SOTL Global Movement
A woman with a real passion for cigars! A successful life coach! A determined Retail District Manager USA/Caribbean at Fuente The OpusX Society by Manny Iriarte! A mother, a business woman and an aficionada in one! This is who Belkys Sanchez is and these are all the roles she brings to life every day.
But when the SOTL Global Movement management team sat down to have a conversation with her, she was just what we all expected. The humblest person one can ever meet. A genuine gem for all of us in the cigar industry.
Belkys is the Retail District Manager at Fuente The OpusX Society by Manny Iriarte. But how did the Fuente Opus X Society came about, and Belkys was able to join this amazing team? ? In 1992, Carlito Fuente Jr created «Project X from Planet 9,» a cigar brand with a unique identity in the industry. He became obsessed with producing in the Dominican Republic, and his commitment and persistence led to the birth of OpusX, a brand that he deeply loved. In 2009, Carlito met designer and photographer Manny Iriarte, and their collaboration began with magazine ads and photography. As they worked together, a magic and common vision developed between them. Manny’s trendsetting ideas and Carlito’s vision were a perfect match. Manny’s work also includes collaborating with luxurious brands such as Hublot, S.T. Dupont, Stefano Ricci, and Elie Bleu. In 2013, he created «The OpusX Society,» a concept that elevated the brand to the next level. After years of successful collaborations, Manny believes that the stars have aligned in 2019 for the creation of «The OpusX Society,» which will take the brand to the next level as a luxury lifestyle. Carlito and Manny will collaborate once again to make this vision a reality.
But the stars had also aligned for Belkys to join this amazing concept. And we will start at the beginning.
Dr. Anastasia Psomiadi: Hello dear Belkys. It is so wonderful to finally sit and discuss a little about your story. We would all love to know about your starting point, what made you decide to get into cigars? What made you want to become an aficionada?
I fell in love with cigars and decided to explore my steps and embracing the aficionada world when I saw the front cover of a magazine with a Latin singer posing with her cigar. It struck me as a strong culture and empowering. At that moment my curiosity and learning path began.
Cynthia Gonzalez: It is so nice seeing again Belkys. Could you please tell us a few words about how you entered your Cigar journey as a professional?
I entered my Cigar journey professionally after attending multiple Cigar events and Dominican Republic for the ProCigar festivals with my family friends of Cigar Snob magazine, Eric and Yamilet Calvino and their brother Charles Lopez. Through them I was introduced to Manny Iriarte and his project with Carlito Fuente Jr.
Dr. Anastasia Psomiadi: Describe your feelings through this cigar journey. Have they changed at all through the years?
I have aways wondered myself if my feelings would change through the years but actually I have the same feelings of happiness, excitement, love, eagerness, and compassion to do more and be more as I did at the beginning.
Lefty Karropoulos: I would love to know about your experiences. How were your experiences at the beginning in comparison to now?
I am a person that enjoys when others feel welcome and comfortable around me. Receptivity is extremely important and that was my mindset and approach initially. At first, there were instances that others would get nervous when I approached them. When I began speaking and listening to them I felt the energy shift to a more comfortable tone. Moving forward now, when I approach owners, patrons, and guests it’s a very welcoming energy and kindness. Love to create the connections and share time with those I meet. It is extremely rewarding.
Eleana Mouskenteri: Did your career change affect your experiences therefore creating challenges for you? Please tell us about your most important challenges.
I definitely did a total career change, I came from a 20 year career path as an elementary education teacher which I loved, a life coach, and switched over to my career and journey of passion. Challenges at first was leaving the young students and friendships I had built through the years being at the same school. As well as being physically away for longer periods of time traveling away from my children who needed me, but in different ways. My son Brayden at that point had decided to attend Florida State University to pursue his career in political science, philosophy, and law. My daughter Gyllian, an elementary school teacher as well embarked on her career journey pursuing her masters degree in Speech Pathology. It was a beautiful turning point for us all.
Dr. Anastasia Psomiadi: Are the challenges the same now?
The challenges have definitely shifted, the travel and experiences have changed our lives in many ways. Appreciating and learning so much more about ourselves and others. The challenges are now positive experiences and opportunities to learn more, to gain the knowledge to better understand the industry, the culture, and the community. The world of what brings us together, the passion of the leaf.
