Rita Manalastas is the artist behind Mahalin Studio, which offers wearable art in the form of clay earrings

Meet Rita Manalastas, the Filipino artist behind Mahalin Studio

Clay earrings inspired by queer love, phases of life, and Filipino culture

By Aleenah Ansari

Tell me a little about yourself!

I work with orientation programs at Seattle University, where I support student leaders. There, I’ve seen the impact that student development and affairs can make, especially for underrepresented students.

One day, my partner showed me some clay earrings on social media, and I was excited about the idea of making wearable art. I discovered a whole community of artists, and I decided to take the leap and join them.

In addition to your career, I’ve been following along with your journey on the Mahalin Studio’s Instagram, your small business where you design and sell clay earrings. Why did you start making earrings in the first place? What inspired you?

I’ve always been a creative person, but I was looking for an outlet to express it. One day, my partner showed me some clay earrings on social media, and I was excited about the idea of making wearable art. I discovered a whole community of artists, and I decided to take the leap and join them. I’m also starting grad school soon, so I wanted to find a way to make some extra money on the side.

2000’s T-Swift arches 🌻

How did your partner inspire your business?

My partner has a big collection of earrings, and I wanted to be a part of it. I want her to wear my art, and she’s very involved in the creative process. I’ll ask her if certain colors look good together, what shapes to make, and what designs to try next. She’s inspired most, if not all, of my designs.

Rita and her partner Karina, who’s been an inspiration and source of support for Mahalin Studio

You named your small business Mahalin Studio. Where does that name come from, and how does your identity as a Filipino woman inform your art?

Mahalin means ‘to love’ in Tagalog, and the name is a nod to my Filipino background. As a Filipino woman, I always felt like being creative wasn’t enough to make a name for myself. Being creative or good at art is often undervalued, and creativity has even less weight for women in underrepresented communities.

My work supports the idea that being artistic is enough. I don’t have to pursue art on the side and prove myself in other ways. I can just be an artist.

Art by Andi Paredes

One of your signature collections features poppies — tell me more about how this collection came to be.

My pieces are inspired by seasons and phases of life. My favorite collection features poppies, which started as an accidental piece. I was trying to make roses, but I accidentally squished them. I thought, ‘this is actually a look’ I ran with my mistake and turned it into a poppy. I started with two pieces with red poppies with a blue background, and I decided to expand into more colors.

The original pair of poppy earrings

In past jobs, I felt like I had to give up a little piece of myself just to make money. It was affirming to know that I could do something I love while raising money for my future.

You recently launched your first collection of earrings on Instagram, which featured everything from your signature poppies to the opal collection. How did people respond?

It was a learning experience for me. After my earrings went live on Instagram, I received a flood of DMs, and multiple people wanted the same pair of earrings so I knew I’d have to make duplicates. My partner helped me make a spreadsheet to track my orders and get in touch with everybody.

How did you feel after your first launch?

I felt really proud of myself. In past jobs, I felt like I had to give up a little piece of myself just to make money. It was affirming to know that I could do something I love while raising money for my future.

I think that’s something that will resonate with a lot of artists and creatives. You don’t always get to do what you love as your day job, but I’m glad that Mahalin Studio has been such a fulfilling creative outlet that you can use to support yourself.

In the beginning, it was about me making earrings for my partner, friends, and me. It’s been rewarding to see others get excited about my work. Even my parents share my earrings with their friends and coworkers. I didn’t need their approval, but it was the cherry on top.

Granite Vines and Monstera earrings from the first Mahalin Studio launch

How does Mahalin Studio fit into your future as an educator, grad school, and your journey to bring your dreams to life?

I got really excited with the turnout during my first launch, and it’s that moment when I saw myself working on Mahalin Studio in grad school. There’s the monetary component — it helps me pay my bills and rent, but I’m also building my confidence.

Advice for building a small business from the ground up

What advice would you give to other artists and small business owners?

There’s pressure to please the masses and make something that everyone will like. I’ve learned that it’s even more important to make something that you’re proud of, even if it doesn’t sell out. I made two pairs of earrings that no one has bought yet, and they were the most technically challenging to make. At the end of the day, I’m proud of myself for making them — that’s enough for me.

Your feelings about your work are the most sustainable affirmation in your creative journey.

Think back to when you were growing up and still embracing your identity as an artist. What advice would you give your younger self?

Baby Rita the artist

Your success is a testament to your artistry and commitment to community. What can people expect to see from you next?

My fall collection will launch on Oct. 2 at 5pm PST, and check out my Instagram for behind-the-scenes photos and announcements. 30% of the proceeds are given to crowdfunding, and we’ve raised a little over $200 so far. If there’s one thing I can do with my platform, I hope to keep raising funds for people who need it.

Writer at Microsoft | Human Centered Design and Engineering Alumna | Lifting as I climb | www.aleenahansari.com