Life isn’t always easy, but for Venezuelan native Yurima Crowley it sure has been interesting. In 2018, she was working an assortment of jobs to make ends meet — then everything changed when she took a 20-month leadership course offered to immigrants at a non-profit in Aurora.
The ultimate purpose of the course was for each person to create a project that gives back to their communities. For Crowley, this took the form of teaching other immigrant ladies in the community how to make and sell jewelry. This project ultimately became the company she runs today, I Love ME Gems. (The “ME” stands for Manos Emprendedoras or entrepreneurial hands.)
These days, the company has a small but steadfast “staff” of six immigrant women from Spanish-speaking countries, including Crowley. She discovered these women when her project was announced (before it was ready) at a community breakfast she attended near the end of her course. Ready or not, a line of women formed who were interested in the project. She took down their information with a promise to contact them when she was ready to begin.
“[I was] starting from scratch,” Crowley laughs. “I met with the ladies and nobody knew anything — how to grab pliers, nothing. And [in the beginning] our designs were terrible.” Despite all this, the jewelry sold and the community was very encouraging. “[Our first customers] didn’t love the design, but they loved the purpose.” This has changed greatly over the years. “Now, when people come to our table at events they come because the designs are so cute,” she says.
“Being an immigrant has been our business card, everywhere. We start with ‘We are immigrants and it’s what people have loved about us.'”
To make the jewelry, the ladies met once a week in a classroom at the non-profit where Crowley took her leadership course.
“The first class was so stressful, I was so nervous!” she says. And now? “We are like a family,” Crowley smiles. “The part we enjoy most about the business is when we meet every week… we share and we talk about everything happening in our lives. It’s a support system.”
Initially, the jewelry was sold at bazaars and the like around the Denver metro area, and the community’s affinity for the project was largely because of the stories of the women themselves. Instead of dismissing the work out of hand, they encouraged the I Love ME Gems crew to keep at it. And that’s exactly what happened, until 2020 arrived and the pandemic changed everything. When events stopped, so did sales.
“I told the ladies, I think we are done,” Crowley says.
She told them she would let them know in a couple of months if there was a way forward. Luckily, programs and grants with organizations like KIVA and the Aurora SBDC gave Crowley and her ladies another chance. Crowley found it very motivating, almost as though it was a sign. Determined to be better than ever, she took a new approach.
“I told them, let’s buy more expensive materials, more expensive gemstones,” she says. The quality improved almost overnight and it showed in the sales. “We jumped from a pair of earrings for $15 to a pair of earrings for $30, and everybody bought it like crazy.”
Shocked by her own success, Crowley decided to quit her day job and focus solely on I Love ME Gems at the end of 2020. The company has grown ever since. As of last year, the company was finally able to rent their own space at Aurora’s Mango House, which makes production much easier on the ladies — they previously had to carry all of their supplies back and forth each time to their weekly meetings. Only Crowley is full-time, while the others freelance.
“There is no pressure,” she says. The other ladies come in once a week, but the work usually follows them home from the studio since they make their own schedules and deadlines. “They can take five minutes to make something, or they can take three days to make something,” Crowley adds. “When they need more, I give them things to do, and they decide how fast to do it. They get paid every week for everything they finish.”
Today, Coloradans and visitors alike can find the pieces made by I Love ME Gems in five brick-and-mortar locations around Denver and one in Boulder:
- Ruby's Market
- Four Mile Historic Park
- Museo de las Americas
- Tonantzin Casa de Café
- Refresh Studios
- Chautauqua General Store
Ultimately, Crowley’s dreams are even bigger than what she has already created.
“I’m looking to have a space that can be open to the public… it could be a small house where we teach, but we also have a small store, a gallery… stores or individuals can buy wholesale from us,” she says with excitement. “A bigger space where we can have more classes and show more jewelry and invite teachers in to teach new techniques.”
In her experience, shared language is not required for this work. The I Love ME Gems team has worked with teachers who spoke only English and have successfully taught other immigrant women who don’t speak a word of Spanish.
“We just used our hands and showed them how to do it, and they did it. [It turns out] it wasn’t really necessary to speak the same language for something like this.”
I Love ME Gems’s creations can be found at the brick-and-mortar locations listed above, and at events around the Denver metro throughout the year. Any businesses interested in working with I Love ME Gems are encouraged to contact the business via the website.