Hustle Hard Interview Project: Maya Brenner (And a State-ly Giveaway)

To celebrate my 32nd birthday, I started the Hustle Hard Interview Project. I’ll be interviewing a series of Hustlers who embody a skill or a quality I admire. I hope to uncover some gems that bring me one step closer to being a fully-formed adult.


When I started the Hustle Hard Interview Project last year, I knew that I wanted to end the series with Straight Hustle. For a long time, I thought the Straight Hustler would be a rapper. Unfortunately, my favorite rapper is dead, and the few others I admire have all recently been arrested (one arrest included a nine-hour standoff). I’m sure these lyrical geniuses could still teach me a lot, but after a year of mental malaise and tumult, I understand now that being a Hustler isn’t about embracing a roller coaster lifestyle and approaching each day as if it were my last. Ironically, that kind of living steals away the one prize its followers seek: freedom.

I wanted my Straight Hustler to embody ALL of the Hustle Hard qualities (these previous interviews can be found here): Pursuit of Happiness, Turning Passion Into Profit, Humor, Fearlessness, Focus, Commitment, The Come Up, Ride or Die, Revealing Beauty, Consigliere of Fresh Beats, and Good Karma.

That’s why I chose jewelry designer, Maya Brenner. (Actually, I forgot to ask about her music preferences, but please be real, 10/11 is pretty ridiculous.)

EJL: I’m a huge fan of bling, but to me, that doesn’t necessarily mean large or flashy. Noteworthiness gives it bling status, and your jewelry is bling. I feel like the ability to create a unique spin often comes from longstanding passion and work ethic. Have you always been this driven?

MB: I didn’t want to be one of those people who had no idea what they wanted in life, so I decided early on that I was going to hustle and work hard to have a career. My upbringing in Berkeley was laid-back, but I’ve always worked. Even before it was legal to work. I lied about my age when I was 14 to get a job scooping ice cream.

EJL: My daughter turns 14 in a few weeks. I’m picturing her making milkshakes at an afterschool job. I’m also picturing a large mess. Why did you want to work at that age?

MB: We didn’t have a lot of money, but even back then, I was into fashion. My mom would take me to the thrift shop to buy $2 pants, but I wanted the freedom to buy new clothes. And I loved buying jewelry from street vendors.

EJL: So you decided to become a jewelry designer?

MB: This wasn’t in my plans AT ALL. While I was in college, I fell in love with Social Sciences. I moved to New York to get a graduate degree and ended up living there for eight years. When I started my career as a social worker, I was making $28K, but I somehow still managed to dress up on my budget. During my downtime, I would flip through fashion magazines at my desk, but I never even considered the possibility of a career other than social work.

EJL: And now you’re a Bling Boss. What happened?

MB: I started making jewelry as a hobby. People would notice my necklaces and ask me where I got them. I gave them away at first because I was too embarrassed to sell them. I eventually took them to a few boutiques. One of the store clerks took me under her wing and bought the first ten necklaces I ever sold. I had no formal training, so I taught myself how to tie a clasp while I was making these bead necklaces-not even semi-precious beads; they were seed beads. When I took my jewelry into another boutique, the woman who looked them over suggested that I get them into her son’s store. Her son ended up being Steven Alan. So much has come from that relationship.

EJL: Did you quit your job as a social worker?

MB: I was so scared to give up that paycheck, no matter how small it was, because it was a sure thing. I didn’t want to end up with no career. So I did both for eight months. And then I went part-time as a social worker and spent my weekends doing trunk shows at Henri Bendel and any sale that anybody had, whether it was a flea market in the middle of winter or a holiday boutique at a church. I was selling my wares like a street peddler. When I went full-time with the jewelry, I was literally hunched over for 16 hours a day doing everything myself.

EJL: It’s hard to function at that level for a long time. How did you learn to let go of doing everything by yourself?

MB: I woke up one night in excruciating pain. I got a repetitive work injury from my poor posture while I was making jewelry, and it’s something I still feel today. My mother says that I’m the reluctant entrepreneur. I don’t like moving too fast. Each step along the way, from finally hiring people to moving out of my home office to having an online presence has taught me to be more open. Some of my biggest successes have come in this past year, and I know it’s because I’ve been so open to everything that was coming my way.

