San Diego native Mar Velicaria puts a crown on Filipino American culture with their viral Reyna headpiece

San Diego native Mar Velicaria puts a crown on Filipino American culture with their viral Reyna headpiece
Iris Jung
June 1, 2022
Filipino American small business owner Mar Velicaria sat down with NextShark to talk about what their identity and online platform mean to them.
In February, Velicaria went viral on TikTok for their minimalist and modern Philippine accessories, garnering more than 1 million views on their most popular TikTok video.
Marharlika, Velicaria’s small business, is a brand that Velicaria created after noticing the lack of minimalist jewelry that proudly presented their heritage. The accessories incorporate aspects of Filipino heritage and culture in its designs with a focus on the Philippines Sun.
The most popular collection, the Reyna collection, is a series of accessories (headpiece, rings, and earrings) that play off the Tagalog word “Reyna,” which translates to “queen” in English. The Reyna headpiece’s design molds the original Philippines sun design into a crown-like ornament. In addition to this interpretation, the Sunpaguita headpiece draws its inspiration from the sunpaguita flower, a common plant in the Philippines. 
Growing up in San Diego, Velicaria describes a large amount of resources and events that 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 asked themself, “How can I present Filipino culture in the way that I would like to, which would be in a sleek way or an elegant way?”
When reminiscing on the creation of Marharlika, Velicaria emphasizes their artistic background and education. “I was going to be an artist no matter what,” they proudly state. The designs for many of Marharlika’s most popular accessories, including the Reyna headpiece, began with them drawing on “literally anything.”
However, when Velicaria first created these headpieces, they had no intention of mass producing them. “I just wanted to make them,” Velicaria shares. “My mom was the first to suggest I sell and start a small business. I was hesitant at first, but something I like to tell people is that the internet cyber bullied me into becoming a small business.” Once Velicaria had posted about their creations onto the internet, their audience was already hooked.
Velicaria also touches on how their creations were performing the role of modernizing Filipino traditional accessories — which can often seem foreign and distant to younger generations — and bridging the gap between tradition and modernity. “I never expected anything I create to make such an impact on other people,” they state.
When it comes to Filipino culture and identity, Velicaria critiques the “focused media that is curated through Westernized eyes.” Even while growing up in an Asian-dominant community, Velicaria remembers that their only depiction of themselves was the Philippine-American War, which only took up a single paragraph in the textbooks. However, “there has been a change to ensure that Filipino Americans are in our textbooks because they have played a huge part in our lives and history,” Velicaria shares with a smile. “The work that we are doing right now is incredible, but there is so much to be done. There are a lot of us here that really want that representation.”
This was another form of inspiration for Velicaria. “By creating Marharlika, it really helped give an idea that the popular accessories you see can be combined with heritage, which connect them to their families, culture, and histories. That is incredibly empowering,” they express. “There is an audience. There are customers [for artists and creators] that believe in our ideas and that is incredible because it shows how important it is to keep things like [Marharlika] going.”
With the growth of Marharlika, Velicaria emphasizes the incredible growth of their platform and social media following, especially with their viral moment on TikTok. Although their growth was “gradual-ish,” Velicaria confesses that “I can’t imagine the number I’m at. I almost pretend to not acknowledge it because I feel like it’s so overwhelming.” For Velicaria, it feels the most real to them when people approach them in public. With excitement, Velicaria explains that these moments are the most valuable to them because “it really does feel good that so many people believe in the things that I create. It really is the best feeling in the world.”
When asked about what advice they would give to those who looked up to them, Velicaria shares the need for “[taking] it one step at a time and [going] at your pace.” Even if you do take it one step at a time and go at your own pace, “if you believe in what you make and put in the effort, the people around you will also do the same.”
As a result of her taking it one step at a time with Marharlika, Velicaria relays how they are now in a position to take on more followers and business opportunities. In addition, their business is in a position to stay for a long time and make 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 up so much of my heart and soul.” Yet, when they are about to share their creations with the world, there is also fear because “if people don’t like what I put out, it seems like a dislike for me.”
“This can be really hard,” Velicaria confesses. “As much as you want to be strong and say that you don’t care about what people think, for me it does matter. Not everyone can be incredibly strong all the time.”
“I need to take care of myself because Marharlika is basically a huge part of me, and if I make sure that I’m OK, Marharlika will be OK as well.”
Feature Image via @marharlika/Instagram
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