in her square spiral Ikaika Earrings, which she said are named after the Hawaiian word for strength and represent community. However, Zoraster said her most popular earrings by far are the Mana Earrings, which are circular spirals made of silver wire.
“The spiral shape is symbolic of Hawaiian petroglyphs,” Zoraster said. “It’s this circle of life that represents life’s spirit and the connection to the land. The ‘āina means the spirit of the people on the land, (which) is also what ‘mana’ means.”
More than 30 people have bought her Mana Earrings, including Quinten Sukhov, a fourth-year anthropology student. Sukhov said he noticed a mutual friend of his and Zoraster’s wearing the earrings, which immediately struck him as the ideal gift for his younger sister.
“I love it when something is loud but subtle at the same time – I felt that these earrings were perfectly that,” Sukhov said. “It’s bigger than a quarter, so it’s not a small earring, but it’s just a thin wire doing the spiraling. They were subtle (but) they popped.”
Maya Chari, another owner of the Mana Earrings and a first-year computational and systems biology student, said her close relationship with Zoraster enhances the significance of her pieces. After meeting in The UCLA Backpacking Club, Zoraster introduced Chari to her Hawaiian-inspired art, which Chari found to be very personal. Zoraster’s close cultural ties to her home manifest in the natural themes found in her pieces, Chari said.
“Knowing (Zoraster) as a person makes it more meaningful to be able to wear her jewelry,” Chari said. “I know how much time she puts into it and what her jewelry means to her, what her art means to her. … I think that’s (what makes it) really special.”
Since Zoraster launched Mai’a Hawaiian Jewelry more than half a year ago, she said the business has become a significant part of her life. She was initially hesitant to sell her pieces, but now she said she has found unexpected joy in the process, from designing her jewelry’s packaging to cultivating her brand’s image. Using her newfound time at home, Zoraster said she is reconnecting with her roots in hopes of finding inspiration to expand her inventory.
“I’m not sure how long or how profitable this business will continue to be,” Zoraster said. “But honestly, I’m in it for the experience and I’m having a lot of fun.”