Filipino American small business owner Mar Velicaria sat down with NextShark to talk about what their online identity and platform means to them.
In February, Velicaria went viral on TikTok for her minimalist and modern Filipino accessories, garnering over a million views on their the most popular Tik Tok video.
Marharlika, Velicaria’s small business, is a brand that Velicaria created after seeing the lack of minimalist jewelry that proudly showcased their heritage. Accessories incorporate aspects of Filipino heritage and culture into their designs with an emphasis on the Philippine sunshine.
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The most popular collection, the Reyna collection, is a series of accessories (headpiece, rings and earrings) that play on the Tagalog word “Reyna”, which translates to “queen” in English. The design of the Reyna headpiece fashions the original Philippine sun design into a crown-like ornament. Besides this interpretation, the Sunpaguita headdress draws its inspiration from the sunpaguita flower, a common plant in the Philippines.
Growing up in San Diego, Velicaria describes a wealth of resources and events focused on their heritage and culture. Thus, the inspiration for Marharlika began with the idea of combining traditional and modern aspects of Filipino culture. Velicaria wondered, “How can I present Filipino culture the way I want, that is, in a clean or elegant way?”
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In remembering the creation of Marharlika, Velicaria emphasizes their artistic journey and their education. “I was going to be an artist no matter what,” they proudly declare. The designs for many of Marharlika’s most popular accessories, including the Reyna helmet, began with inspiration from “literally anything”.
However, when Velicaria first created these headdresses, they had no intention of mass producing them. “I just wanted to do them,” Velicaria shares. “My mother was the first to suggest that I sell and start a small business. I was hesitant at first, but something I like to tell people is that the internet has bullied me into becoming a small business. Once Velicaria published her designs on the internet, her audience was already hooked.
Velicaria also talks about how their designs played the role of modernizing traditional Filipino accessories – which can often seem alien and distant to younger generations – and bridging the gap between tradition and modernity. “I never expected something I created to have such an impact on others,” they say.
Regarding Filipino culture and identity, Velicaria criticizes the “targeted media that is organized through Westernized eyes”. Even growing up in an Asian-dominated community, Velicaria remembers that their only representation of themselves was the Philippine-American War, which only took up a single paragraph in the textbooks. However, “there has been a shift to make sure Filipino Americans are in our textbooks because they have played a huge role in our lives and our history,” Velicaria shares with a smile. “The work we are doing right now is incredible, but there is so much to do. Many of us here really want that representation.
This was another form of inspiration for Velicaria. “By creating Marharlika, it really helped to give an idea that the popular accessories that you see can be combined with a heritage, which connects them to their families, their culture and their history. It is incredibly empowering”, they express “There is an audience. There are customers [for artists and creators] who believe in our ideas and it’s amazing because it shows how important it is to keep things like [Marharlika] Go.”
With the growth of Marharlika, Velicaria is emphasizing the incredible growth of their platform and social media, especially with their viral moment on TikTok. Although their growth has been “gradual”, Velicaria confesses that “I can’t imagine how many I am. I almost pretend not to recognize it because I feel like it’s so overwhelming. For Velicaria, it feels most real to them when people approach them in public. Enthusiastically, Velicaria explains that these moments are the most precious to them because “it really feels good that so many people believe in the things I create. It really is the best feeling in the world.
When asked what advice they would give to those who admire them, Velicaria shares the need for “[taking] one step at a time and [going] at your own pace. Even if you take it step by step and go at your own pace, “if you believe in what you are doing and put in the effort, the people around you will do the same.”
After taking one step at a time with Marharlika, Velicaria shares how they are now able to pick up more followers and business opportunities. Plus, their business is able to stick around for a long time and have an impact that will last even longer.
Highlighting the importance of mental health, especially in the AAPI community, Velicaria shares that “as an artist, Marharlika takes so much from my heart and soul.” Yet when they’re about to share their creations with the world, there’s also fear because “if people don’t like what I post, it seems like a dislike to me.”
“It can be very difficult,” admits Velicaria. “Even if you want to be strong and say you don’t care what people think, to me that matters. Not everyone can be incredibly strong all the time.
“I have to take care of myself because Marharlika is basically a big part of me, and if I make sure I’m okay, Marharlika will be okay too.”
Characteristic image via @marharlika/Instagram