EJL: I have a special place in my heart for Texas, my home state, and I just saw your diamond Texas States Necklace in the Neiman Marcus Christmas Book. That’s big pimpin. Do you have any advice for other hustlers who are trying to make big things happen?

MB: This Joseph Campbell quote was the wallpaper on my phone for a long time: “We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us.” We get stuck and focused on what we want our life to be instead of embracing the life that it is. I spent a lot of time wishing things were different. When I finally accepted what my life really was, it changed everything for me. I got divorced two years ago, and I had to pick myself back up and start over again with two children. But I remained open to everything. Because of that, I found a partner who is another entrepreneurial spirit with passion and drive. He’s so proud of me and relishes in every success. I feel like I’m just figuring it all out.

Maya, you’re legit.


P.S. I TOTALLY GEEKED OUT on 11.12.13 when my Six-Word Memoir was chosen as Memoir of the Day on SMITH Magazine’s Six-Word Memoirs.

My Memoir really does distill 33 years down into Six Words. Actually, maybe just 31 or 32 years. I don’t really remember my baby/toddler time, and I’m not comfortable making blanket statements involving my most likely innocent baby self.



mayabrennerI’m a huge fan of Maya Brenner’s States Necklaces. And I absolutely love that all 50 states can be customized in a variety of ways ($130-$1040): Sterling Silver or 14K gold, with or without a diamond along the border to show some hometown pride, or you can go baller status with a pave version.

It’s been a rough year for me, and y’all have showed me love even when I didn’t love myself. I wish I could give everybody everything, but instead, I will just be giving one person a sterling silver States Necklace. Wow, that was a huge gap between fantasy and reality.

To enter: Leave a comment below with your own Six-Word Memoir. Only comments left on this post qualify. Contest closes Tuesday, November 19, 6:00 p.m. PT. I’ll pick a winner and announce it in next week’s post.

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Maya Brenner photo courtesy of Sarah Yates

Commenting Guidelines:

Leave your thoughts below and I'll holler back at you with a response. PLEASE DO NOT POST LINKS TO PRODUCTS OR SITES within the body of your comments. I edit/delete them. If you'd like to link your comment back to your site, just sign up for a Disqus account. It's quick and easy. I promise.



  1. Brittany Rae says:

    Proven, I am the ninja master

  2. I’d like to believe I’d be the first person to sport Iowa bling.

    And so I took a chance.

  3. Emelie Samuelson says:

    Truth? “All you need is love.”

  4. Jennifer Folmar says:

    Love who I want, regret nothing.

  5. Rest lots, achieve enough, be grateful.

  6. theblahblahblahger says:

    A girl with a big dream.

  7. I love lifes f words.

  8. See the beauty in little things.

  9. Just breathe in and breathe out.

  10. Being brave has been the hardest part.

  11. It gets better. Or move on.

  12. nina mendez says:

    believe in yourself, others will follow :)

  13. Robyn Chilcoat says:

    Pheonix: giving life a second chance

  14. Becoming is harder than it seems

  15. As long as I breathe.

  16. Niki Lee Dunbar says:

    Ginger Hoodrat – Proving we have souls

  17. Ariane Trelaun says:

    Like a bee: small, worker, bad-ass.

  18. i will always love new york

  19. Emily Wesley Wheeler says:

    Forgive yourself, embrace what you have.

  20. Work hard, love harder, sleep more.

  21. Vivacious and loyal, peace was elusive .

  22. Stop reliving what can’t be undone.

  23. Susan Dunnegan says:

    happy momma, someday I’ll sleep more!

  24. Expressing Motherhood says:

    My lazy attempt at entering gracias.

  25. What I thought, not what is.

  26. Changing for the better every day.

  27. Woman in transit: seeking, savoring, hoping.

  28. Oblivious Nerd Girl says:

    Living obliviously has it’s merits.

  29. Missing Texas, but embracing new states.

  30. Christina Simon says:

    From L.A, Here To Stay. Forever.

  31. She moves just like a carousel.

  32. Feet on ground, head in clouds.

  33. California born, Maine raised, Oregon settled

  34. Love who you are, NO REGRETS.

  35. Sharry Kim says:

    Voltaire: If you do not find anything nice, at least you shall find something new

  36. can’t find the words. never. ever.

