Rowlett native Melissa Anthony knows her jewelry line, Alwaysm, isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. “A lot of people like their jewelry toned-down and minimal—that’s very in right now,” she says. “But this is me, and this is what you get.”
Anthony has been making and selling handmade polymer-clay jewelry through Etsy since 2019. The “this” she’s talking about? Her bold, colorful statement earrings, like cactus studs, checkered and fur-lined dangles, bows, and tiger stripes with spikes. Even when she sets out to do something more neutral, it still ends up being loud, quirky, and whimsical, Anthony says.
But, she says, every piece is one-of-a-kind. Anthony makes jewelry as inspiration strikes and then moves on to the next idea. “You’re basically getting something that nobody else has and nobody else will ever have,” she says, quirking a smile. It’s an expression of her own individuality, and she hopes her jewelry empowers other women to express themselves the same way.
Fashion is more than just a hobby for Anthony, who grew up in a conservative, evangelical homeschool community and attending a strict and legalistic church. She found ways to express her artistic side—she recalls making a necklace of colorful beaded flowers for a church friend as a 10-year-old—but spent most of her energy trying to fit herself into a cookie-cutter mold. “There were a lot of unspoken rules,” Anthony says. “You had to wear dresses down to your ankles and sleeves that covered your shoulders.” The pressure to conform and “be good” was enormous. “I didn’t feel free as a child to just be myself.”
When she was 16, her family left their congregation and began visiting new churches. Anthony was astonished at the welcome she encountered—something that had been preached at her old church, but never actually practiced, she says. It was a revelation. She realized how stifling her old church was: “it was constricting my creativity.”
Not long after, Anthony fell in love with fashion. Her cousin gave her a fashion magazine for Christmas, and Anthony was entranced by all the colors and how they made the photos pop. At 19, she began experimenting with her own her style. She liked layers. She liked blurring the line between sophisticated and funky. She liked sewing her own clothes. Fashion, jewelry, and art became a means of self-expression. This was new for Anthony, as she had always struggled with insecurity. “I had all these thoughts in my head when I’d go out and socialize,” she says, “like, ‘I’m weird. I’m ugly.’”
These thoughts were fueled, in part, by lifelong mental illness. The community she grew up with had a limited understanding of mental health, Anthony says. She struggled with undiagnosed bipolar disorder and ADHD for years. She lost friends after her first bipolar episode as a young teen, and depressive thoughts fed her feelings of worthlessness and helplessness. It wasn’t until years after leaving the church that she finally had names for her illnesses. Even now at 34, with years of experience under her belt and lots of tools to help her manage it, she’s all too aware of the lingering stigma.
“Getting away from all the negative voices at that church allowed me to hear my own voice for the first time,” Anthony says. She attended therapy and began a lifelong regimen of medication, but the real turning point for her was learning to listen to herself. Anthony started arguing with the demeaning voices, telling herself she is beautiful and has value.
Alwaysm was born from Anthony’s desire to empower women and help them find confidence in their own beauty. She advocates for mental health awareness through her jewelry—she offers a collection of green awareness ribbon and semicolon earrings in her online shop.
“It’s a very lonely road, but I think there’s a lot of movement out there towards better understanding,” she says.
Anthony’s earrings range $15–$22. The polymer-clay pieces are oven baked and then coated with a durable polyresin. The resin gives the earrings a plastic appearance, but Anthony often paints the clay to create a faux-stone look. She’s moved toward using nickel-free metals for her posts and often uses charms, molds, and stencils to enhance her designs. Mental illness, especially executive dysfunction, still makes the work challenging at times, Anthony says, but each piece is tangible proof of her capability and creativity.