Q&A: Kathleen Lights On Nail Polish, Cuba-Inspired Merch and YouTube Success

In 2013, Kathleen Fuentes was bored at home in Mississippi, where her husband was stationed. She began making makeup reviews on YouTube as a hobby. Six years later, Fuentes – better known as KathleenLights– has grown over 4 million subscribers.

“It’s been an incredible journey to be a part of something so big, but I am so thankful to the loyal audience that stuck with me since day one,” she says. 

Beyond her makeup reviews and comedy sketches on YouTube, Fuentes is bringing her brand IRL with two lines of products, Lights Lacquer and Lights Label. Both are inspired by Fuentes’s own experiences growing up in Miami as a Latina and the heritage her family passed down to her. While she’s worked with brands such as ColourPop, Ofra, Makeup Geek, and Morphe in the past, these drops hit differently for Fuentes. “I truly wanted to create something out of the box,” she says. 

Emperifollá caught up with Fuentes to discuss her merch and nail polish collections, how Miami inspires her, and her key to YouTube success. 

E: You were born in Miami from Cuban parents, tell us a bit about your family. 

KL: My family– like many Latino cultures– is a very big, loud, loving and tight family. In fact, we are a family-run business. My husband, my brother, my mom, brother-in-law, sister and even my nieces play a role in all of my businesses. I think that’s what makes it so beautiful to watch and see our brands grow. We all come together and each one of them plays an important role in the business aspect of it. I could not do this without my family and I am so grateful for that.  

E: How would you describe growing up in Miami as a Latina?  

KL: Growing up, as a Latina in Miami was – and is – definitely a unique experience. Miami is a melting pot for cultures, and I love bringing that into my products. Whether it’s a line inspired by the Cuban bodegas on famed Calle 8 or incorporating the “Tranquilita Tropica” vibe into my collections, my experiences growing up really help shape my brands. 

E: What is your first memory of style + beauty growing up? When did you first become aware of that? 

KL: My mom has always been into beauty and fashion. Her makeup bag was always full of MAC makeup. I truly think that’s where my sister and I got our love for all things beauty. During my childhood, I also adapted certain rituals and traditions when it comes to beauty and one of these is baby cologne before bed. No matter how old I get, I will always dab on some Agustin Reyes Royal Violets perfume before hitting the sack. It’s what my mom used to do as a child and what her mom before that did as well. 

E: Tell us about your business, why did you venture into nails and merch? 

Because my Youtube focuses on makeup reviews, I decided to stay away from developing a makeup brand, so I could continue to review different brands. I truly wanted to create something out of the box, so I decided to go with nail polish, which I absolutely love, and loungewear, which is my other passion, my clothing line, Lights Label.

Lights Label is an accessory and apparel merchandise line that features both unique art and lifestyle products with a Latina twist. Lights Label is designed by a small group of creatives born and raised in Miami, Florida. My inspiration behind the merch brand was my Cuban culture and Miami roots. Miami is a city that birthed a generation of rebellious and resilient people. The latest drop is an ode to Miami bodegas in Little Havana, but helming inspiration from Cuba’s classic “La Bodeguita del Medio.”

E: Is representing the Latina community something you are aware of in your profession? 

KL: Absolutely. I think it’s so important for Latinas (and all women) to rise up and embrace our diversity, to all of our audiences, especially those that can relate to our culture and upbringing. Starting Lights Lacquer was such a journey and if it wasn’t for my amazing team of women working with me, I wouldn’t have been able to do it! Women supporting women is how we get far in this community and I just wanted my first launch to truly celebrate that and the “jefas” in all of us.

As Latina women, we now have a responsibility to show others like us that it is possible to find success in doing the things you love. If opening up your own business in beauty is one of them, look to those who never gave up as inspiration! We owe it to ourselves and all the young women after us!

E: You are one of the biggest YouTubers in the States, how would you describe being part of that community? 

KL: I never really know what to say when I get asked about this because it’s hard for me to understand as well! I started doing videos on Youtube when my husband was stationed in Mississippi out of boredom. And, I got really good at them, and I realized I really enjoyed reviewing beauty products. It just took off from there! It’s been an incredible journey to be a part of something so big, but I am so thankful to the loyal audience that stuck with me since day one! 

It’s so important for me to stay active and engage with others and be consistent but most of all, I know my success comes from my authenticity. I have always stayed true to who I am. People will always see through what’s not authentic. Your integrity is everything. 

E: What is the one outfit/makeup that makes you feel more empowered/like yourself?

KL: Hands down, nothing makes me feel more empowered than solid eyebrows & mascara. Anastasia Beverly Hills Brow Wiz & Glossier Brow Flick are my go-to’s. Although I don’t mind dressing up from time to time, nothing makes me feel more empowered like sweatpants and a baggy t-shirt. I have to be honest; comfort makes me powerful! 

Frances Solá-Santiago

Born in Puerto Rico, based in New York City. She is the editor-in-chief on Emperifollá. Her work has been published in The New York Times, Rolling Stone, NPR, Glamour Magazine, Numéro, Refinery29, Remezcla, and Bustle.

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