  37. Christine Lammers says:

    Wake up. Kick Ass. And Repeat.

  38. This too shall pass. I hope.

  39. Regret nothing, it made you “you”

  40. Every day is a new opportunity.

  41. Expat life’s hard for this neophobe.

  42. Gigi Marie G says:

    North Carolina will always be home

  43. Kiar McLean Shaw says:

    Crazed, exquisite journey into abundant bliss.

    (dude, you just made me write my new life mission statement! Thank you!)

  44. F^&k you, I’m from New Jersey.

  45. J Steinberg says:

    Delaware: Work hard, become a macher.

  46. The Best Things in Life Aren’t Things.

  47. My life is a soap opera.

  48. Always backwards, never the same twice.

  49. April Nimmons says:

    It’s OK to be flawed & fabulous

  50. Angie Tacocat says:

    Make sure your brave is big

  51. Betsy Foley says:

    Every ending is a new beginning … :)

  52. Miranda Kaye says:

    I’m not good with six words. :)

  53. Never what I planned, but better.

  54. I am me and that’s enough.

  55. Relationships & Experiences–my most prized possessions

  56. Stories of a girl like me.

  57. littlemissj says:

    I’ve always tried to love everyone.

  58. Long distance love. Oklahoma to Vermont.

  59. Annie Horcasitas says:

    Attempting confidence, happiness and kindness. Sometimes succeeding.

  60. I found and fell in love with Six Word Memoirs through you and have been posting one every once in awhile. Today I posted:

    Five years ago my mom died.

    And this was the backstory:

    Many years ago, a shy young girl read the story of Francie Nolan for a school book report. The girl prepared the book report, steeled her nerves and went to class, where they were presenting in alphabetical order. Having a last name beginning with “C,” the girl found herself near the beginning of the list, but she was not first. Those who came before her went to the front of the classroom, one by one, and presented their reports, telling the class about the book from the reader’s perspective. The shy, young girl was mortified to realize she had completed her assignment wrong – and soon, she found herself in front of the room with nothing left to do but present her report as she had prepared it – not from her own perspective, but from Francie’s perspective. When she was finished, the teacher had tears in her eyes, and the girl had a story to tell her daughter later in life when she struggled with her own fear of speaking in front of a classroom.

    The shy, young girl? My beautiful mommy. The daughter? Me. All these many years later, I’m wading my way through what I believe is the same copy of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn my mom read. And when I happened upon this last night, I couldn’t help but understand just why Mommy may have related to this girl, Francie…this bookish, observant, quiet girl with “something that had been born into her and her only–the something different from anyone else…” (From A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith)

    <3 pjh 3.25.52-11.18.08

  61. Martha Willis says:

    Cupcakes fix all ailments.I bake.

  62. Melissa Burton says:

    Lover of all things off kilter.

  63. Never think you’re not good enough

  64. Determination: flying on my own wings

  65. Love, trust, and cherish yourself first.

  66. Know the tasks that are worthy.

  67. Emily van der Heijden says:

    Life is a box of chocoaltes

  68. Samantha MS says:

    Proud of where I am from

  69. Create and love while having fun

  70. To have and to hold Arizona.

  71. Always be passionate, fearless, and inspired.

  72. Robin at Recess says:

    Eyes open, Ears open, Mouth shut.

  73. wind at back, sun on face.

  74. Candice McColgan says:

    Never throw out anyone.

  75. full of gratitude, still not done

  76. I want to stop asking “why?”

  77. Embrace all that is good, everyday.

  78. Stronger than I give myself credit for!

  79. Barbara De Rousseau says:

    BElittlement…..BEreavement……BElieve…..BEcome…….BE joyful!

  80. Swimming in puddles can be funny

  81. Drankin. Smoking. And straight West Coastin.

  82. Stop overthinking and just do it

Commenting Guidelines:Leave your thoughts below and I'll holler back at you with a response. PLEASE DO NOT POST LINKS TO PRODUCTS OR SITES within the body of your comments. I edit/delete them. If you'd like to link your comment back to your site, just sign up for a Disqus account. It's quick and easy. I promise.

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