“Concrete jungle where dreams are made of. There’s nothing you can’t do,” sings Alicia Keys in her 2009 hit song “Empire State of Mind.” The song became New York’s resilience anthem, especially for those immigrants who left everything behind to start from zero in the Big Apple. Like Gisselle Hernandez, founder and CEO of Glamlite Cosmetics.
Gisselle Hernandez was born in a very poor village in the Dominican Republic, a small country in the Caribbean with beautiful beaches, friendly people, and a lack of opportunities. Many parents living in rural communities tend to focus on how they will feed their families that day — but Hernandez’s mother always looked further. She wanted just the best for her daughter and took the brave decision to send Hernandez to live in Bushwick, New York with her aunt when she was three years old.
Not knowing a single word of English, Hernandez was enrolled in bilingual classes until the 4th grade. “I remember kids would make fun of my accent or tease me when I mispronounced things,” recalls the Dominican businesswoman. “This ignited my passion for languages. By the time I was 12 I was trilingual.”
Hernandez told BELatina News that her academic background is far from traditional simply because she wanted to learn about things she was extremely passionate about. “I loved learning new things but I didn’t enjoy being in an academic setting. I dropped out of school at 14 years old so that I could focus on learning things that I was passionate about,” she revealed. “From the ages of 14 to 19, I decided to spend my time learning photography, graphic design, website coding, and marketing.”
Although dropping out of school at such a young age brought on a lot of criticism, Hernandez was determined to rise — but under her own rules. “At 19 I finally decided to enroll in a local community college and I studied Business Administration,” she said. “I ended up getting pregnant and had to drop out when I was one semester away from graduating. When my daughter was born I took on the role of being a stay-at-home mom. [But] as much as I love my daughter, I felt like a part of me was missing. I had a vision of the woman that I wanted to become.”
“Since I was 7 years old I had the crazy dream of creating my own makeup brand. I felt like it was my calling. However, being raised in poverty you are taught not to dream ‘so big,'” she shared.
The old generation of Hispanic parents loves their hijos and hijas no matter what; however, the sentiment of having kids that graduate from college is deeply rooted in their brains. “I was taught that getting a college degree was the only way to be successful. When I had my daughter I finally realized that I didn’t want her to grow up with that limited perspective of life. I want to show her that anything in life is possible,” she said.
“My mom used to brag about her friend’s daughter who got a degree and landed a job at a bank making 60k a year,” said Hernandez. “And my aunt used to say, ‘It’s sad that someone as talented as yourself didn’t go far in life.’ When I launched my brand, I was constantly told that I needed a backup plan and that selling makeup online wasn’t a career.”
Committed to become the woman she always dreamed of, Hernandez started her own business. “I decided that I was going to launch my own makeup brand, no matter what it took. I put $1900 on my credit card and launched a line of selfie lights as a way to raise capital to fund my brand,” she revealed. “I worked day and night. I would answer emails, pack orders, and do customer service while my daughter slept. Then the rest of my free time would go into designing my makeup products and researching labs.”
After two years of hard work and saving every dollar she made, the Dominican entrepreneur was able to launch her very first palette on November 27th, 2017. an achievement that soon brought disappointment. “Unfortunately, launching a brand wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. On my launch date, I sold two palettes,” recalls Hernandez. “I continued to try to remain positive and release new collections. However, the brand wasn’t doing well.”
Sunk in deep sadness, Gisselle Hernandez became an emotional eater, and in a few months, she found herself weighing 230 lbs. “I’ve been in a constant battle with my weight since I was 11 years old. I tend to ‘eat’ my emotions away. Food is a place of comfort for me,” she revealed. “Being plus-sized caused me to be bullied and ridiculed for the majority of my life.”
Trying not to give sadness more room in her life, and making peace with food, she used all her available funds to launch one more eyeshadow palette. “I said, ‘Screw it, I’m just going to be myself and I don’t care who doesn’t like it.’ That day I designed the Pizza Palette,” she said. “I risked it all, I put my entire life savings and all the business assets into mass production of that palette. No one had ever done anything like this in the makeup industry before. I knew there would be a lot of criticism but it didn’t matter to me. I had spent my entire life trying to please others and for once I wanted to do something for me!”
Photo credit via Gisselle Hernandez
Gisselle Hernandez presented to the very critical beauty industry the world’s first food-inspired makeup brand. Using her resilience as the number one ingredient, Glamlite Cosmetics became iconic when it comes to creative packaging and high pigmented products. The brand’s unique take on the packaging has also helped the palettes go viral and be reviewed by some of the biggest makeup influencers in social media.
For keeping her dream alive and her hopes high, the universe conspired in her favor, and in less than two days, Glamlite Cosmetics went from selling two items a day to completely sold out. “The Pizza Palette went completely viral and it sold out in under 48 hours,” she said. “A few days later Jeffree Star did a review of the palette and stamped it as ‘Jeffree Star Approved.'”
The seal of approval of one of the most recognizable faces in the modern beauty industry catapulted the brand to astronomical highs requiring Hernandez to hire employees to meet the demand of products. “It was insane. My entire life changed in just a few days. I went from packing orders by myself to having a full team of employees packing orders around the clock,” she recalls. “With every order, I included an insert that reads ‘Don’t be afraid to be yourself;’ that became the motto of my brand.”
Hernandez realized that creating a food-themed makeup was her way of standing up against all the bullies and mean people that fat-shamed her. “My brand allows me to express myself and it saved my life. I would have never imagined that by creating a food-themed product I would be creating an amazing community of ‘foodies’ that supports me and shares the love for food. This shows exactly how ‘makeup doesn’t have to be a one size fits all’,” she added.
Offering consumers not only an unforgettable experience, Hernandez made sure that her brand wasn’t just unique, but also 100 percent vegan and cruelty-free. “We like to ‘think outside the box’ — pun intended,” joked the businesswoman who also designed all the packaging. “Our Pizza Palette comes in a real delivery box, the Cake Palettes comes out of a magnetic oven, the Burger Palette is wrapped in checkerboard grease paper, etc.”
“My inspiration for each product is usually based on my upbringing,” Hernandez added. “When I designed the Pizza Palette, I tried to mimic my favorite pizza shop in Brooklyn. For the Cake Palette, I used a lot of the cake flavors that are popular in my local Dominican bakery. Dulce de Leche, Guava, and Pineapple. As you can see, I try to tell a bit of my story through Glamlite.”
“Last year, I took my mom to the mall and showed her my products in-store; her reaction wasn’t what I expected. She was still upset that I had chosen not to finish my degree,” Hernandez revealed to us. “It wasn’t until she visited the headquarters, and saw all the Glamlite employees and all the inventory when finally realized that this isn’t just some hobby. I built a brand and I became successful in my own way.”
“My purpose is to be able to inspire others through my story. I am a woman of color, an Afro-Latina immigrant that came to America with nothing, and I built a multi-million dollar brand with just $1900,” she said. “I want to inspire you to dream big,” she emphasizes, inviting everyone to “get rid of this mentality that we can’t accomplish great things because of where we come from.”
“Glamlite Cosmetics is a brand that has been built from the ground up. I put my heart and soul into each product. The brand is 100 percent custom. I don’t use a private label. This brand is my baby and I don’t want to take any shortcuts,” she concluded. “Whenever someone receives one of my makeup products I want them to know the time and effort it took into customizing this unique experience for them.”