Student, bartender, model, jewelry designer: Malyia McNaughton realized over the past decade that her career isn’t about a single pivot or a major dramatic moment. Much like a diamond, real life reflects all your facets and reveals who you are.
To that end, McNaughton says her goal as a designer is to reimagine classic styles and shapes, helping her “Jewels”—her affectionate nickname for her clients—discover their own style and show it off to the world.
And the world is taking notice. In September, McNaughton’s first commission with the Natural Diamond Council (NDC) launched globally through the For Moments Like No Other advertising campaign. In the collection, McNaughton expands her love of gold into one of natural diamonds, adding baguettes to her signature hoop earrings and beyond.
“I hope that the collections I design can inspire people to go beyond their normal,” McNaughton says.
McNaughton is the founder and creative director of Made by Malyia, her personal jewelry brand. She is also treasurer of the Black in Jewelry Coalition, as well as a member of the first cohort in the Emerging Designers Diamond Initiative (EDDI), a program created in January 2021 by the NDC and celebrated jewelry designer Lorraine Schwartz.
“It has been my introduction to natural diamonds as a designer, and it’s been a phenomenal experience,” McNaughton says of the EDDI. “I immersed myself into diamonds, learning at the same time as I was designing. What resonated with me was how brilliant diamonds are. At a fundamental molecular level, they’re beyond spectacular. I wanted to make sure I captured that with each design.”
McNaughton says she also wants her creations to help her Jewels see how their journeys—much like her own—are unique. “The journey that these pieces go on reflect a lot of my own journey,” she says. “Diamonds go undiscovered for so long, and I can relate to that.”
McNaughton is the youngest of five; she grew up in a hectic yet loving home in the Bronx, N.Y. She recalls walking around with a sketchbook at all times, re-creating what she saw around her. Her mother still has these drawings, and McNaughton says she sees the beginning of her fascination with fashion within those pages.
She graduated from Florida State University with a degree in fashion merchandising and went to work in New York City. Her experiences there ranged from a sales associate at American Eagle Outfitters to a sales and design product coordinator for Nicole Miller. She founded Made by Malyia in 2014 as a self-taught designer, having created looks she could wear when she was out with friends.
Her first notable piece was a body chain, something she wanted to wear to a music festival. When she couldn’t find what she wanted in stores, she crafted one for herself. The reaction was electric, with friends and strangers asking her to make more. She opened an Etsy shop, invested heavily in the business, and quit her day job to start designing.
“I tapped back into that little girl’s imagination, who told me: ‘Design it yourself!’” McNaughton says. “When people asked to buy [the body chain] right off of me, I refused because I didn’t see it as a business. But some of my friends took me to lunch and convinced me I was onto something.”
A photo in Vogue in 2015 led to her modeling professionally, and her eye for accessories and fashion leveled up again. That photograph and her Made by Malyia brand put her in front of the world in one of the biggest fashion magazines as a jewelry designer, McNaughton says, so she decided it was time to go all-in.
The next step, her friends told her, was diamonds. She applied to the NDC Emerging Designers Diamond Initiative, which sets out to level the playing field for BIPOC jewelry designers and advance a more equitable future for the diamond industry. Each designer is given access to diamonds by establishing a $20,000 diamond credit with diamantaires in their own name.
“I trusted the universe that when the timing was right, something would happen,” McNaughton says. “It’s surreal, honestly. It’s one of those things where you envision it happening—you hope that one day people will see what you see in yourself. It’s honestly what’s been there since I was 5, and jewelry is the perfect medium.”
Top: Malyia McNaughton seeks to create jewelry that reflects the beauty and strength of the person who wears it. (All photos courtesy of the Natural Diamond Council)Follow JCK on Instagram: @jckmagazine
Follow JCK on Twitter: @jckmagazine
Follow JCK on Facebook: @jckmagazine