Juárez native Haydee Alonso finds inspiration for her delicate metal jewelry everywhere on the Texas-Mexico border. The 35-year-old grew up amid the binational flow of people characteristic of life in her hometown and El Paso. Now she harnesses that background to create pieces that reflect everything from the border’s landscape to Mexican pastries. Her rings, earrings, necklaces, and bracelets are completely customizable with materials she sources from a company that’s fittingly named Rio Grande. The jewelry is sold online and at a few galleries and boutiques around El Paso under the name Ayayay! We spoke to Alonso about her work’s influences and what’s next for her company. 

Texas Monthly: When did you start making jewelry? 

Haydee Alonso: I have a bachelor’s degree in metals from the University of Texas–El Paso, and that was the first time I was introduced to jewelry. I also have a master’s in jewelry and metal from London’s Royal College of Art. When I first started doing jewelry, it was more concept-based. I wanted the pieces to have meaning and to explore what jewelry could be. I wanted to see if I could make stuff using grass, cloth, or rubber. I really dove into this conceptual side of wearing art. 

TM: How did you go from grass conceptual art to the metal jewelry you make today? 

HA: After grad school, I came back to the border area, and I felt like I wasn’t seeing the jewelry that I usually like to wear—jewelry that is minimalist, very light, easy to wear, and with a lot of movement. So I decided, why not start my own line? 

TM: Speaking of movement, I noticed a lot of bends and curves in your work. Why do you make jewelry with those features? 

HA: The Ripple Collection in particular has a lot of movement. It comes from my upbringing in the border area. I studied in El Paso. I grew up in Juárez, so it’s been a lot of back-and-forth since I can remember. It was really important to me to have jewelry with a lot of movement. 

TM: Do you still go between Juárez and El Paso often? 

HA: Right now my studio is in Ciudad Juárez, and I work at the Hal Marcus Gallery in El Paso. I also have a couple of friends with studios in El Paso. I have this little jewelry-supply bag in my car because sometimes the line to come back to Juárez is like two hours long. That’s when I go to friends’ studios, and I work on my things there. So some pieces are made in Juárez, and some things are made in El Paso. 

TM: What was the design process like for the Ripple Collection? 

HA: I was really drawn to the intricate steel fences and gates in front of houses in Mexico. I walked around my neighborhood and took photos of the fences. I printed those out and sketched them and made prototypes with paper. Then I made them in wire or metal. It’s a lot of trial and error. Before I actually put them on sale, I really have to wear my pieces, because I need to feel comfortable with them. 

TM: Where did you come up with the names for the pieces? 

HA: The Rio earrings were inspired by the Rio Grande, and the Tartaleta earrings were actually inspired by the cookies made by Marián, which are sold in Juárez. But some of the jewelry is named after women I know, like the Luz earrings. Luz is my mother’s second name. She’s someone who’s very vibrant, and she’s also a person who is moving all the time. She likes to be busy. I wanted to make a piece with a lot of movement with her in mind. Other pieces aren’t named after women I know—they are just powerful and very Latina. 

TM: Who is Rosa? Those are probably my favorite pair of earrings. 

HA: The Rosa earrings were given this name because a good friend of mine wanted to give his mom some earrings. His mom’s name is Rosa. She likes to wear studs, but sometimes she wears dangly jewelry when she goes out. So I was like, “Okay, what if I do a pair of earrings that are two in one?” So the circle part on the Rosa earring is one earring. Then you can add on the silver part, so it’s two earrings in one. 

TM: What’s next for Ayayay!?

HA: I went back to school. I’m studying fashion design in El Paso. Something I want to incorporate is accessories, like socks, ties, bags, key chains, and maybe some beanies. In the future, once I get my craft down with sewing, I am going to start selling gender-fluid and nonbinary clothing. That’s where Ayayay! is heading. 

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

An abbreviated version of this article originally appeared in the August 2022 issue of Texas Monthly with the headline “Rio Grande Rings.” Subscribe today.