Spending her entire life immersed in art—textiles and painting, specifically—Sonya Gallardo never put much thought into jewelry-making. That is, until her gut told her to drop out of California College of the Arts after completing a residency program in New York. In a back-in-L.A., living-with-the-‘rents bind, Sonya had the urge to make something, anything. “I wanted to create things, but after I moved into my brother’s old room, I didn’t have the space,” she explains. “So I thought, ‘What can I make that’s small enough to fit on this table?’” Influenced by craft practices and symbols found in folk art, the work began as a hobby soon turned into the next phase of her creative development. But Sonya couldn’t let her love of painting fall by the wayside: Using vintage brass plates, silk-wrapped chains, and acrylics, the newly minted designer took a paintbrush to her work.
After a friend reblogged a photo of her latest endeavor, her whimsically charming—and not at all cutesy—aesthetic really caught on. As she says, “I couldn’t fill orders fast enough. I didn’t know what I was doing!” Founded in July 2011, HighLow Jewelry is fueled by the conversation about high and low art—and Sonya’s opposition to all that. “I don’t like those terms,” she explains. “So I combined them into one word to neutralize them.” That, and to make them her own. —lauren caruso