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"What was your big break?" It's a question people often ask of celebrities, but at Allure, the beauty professionals and brand founders are the celebrities. In My Beauty Break, we'll dig into the behind-the-scenes details — the money, the aha! moments, and the mistakes — of the biggest brands in the industry.
Less than three years ago, Gisselle Hernandez would never have imagined she'd have a company that was on track to become a multi-million dollar business — especially in the midst of a pandemic that has been a period of high uncertainty for so many. And yet, in September 2020, the Dominican-born founder and CEO of Glamlite Cosmetics, an indie beauty brand known for its viral food-themed products, launched her Ice Cream collection, one of the Glamlite’s most successful drops thus far.
While many might view Hernandez as an overnight success living her best life, there were years of hard work that went into the picture-perfect way her brand might appear to be running now — and to this day, she still encounters roadblocks. Here, Hernandez tells us about what's gone into building Glamlite, the moment she had her big beauty break, rising up from poverty, turning hurtful comments into a springboard for success, and more.
First off all, congratulations on all the success Glamlite has seen, especially during a time when I'm sure you probably never thought you'd see so much growth. What has been your secret sauce?
The person I was before COVID and the person that I am as of this morning are two completely different people. COVID made me step out of my comfort zone, it destroyed every excuse I had, and forced me to rise to the challenge. I suddenly had to figure out how to be a full-time mom and the president of a brand at the same time. I'm not originally from [Los Angeles], so I don't have the luxury of depending on family to help out. I dwelled about the situation for the first week and then I just said to myself, circumstances are what you make of them, you can either make excuses or you can make changes. I decided that I wasn't going to let COVID stop me. I grabbed my phone, set up a backdrop and started filming TikTok videos, creating extra content for Instagram and Facebook, doing Spin the Wheel giveaways for customers. Before COVID I always had the excuse that I was too busy to create personal content and suddenly here I was making multiple videos per day. The results started speaking for themselves. In the middle of a pandemic we experienced a 200 percent growth, expanded our team, outgrew our previous facility, and moved into a much bigger warehouse.
Due to COVID, our summer collection was delayed by over four months. I couldn't find the right way to make a statement informing our Foodies that we were releasing an Ice Cream collection in the middle of Fall. However, the support from the community surpassed my wildest thoughts. We reached $200,000 in sales within the first five minutes of the collection going live, which surpassed any of our previous launches.
Glamlite's products often go viral. Can you take us through a general behind-the-scenes of what it's been like to build this type of beauty brand?
Glamlite was literally built from the ground up. I've always taken pride in being hands-on with the brand. Before I was able to afford to hire a team, I took on so many roles. I was the sole graphic designer, marketer, content creator, photographer, videographer, product developer, accountant, customer service, packing, etc. Most people don't see what goes on behind the curtains. Sometimes the night before a big launch I am working until 4 a.m. I've had to sleep on the couch or on the warehouse floor because I have more work than I can handle. I had to sacrifice weekend outings with friends, personal time, vacations, holidays.
Glamlite didn't even begin as the foodie brand it is today. Explain a bit about your process going from Glamlite 1.0 to where it is now.
See, this is why I constantly say the key to success is simply being yourself. When I launched my first makeup products I wanted to create these super elegant and minimalist products because I was too focused on creating something that would appeal to the masses instead of creating something that represented the real me. When I was a teenager, I went to MAC one day and I bought this gorgeous blue eyeshadow. I took my time recreating this blue look I saw on YouTube to wear to a party that evening. When I arrived, my so-called friend at that time gave me this weird look and told me that plus size girls like myself, with the chubby faces, should stay away from colorful makeup.
That comment stuck with me and followed me into my adult years. After that day, I only used neutral makeup, which is why my first palette was all neutrals. My Masterpiece Palette represented who I was trying to be at that time, I was trying to hide in plain sight. I created a palette that I thought would appeal to the masses because one day I was hoping I could fit in too. My first palette only sold two units on launch date. My next few palettes weren't much of a success either. We slowly started attracting new customers but the progress was extremely slow. The stress from work caused me to overeat even more which led me to reaching [a weight of] 230 pounds which made me want to shy away from creating content or being on social media. Some people sent me hateful messages in regards to my weight. One day I decided that I was going to stop trying to please everyone and do the things that I love. I was tired of hiding. I was tired of pretending to be someone I am not. I had spent an entire life trying to hide, trying to fit in. On that day, the idea of the Pizza Palette was born.
The Pizza Palette.
After the Pizza Palette, people started sending me messages saying I had to do a Burger palette with vibrant greens, yellows, and oranges. I was terrified because it was out of my comfort zone. In order to test out the formula, I had to create colorful looks on a daily basis.
That's when I found myself. I became this entirely new person. I would go to the market with bright blue or green makeup. Once I began posting my looks up, no one judged me. On the contrary, they complimented my makeup and made suggestions for more colorful palettes. I feel like the brand reflects my personal evolution.
I have grown into this confident and daring woman, one product at a time. I wouldn't be in the position that I am in today if I would have continued trying to fit in, trying to follow the trends in the industry.
When did the big beauty break with Glamlite come and what was that like?
The launch of the Pizza Palette in December 2018 completely changed my life. A few months before this palette was released I took a leap of faith and invested all of my savings into manufacturing this product and signing a lease for my first office space. I was down to my last dollar but a part of me had this feeling that things were about to change for the better. When I released the palette I had no idea that it was going to go viral. Within a few hours after I shared the first video campaign — which we shot on a budget of $400 — it got reposted on every social media platform and countless online magazines. When the palette went live on our site, it completely sold out in under 48 hours. Some of the biggest influencers in the industry started reviewing it which built up the demand for it. Suddenly I went from packing orders by myself to hiring an entire team of people to keep up with the volume of sales.