Patricia Pineda: Do you believe that your background as a teacher helps you in the cigar industry to influence and inspire others?
I do, I do believe my experience as a teacher and a life coach helps me greatly in the cigar industry. It has given me the tools to empathize with everyone, to connect with one another, to learn, to teach, to pay it forward, and to carry great loving compassion to every person I meet and speak to. It is a total collaboration.
Lefty Karropoulos: What advice would you give to other people who want to change their career? Would it be different than the advice you would give to other people who want to change their career and enter the cigar industry?
The advice I would give them is never fear change. If there’s something you love, follow it. Learn it, live it, teach it, and give others that same strength to pursue their passion as what we love has great purpose in our lives. To those that want to enter the cigar industry I would advise them to follow what feels great to them. To not fear any challenges, focus on the path that guided them to pursue this industry. To learn and come with an open mind and heart to those that have played a key part in the existing evolution of the industry.
Cynthia Gonzalez: What inspires you to continue on this path and how would you like to inspire others?
What inspires me to continue is the richness of the culture, the dynamic of each individual attracted to the history and experience of a cigar, and especially those just beginning their very own journey. I will inspire them to continue and never give up on what direction feels good to them. Especially the passion, the love to learn and embrace everything and everyone that has created the cigar.
Patricia Pineda: People say that you are very respectful, exerting so much love, compassion, empathy and loyalty. Do you think these are values you bring into the cigar industry?
I am so humbled by that so lets just say that if these are the values that people around me expect of me, this is exactly what I will always try to offer to others. I will offer them a journey full of hope, compassion, love and loyalty.
Lefty Karropoulos: Belkys, through these values that you define you as a person, would you like to achieve or change anything at the moment?
Truly Lefty, yes. I would love to achieve greater experiences and tread footprints that will allow others the opportunity to follow their inner journey and know that we can create limitless experiences. And as women, to continue opening doors and create larger bridges to the expansion of the cigar industry and culture. Adding our warmth and more love to everything we do…
Eleana Mouskenteri: Do you think that with the inspiration you want to offer to others around you, is something that also inspired you to want to learn more about the Cigar culture? Are you seeking to learn more at the moment?
I want to acquire as much knowledge as possible about and of the cigar industry. From seed to shop, from shop to aficionada/aficionado. I will be registering for my Cigar Sommelier Certification very soon through the SGM Maestro School. And continue learning, experiencing, and sharing all the richness of this culture with others. Especially to the younger generations coming forth.
Dr. Anastasia Psomiadi: Please tell me, I really want to know the story. How did you learn about SOTL Global Movement?
I learned about SOTL Global Movement at the PCA convention in 2022. My dear friend and SOTL Cynthia Gonzalez-Valentin explained to me what the movement represented, at that moment I wanted to know more and engage in the movement. In December 2022 at the Puerto Rico Cigar festival, Cynthia asked me to be a part of the panel as the 7th Global Movement Round Table was being held. I accepted, and so very honored and proud I did. Being a part of this incredible community and having the opportunity of making grand contributions and changes is priceless. Expansion in every way…
Dr. Anastasia Psomiadi: How do you believe SOTL Global Movement can help you and others?
The SOTL Global Movement can help myself and others in the approach and the expansion of the cigar industry. It allows us to speak and create motion for the women that stood before us in the process of the cigar making history. To those that could not speak nor participate in the creation or enjoyment of a cigar. We now speak and create changes without limitations for them, ourselves, and the generations to come.
Lefty Karropoulos: So do you believe that this organization, The SOTL Global Movement can bring a positive change to the cigar world?
Absolutely. The changes it brings are those of expansion, warmth, respect, education, and love for the leaf. To engage and educate all those that wonder about the industry, those that pursue a career, or simply a hobby. Giving them guidance and the proper tools to be successful at what they desire.
During our discussion, we experienced numerous moments of laughter and beauty while also sharing and reflecting on cherished memories. As we wrap up our conversation with Belkys, we can’t help but feel inspired by her passion for the cigar industry. Her dedication to the craft, her drive to succeed, and her unwavering commitment to quality are truly impressive.
As we bid farewell to our dear sister of the leaf Belkys Sanchez, we are left with even more appreciation for the art of cigars and the incredible individuals who make it possible. It’s a reminder that in every industry, there are people like her who are breaking barriers and shattering stereotypes. And for that, we should all be grateful.