Dangling beautifully from Noun Molyna’s ears, the local earrings handmade from polymer clay has won the hearts of local and international clients who prefer arty accessories that make a statement.
Whether they’re in the shape of flags, flowers or geometrics, Molyna has put her heart and soul into every detail of the manufacturing process which she begins from scratch.
The 33-year-old had never thought of turning her earring-making hobby into a business until she was struck inspired by a friend.
“I initially was talking to a dear friend and he asked me what I wanted to do. I told him I’ve always wanted to create some fashionable jewellery that enables the wearer to express Cambodian identity. My friend then motivated me to start making them,” she says.
Molyna, who has a Master’s degree in International Trade from a university in Seoul, South Korea, is always passionate about designing sophisticated yet standout earrings. That’s why she started her online jewellery shop called Mona Palette.
“That’s when I did some research and found out that polymer clay jewellery is very beautiful and you can create anything out of it, including incorporating Khmer identity into the design. That got me excited,” Molyna says.
The self-taught crafter learnt the skill mainly from YouTube and other jewellery makers online.
Her journey to make a business out of her handmade earrings started in April during the Covid-19 pandemic.
There might be polymer clay earrings on the market, but Molyna’s handmade ones are unique in terms of design and colour preferences.
“Most importantly, the colour choices I picked for each design made my earrings one of a kind and I received loads of compliments from customers,” Molyna says.
At first, she made every pair by herself, but due to overwhelming demand from across the Kingdom, he hired a freelance jewellery maker to help with the colouring and assembling process.
Though Molyna tried to source as much of her material supplies locally, she still has to import polymer clay from the US and some shiny metal parts from China.
“The polymer clay I use is from the US. Unlike other types of clay, it does not easily break after going through the oven-baking process. Gold accessories are from China. Packaging and boxes are made in Cambodia,” she says.
Molyna says the design of each earring is inspired by all that she sees around her. Mainly, she loves beautiful architecture and simple home décor. One of her all-time favourites is the terrazzo colour abstract.
Playing with clay is the most challenging part of the polymer earring-making process. Sometimes, the clay is too sticky, making it time-consuming and causing difficulty to get it smooth. Each pair of earrings could take up to three hours to complete.
The process of making a pair pf 3D flower earrings would start by choosing the design and shape of the earrings and then selecting the colours for the flowers and leaves.
The clay is then mixed into the colour she desires. This process could take a lot of time because she has to roll the clay for some 30 to 50 times to get a particular shade of colour.
Then, she flattens the clay and hand-cuts each flower petal. They’re put on the clay then cut into shape. After that, the half-finished clay is baked in the oven.
Once this part of the process is completed, she needs to sand the edges to make them smooth and drill a hole to assemble the metal piece or earring findings.
Molyna names her earrings after personalities or persons who are dear to her and who have influenced or inspired her in some way. For example, her earrings called “Kathiya” takes the name of her lovely two-year-old niece.
“She has a very beautiful smile and is smart! Kathiya is Khmer for a queen. This style is indeed a great reminder of the ‘queen spirit’ inside of you.
“It is not only beautiful and goes with many face shapes, but are also the perfect size for go-to-earrings that you can easily put on either for an outdoor trip or a romantic date night. It will truly make you feel amazing,” she says.
Another pair is named “Pisey”, a common name in Cambodia. But not when you have a special Pisey in your life, she exclaims.
“My Pisey is the most caring friend I know. The friend who lets you choose is the friend who loves you the most. Don’t ever lose that friend.
“She is a really sweet and caring Cambodian woman that anyone would be blessed to have in their lives. Therefore, I made this little Angkor Wat as an expression of her pride and dedication to our country and named it after her,” Molyna says.
Her customers’ top three design favourites are “Sorphea” since it is small, sophisticated and has a 3D flower.
Her “Mary” design comes next and is well praised by foreign customers, and finally, the Angkor flag design is also an all-time bestselling item that is often purchased as gifts for friends.
Molyna says Sorphea means beautiful in Khmer. I named it after I noticed so many beautiful young women falling in love with the design when it was launched.
“These women are talented professionals and artists who consistently support local handmade products and at the same time, want to wear the design at their workplaces. As a thank you for their love, I named this design as a way of saying, ‘you are beautiful,’” she says.
Her customers are diverse and range in ages from 15 to over 50. They are made up of Cambodians and expatriates living in the country.
With her handmade products costing just between $9 and $15, they are affordable for just about anyone.
Best of all, they can be worn on various occasions depending on the designs. Some are more suitable for work, while others can be worn when hanging out with friends or when on a trip to the province.
Molyna says she has received lots of amazing feedback that moved her to tears. “One person said, ‘I don’t usually wear large earrings, but I love your designs’. Another said, ‘you made me as a Cambodian very proud of you. I hope you will inspire other women too’.
“I am grateful that I’ve had a lot of customers who love the colours and designs of my earrings, and they say they are looking forward to buying more ... and they have returned repeatedly.
“I even have a Cambodian customer who pre-books and buys several new pairs each month as part of her collection and to support local businesses like mine. I am forever grateful to them,” she says.
Molyna says she wants to make some necklaces too in the future. But for now, she wants to take better pictures of her earrings to show customers the many different ways they can match the earrings with their outfits.
She says she feels more alive since she started making her earrings. It gives her a sense of fulfilment and she looks forward to creating them for as long as she can.
To young Cambodians, she says: “Sometimes all you need is a little courage to step out of your comfort zone, get past your fears and start believing you can do it.
“Ask yourself, ‘what is it that I’ve been wanting to do?’ If you have an answer, then you can find a way around that idea. Do what you can first. Starting small is better than not starting at all.
“You just need one hour a day to follow that dream of yours. Then, do it consistently and you will realise that things fall into place and you will know what’s next. But never let your fears overcome your faith.”
Mona Palette’s polymer clay earrings are available online and at the Chit Chat Café in Toul Tompoung, Phnom Penh. It is located at the corner of streets 450 and 135.
For more information, Mona Palette can be reached via Instagram and its Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/monapalettekh/