You've mentioned how you struggled with your weight and were bullied your entire life because of it. How has creating Glamlite helped you overcome a lot of the mental struggle that can result from that?
I've been battling with my weight since I began my first diet at age 11. Self-hate is not something that you overcome overnight. When I began doing food-inspired makeup, I had this sense of freedom because my love for food was now out in the open. It's something that people could no longer use against me. Growing up people would say, "you're such a fatass, you love food," and now I can say, well duh, I have a whole line dedicated to my favorite foods. Glamlite has allowed me to feel free for the first time in my life because I have tens of thousands of people who don't judge me, they accept me for who I am. A lot of people have reached out to me and thanked me for encouraging them to love themselves. However, I am only human and once in a while, I drift to my old ways. I lost a lot of weight in the past two years and sometimes I catch myself thinking negatively and putting down my body. From stretch marks to loose skin, I am learning to love every part of me.
Tell us a bit about life before Glamlite. Before any financial success, how would you describe your earlier years?
I grew up in poverty. When we migrated to the United States we were undocumented, therefore my mother worked low-paying factory jobs. Our household income was $16,000 a year, which isn't a lot for New York City. Certain things that people take for granted, like going to the movies, were things that I saw as a luxury. I remember one time my friends invited me to the beach and I was so broke that I only had enough for a one-way train fare but I decided to go anyway. I ended up having to run an errand to the bodega for the MTA employee in exchange for a "free pass," but it was one of the best days of my life. My upbringing taught me that real happiness doesn't come from materialistic things. Now that I am in a different financial situation in life, there are some people that expect me to act differently. Like I have a few friends that constantly clown on me for the fact that I shop at DD's Discounts, or that I wear 99 cent flip flops everywhere I go, or that I prefer eating at the taco truck rather than a fine dining restaurant.
What would Gisselle today say to 10-year-old Gisselle?
Everything you need to be successful is in you! Focus on yourself, your dreams, and your vision.
On social media, you've discussed how important it's been for you to make a brand that's inclusive of everyone, especially those who have faced similar struggles as you. What have been some ways you've gone about achieving this goal?
Being a woman of color, inclusivity comes natural to me. When I sit down to create a palette I instantly ask myself, is this a product that would show up on my mom or my cousins? My mom is a beautiful dark-skinned woman and so many times she has felt left out by certain brands that act as if women of her skin tone don't exist. Women of color deserve representation.
With every product, I take my time in selecting shadows or formulas that are going to stand out on every single skin tone. In addition to product development I began working with many WOC influencers for paid content because somehow they are constantly overlooked for paid opportunities in our industry. Our PR list is extremely diverse and I hired a social media director who is heavily focussed on finding new talent from all different age groups, skin tones, ethnicities, ages, and so on.
What keeps you motivated, especially during the tough times, to keep going and keep pushing forward with this brand?
I realized that my purpose in life was to one day be able to impact the life of others. Even if my story only motivates one single person to believe in themselves, I have accomplished my purpose. I've had days where I've wanted to give up, but then I remind myself that I'm not doing this for me. I represent every immigrant who migrated here with a dream, every person who grew up in poverty and was told they weren't good enough, and the people society deemed as failures. I keep pushing because one day I'm going to get the chance to speak in front of little girls and boys and tell them about the importance of believing in themselves to the point that anything that doubts their potential, becomes background noise. This is something that I have instilled in my daughter.
The Ice Cream Dream Palette.
How do you fight off the haters who criticize your food-themed brand?
When I released my first food-inspired product, I was bombarded with negative comments and dragged on every social media platform. A part of me felt heartbroken because I wasn't expecting certain people to be so malicious and say things such as "I can't wait till your brand goes bankrupt." However, for every negative comment, there were hundreds of other sweet people who would send me pictures of their entire Glamlite collection displayed in their homes. Sometimes it is difficult to deal with the hate because I am so heavily active on social media that it is impossible to ignore the negativity. However, one thing that has helped me to cope with things, is to remove myself from the situation and look at things from a different perspective. Like I get to wake up every morning and go to my dream job. Not many people can say that they love their job so much that they would clock in every single day for free! I came to understand that some people's reason for hating my brand is because they see me living so freely. I am out here creating whatever comes from my heart.
When you think about you and your brand as a whole, what is the overall message you're trying to convey?
The motto for my brand has always been don't be afraid to be yourself. I remember when I had our first brand photoshoot, on the day of the shoot one of the models canceled and the photographer asked me, " Why don't you model your own product?" I responded to him, "I don't look like the models used for beauty campaigns." In that moment, I realized society had brainwashed many of us into thinking that we had to look a certain way in order to be beautiful. When I shot the campaign for the Pizza Palette, I was 230 pounds decked out in pizza pajamas and sitting in a pizza decorated room; the complete opposite of what the typical beauty campaign looks like. Beauty is about learning to embrace your flaws, accept them, and flaunt them. Screw these unrealistic expectations and show the world you are beautiful exactly the way you are.
What's up next for Glamlite? What new products can we expect?
I am ready to take the brand to the next level. I have a few secret collabs and amazing projects that I can't wait to reveal. We are definitely going to sway away from pizzas, burgers, and tacos, but the new products will be even more epic!
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