May 4, 2008 — Marlen Jimenez believes that the heart is the pathway to creativity.
"Three years ago, I never imagined doing jewelry and candles," the 30-year-old artist says. "I liked jewelry, and I have a creative mind so I listened to my heart and did something with all that creativity."
Enter Hecho A Mano.
The term in Spanish means handmade but to Jimenez it translates to much more.
"It means to me a creation — an expression of myself that you have your heart into, that shows people this is who I am," she says.
Her creativity shows itself in matched sets of necklaces, earrings and bracelets and free-standing fragrance candles.
Jimenez's jeweled sets were all the rage at this year's Agricultural and Food Fair with passersby fascinated by the bright shades of turquoise and larimar or honey-hued amber and sparkling crystal fashioned into accessories.
On that day, under a small canopy, she hawked free-standing candles in shades of coffee and cream and in calming fragrances of vanilla and jasmine.
Jimenez said she learned the art of jewelry and candle-making on her own.
"Education for me is a never-ending process," she says. "You can educate yourself by leaning a skill."
Jimenez, who pulls multitasking duty as a foreign language teacher by day, a college student at night and a mom and wife in between, lives what she preaches.
Now 30, she arrived on St. Croix as a bright 17-year-old from her native Dominican Republic. She spoke only Spanish and with the English language a barrier, she was placed one grade lower at Central High School on St. Croix.
Today she has a commanding knowledge of English and is frequently tapped to speak at career day fairs across the island.
Last month, she told a group of girls ages nine to 11 who participated in the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority mentorship program that they too can do whatever they dream "but you first have to put your heart in it."
She says she never would have guessed that with all she already has on her plate she could be a jewelry artist, pulling in some extra cash on the side.
"I loved the larimar stone and I used to go to the stores here and it was so expensive," she says. Larimar, she told the group, was abundant in the Dominican Republic and much, much cheaper.
So during a vacation there, she went searching for the stones, she says. Her husband, Anthony Denunzio, loaned her $500.
"I kept reinvesting that $500, and now my company is worth $10,000," she says proudly.
The couple has two children, David, 9, and Aaliyah 2, and a third on the way in November. Jimenez says in between caring for her family, working a full-time job and studying, she puts in two to three hours a day making her jewelry and candles. The accessories sell for as low as $10 and a more expensive piece, depending on the stones used, can go for as high as $70, she says.
She says she originally stuck to larimar and eventually added Swarovski crystal, amethyst, Golden Quarzo and turquoise in various shades of green, blue and dark green. She got in the business at the urging of friends and family, she says.
"I would show them to my friends and family, and they would buy it from me," she says. "They would tell me, 'You should go into business.'"
She did last year, starting out small and selling from tables at various gatherings like Jump Up, the V.I. Puerto Rican Friendship Village and Agricultural Food Fair.
On occasion, Jimenez, a senior at the University of the Virgin Islands pursuing a bachelor's degree in elementary education with a concentration in Spanish, says she must increase her hours when large orders come in. Members of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority recently ordered several candles in the shape of hearts and pyramids, and she had a turnaround period of a week to get it done, she says.
The cost of her candles, which come in all shapes and sizes, range from $4 for those that require tiny molds to $45 for the larger ones.
Contact Hecho A Mano at (340) 626-9939
Share your reaction to this news with other Source readers. Please include headline, your name and city and state/country or island where you reside.