Solange shopping in the Fashion District photo gallery

By Solange Rubio, 18, Leuzinger HS (Lawndale)
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Solange made about $20 after selling her first eight pairs of earrings. Even though that was what her allowance used to be, she felt different because she had earned that money on her own.

Photo by Jasper Nahid, 15,
New Roads School (Santa Monica)

When I’m shopping for jewelry supplies, I get excited about the endless possibilities. I walk into a store and there’s a bunch of beads on strings—turquoise, pink, glittery. I start to brainstorm what I can put together to make an accessory to sell. Then there are the charms. I make up my own categories—girly, grungy, romantic, Barbie-themed. I once bought shell charms and made them into earrings that reminded me of long summer days.

I got into making jewelry the summer before 11th grade because I was desperate for money. All my friends were searching for jobs and I knew that pretty soon I would be the only one with the measly $20 allowance. My parents didn’t want me getting a job because they felt school should be my only focus.

Every time I went to the mall I’d go into Claire’s. I loved the accessories but with the little money I had, an $8 necklace was too much. That’s when it hit me—I would make my own accessories for myself and to sell. I thought it would be easy and that I could make a lot of money fast.

I had no idea where to start. I skipped the “how to” books (it’s hard enough for me to read assembly instructions). I knew it would be easier if I learned on my own. I headed to downtown Los Angeles for jewelry supplies since I figured everything was there. I took the bus with my dad for an hour until we reached the Fashion District. I was looking for something extravagant with more prints and colors than the jewelry at Claire’s. It felt like it was meant to be when I saw big zebra print buttons with thick lines. They made the bold and retro statement I wanted. I got everything I needed to make simple earrings: three dozen zebra print and solid color buttons, and earring backs.

I spent the entire day creating button earrings. I used a razor to cut off the hook on the back of the button, the part used to sew them onto clothes, and smoothed it out before gluing on the earring back. As I got tired the razor would slip and cut me. I started feeling nervous. What would others say about my earrings? I felt bad spending $40 of my dad’s money and I hoped it would work out. I was scared that nobody would like them.

On Monday at summer school I wore the zebra print earrings I had made. When someone would say, “Your earrings are cute,” I would pop out the box I’d put the earrings in and show them what I’d made. A couple people bought them for $3 a pair. It felt too good to be true. Some people came back the next day and said my earrings fell apart. The glue hadn’t dried enough. I was so embarrassed.

Beads galore!

Photo by Jasper Nahid

I went back and forth to Michaels and Home Depot trying different glues until I found a brand of jewelry glue that worked. I had more people wanting them. When I sold out of the zebra earrings, people would see others wearing them and ask me to make more. I made about $20 after selling my first eight pairs of earrings. Even though $20 was what my allowance used to be, it felt different because I had earned that money on my own.

I wanted to make more money so I made several more trips downtown. Every store has a mood that mirrors its owner. In one store, the owner is loud and flirty with the female customers, and he jumps from talking to one person to another. His store is messy and packed with bold buttons, charms and the oddest beads that are big and bright with 3-D patterns that remind me of the 70s. Then there’s the quiet owner who never looks you in the eyes. This owner’s store is neatly organized with sophisticated, shiny buttons.

The  colorful stores inspire me

Across the street from the jewelry stores are fabric stores selling red reflective, glittery pink and neon material. Seeing the patterns on fabrics, beads and buttons gives me ideas of what I want to make. I feel motivated and inspired.

When I noticed girls at my school getting into charm bracelets and necklaces I began to make them to sell. Some girls wanted a bunch of charms on their bracelets, some wanted a thick chain, others asked for customized bracelets that fit their personalities, like charms of cupids, frogs or teddy bears.

If you need jewelry-making supplies, the Fashion District is where it's at.

Photo by Amani Alexander, 16, Pasadena HS

The best part was how willing everyone was to help me. My boyfriend is a good artist. He helped me create cool labels that said “Accessories by Solange.” My friends would make sure to get the word out about my earrings. And at Christmas my dad got me a tool kit that let me get the hard stuff done faster, like bending wires into circles so I could hang earrings or put charms on bracelets. I would put my headphones on and blast electronic music as I worked, experimenting with different designs. When my eyes started hurting I realized hours had gone by and it was dark outside.

I saved $60 in two months from selling accessories. It’s not much, but considering I made them on a few Saturdays when I felt inspired, the amount was pretty good.

At the beginning of senior year I was overwhelmed with four AP classes and college applications. Little by little I stopped making jewelry. Now I have a job as a receptionist at a tax company and I know what it’s like to get paid but I want to get back to making accessories. It’s something I really like to do. It makes me feel proud to think that others want something I’ve made. I can’t color inside the lines or dance. This is my art.

Other stories by this writer …

My friend is a mom. While others judged her classmate when she got pregnant, Solange, 17, knew that Michelle needed her support. (November – December 2008)