"I think everyone had something that they were really, really drawn to as a kid. For me, that was jewelry,” Tina Zhang (W ‘25) says. Tina’s jewelry–making journey began on her ninth birthday when she ventured over to the crafting section of Walmart and picked out a little case of beads and a pair of pliers. Ever since, Tina has continued to use those same pliers to craft one–of–a–kind necklaces and earrings.
Tina’s pieces are custom and handmade, each designed with an eclectic mix of curated vintage and thrifted charms. Hand–making jewelry enables Tina to embrace her creativity and transform her visions into something beautiful. “There's just something that can't be replicated by the feeling of making something,” she says.
Tina absolutely loves making jewelry for her friends, family, and strangers. She sells her creations on her personal Instagram account, where people can buy pieces posted on her Instagram story or reach out to Tina to design a custom item. “Jewelry is, in my opinion, the most emotional form of art because it has such personal sentimental value and heartfelt stories associated with it,” she says. “It’s something you can wear every single day, pass on to your kids, pass on to your grandkids, give to a lover, or give to a friend.”
Along with designing and crafting, Tina herself is always decked out in silver jewelry and she expresses her personal style by wearing “as much as possible.” Every day, she wears at least ten rings and styles her ten piercings with vintage, secondhand jewelry. “I just love the feeling of wearing jewelry. It feels like armor. If I don't have it, it feels like I'm naked,” she says.
For Tina, clothing and accessories are a form of expression. As an avid thrifter obsessed with second–hand clothing, Tina has been hosting closet sales on campus since freshman year, an endeavor that began in her Quad dorm room and has now made its way onto High Rise Fields, attracting over 100 people. At these sales, Tina and a group of students come together to sell clothes, jewelry, and other handmade trinkets and decor.
These events remain one of Tina’s proudest and most joyous moments of her time at Penn. “I was able to bring a community together that was not tied to any organization at all, except for the fact that they like clothes, want to sell clothes, want to buy clothes, and enjoy the vibe of sitting on grass together and enjoying the outdoors,” she says. Tina’s next closet sale will take place on High Rise Fields on Saturday, Oct. 1.
While making jewelry began as a passion project, Tina—a Wharton student concentrating in OIDD and Marketing—now dreams of transforming her creative outlet into a business. After interning at Sethi Couture, a luxury jewelry brand based in California, Tina realized that her hobby was something she could build into a future. “There's never been something that I've loved more than the concept of jewelry, and I think that really clicked for me during the internship. I really loved going to work every single day and learning about different designers, metals, and gemstones,” she says.
Tina recognizes, however, that launching a business, especially in the jewelry industry, can be difficult and capital intensive. She is currently taking the time to learn about venture capital and firms that invest in retail, as she hopes not only to become a designer but also to devise a novel, groundbreaking business model. “In my dream world, jewelry would be 100% customized. I think that means incorporating some aspect of technology and some sort of Artificial Intelligence,” she says.
But launching a jewelry business while being a full time college student does not come without challenges. “Creativity and making art is a discipline. It has to be your everything,” Tina says. “At Penn, it's so hard to balance everything. I have this vision and know kind of the steps I need to get there, but I just don't always have the time.” Tina has turned to helpful resources at Penn such as the Baker Retailing Center, a research center dedicated to the retail industry, where she has met with faculty and other students to explore and discuss the opportunities and realities of working in retail.
In addition to making jewelry, Tina strives to channel her creativity into other aspects of her daily life at Penn. Becoming involved in the performing arts and playing in the Bloomers band for over two years has been an “incredible creative outlet.” Tina also lives at the Herzog House, an artistic and collective vision of a home, where she collaborates and organizes events with various other creative—minded peers. “Herzog is a place where I both find community and am inspired creatively,” Tina says.
As Tina continues to design jewelry and unleash her creativity, she is grateful that each of her various Penn communities have introduced her to some of the coolest people along the way. “Penn’s campus is so conducive to just doing anything you want,” she says. “You can literally create anything you want at Penn—like actually anything—and there will be people that are excited for your vision and are down to be there.”