Earlier this year, Xochitl Vasquez turned to jewelry-making when she was struggling to adjust to the “new normal.”
“I had just graduated college and many of my longterm college friends had moved away. My fiancé relocated for new military orders and I wasn’t taking my antidepressants. Plus, work was no longer on a set schedule, and I had just started my master’s program.”
What initially started as a late night hobby eventually turned into a fulfilling new business venture aside from her busy full-time job as a stem cell researcher.
Crafting resin jewelry designs is what helped Xochitl make peace with the uncertainties of 2020.
With the support from family and friends, Xochitl decided to launch a small business, XoCraftyJewelry, as a way to combine her passion for science and crafting.
Based in San Diego, California, Xochitl’s resin jewelry designs are heavily influenced by her surroundings and living in a coastal city.
Xochitl uses a mixture of different materials like brass, resin, clay, hand-dried flowers, sterling silver, and stainless steel to make her unique resin jewelry pieces ranging from “Dream Catcher Connectors” to “Succulent Mini Hoops.”
“I don’t think I ever really stick to one type of material, but my favorite pieces to make are definitely those that include resin. Working with resin really reminds me of being in the lab, so it does bring me a lot of comfort and confidence since it is something familiar,” she said.
Some of Xochitl’s favorite resin designs include using hand-pressed flowers that her fiancé sends every month.
“I think there is something extremely beautiful about being able to preserve a flower forever. One of my first pieces was hand drying some flowers my now-fiancé gave to me and putting them into resin. I think being able to do that is extremely meaningful,” Xochitl shared.
With her scientific background, Xochitl shares that resin itself is not able to be hardened. Classified as a mixture of organic compounds, resin is a “highly viscous substance that is found in nature and can be made synthetically,” according to Xochitl.
“An example of a type of natural resin would be how plants are able to secrete resin for their protective benefit in response to injuries or to protect themselves from insects or predators. Overall, resin can be found in nature a lot. Ambers, for example, would be considered fossil resin,” she explained.
Xochitl shares that as jewelry makers, crafters typically use something called epoxy resin to create their designs.
“Epoxy resin is a 1:1 mixture of a hardener and liquid resin in order to create a solid. People typically like to think of resin as a hardened plastic or similar to glass, which does closely resemble it physically.”
Xochitl admits that working with epoxy resin can be fun, but challenging. Usually, she’ll have to wait 24 hours for the resin to cure completely after combining the hardener and resin.
“Working with resin is like being in the lab. Learning how to experiment and find new ways to make designs with resin is what makes working with it so exciting. It’s so unpredictable. Even a slightly incorrect mixture of both parts, and you will see something completely different happen while your resin is hardened. Just like in the lab, I have seen so many challenges when I mix reagents or am too harsh on my cells; it’s no different when working with resin. You have to be extremely careful and cautious.”
For Xochitl, working with resin reminds her of some of the common similarities and mistakes that she’s made in her own lab experiments at work.
“I always learn from my mistakes in my experiments, just like when I am putting jewelry pieces together. That’s something that always keeps me busy and happy.”
Mixing Passion for the Sciences and Crafting
Xochitl is the daughter of immigrants from Salvador and Mexico. She shared that her mother escaped the Salvadoran Civil War, and always had dreams of studying business. Unfortunately, her mother didn’t have the chance to go back to school because she had to flee the country at such a young age, Xochitl shared.
Her mother’s experience influenced Xochitl to work harder in school and college. Xochitl eventually pursued a minor in business and a major in chemistry during her undergraduate career.
“My parents have always been my heroes, so being able to combine their two loves of science and business brings me immense joy because I am able to take a little bit of them into whatever I do.”
Xochitl recalls that growing up, her first language was Spanish. She shared that she often struggled with English reading comprehension and writing, and naturally gravitated more toward science.
“I have always thought math and science were easier because I felt like it made the most sense to me. It wasn’t subjected to opinions or trying to read in between the lines, it was straight forward, there was always an answer to questions I had.”
Growing up, Xochitl would always question the world around her and would be curious about problem-solving her way through life’s unanswered questions. In high school, she would skip other classes just to spend more time helping teachers set up laboratory experiments, tutor chemistry classes, or work on after school science projects.
“I always found a way to surround myself with science. Science had the ability to make me question everything and give me the opportunity to test out theories.”
Full-time STEMinist and Full-time Crafter
Xochitl has always wanted to go into stem cell research because of its potential to address huge issues in drug development, and the opportunity to be a part of innovative research that focuses on new therapeutic approaches.
“Through the use of stem cell technology, it is possible to help limit the failure rate of drugs in clinical trials, decrease the cost of FDA approved drugs, and enhance the safety of human clinical trials. This is my prime goal when I am working on my research, knowing that at the end of the day I can help someone in need,” says Xochitl.
Xochitl recalls working in a lab for her first stem cell research position. One of the projects she was assigned to continued to have experimental failures. When Xochitl opened up to her mentor and explained that she was struggling to understand the research, he paused and said something that stuck with Xochitl: “People think scientists know everything about their research, but the reality is we know 1% at best, and the other 99 percent of questions are unknown.”
Xochitl took that advice to heart. It has since been the driving force for her curiosity and commitment to bridging the gap between the known and the unknown. “I plan on spending a lifetime in the pharmaceutical industry working on multiple new experiences, learning, discovering, and partaking in a career built on solving the difficult questions surrounding disease,” says Xochitl.
She is happy to see more Latinas and women of color moving up in STEM-related fields, though there is still much more work to be done to achieve more representation, she says.
“As a woman of color in the STEM-related field, it is our job to motivate and provide resources for younger generations who want to enter into the STEM field. By providing easy access to resources and other women of color who have gone through the same experience, we can create a community that fosters a safe space for questions, support, and growth.”
Xochitl also hopes to continue her master’s education work and contribute to research that’s focused on heart disease.
“Heart disease is one of the leading causes of death and my current role is focused on utilizing 3D organoid platforms to make more consistent and physiologically relevant disease models for drug discovery and toxicology studies.”
Xochitl is not only currently juggling a full-time job, but a master’s program as well. She hopes to continue expanding her jewelry business and using some of the revenue to pay off her student loans.
But more importantly, her jewelry business has become a passion project that fuels her spirit and puts smiles on people’s faces, she explained.
“My goal is to bring just a little touch of brightness to someone’s life by making them a piece. Earrings may just be an accessory to some, but I really think a jewelry piece can make a difference in someone’s day, and that makes jewelry making an awesome experience. Being able to read comments about how my jewelry made someone’s day or how excited someone was when they put on my earrings, that’s what I want for my business. I want to bring a little bit of happiness with my craftiness.”
-Written by Monica Luhar for morningswithmoni
*I’m always on the lookout for story ideas. You can pitch me at firstname.lastname@example.org!