Kathleen Fuentes, who uses the handle @Kathleenlights on social channels, is considered a veteran in the influencer space.

Fuentes started her YouTube channel in 2013 and currently has 4.18 million YouTube subscribers. She has 2.1 million followers on Instagram. She’s done product collaborations with brands including Colourpop and, most recently, Briogeo, in January. She has also ventured into the founder space: She co-founded nail polish brand KL Polish in 2016, but it ultimately folded in March 2019 after a public dispute with her two business partners, according to Pitchbook. She launched in November 2019 her own nail polish brand called Lights Lacquer, which is sold direct-to-consumer. She is also re-launching her Lights Label brand in March, which consists of clothing, merchandise and accessories.

Fuentes discussed with Glossy her takeaways from the KL Polish experience, the key to managing her social media presence and the impact of callout culture on the industry.

How do you use Instagram versus YouTube, and which is more important?
I use Instagram to post quick little reviews of products to get my point across and connect with my followers more closely, but I use YouTube for more commercial and high-production content. I expect the influencer industry will only get bigger, but [the impact will] differ between YouTube and Instagram. For example, if you launch a product on YouTube and you don’t post about it on Instagram, did you really launch it? People love to see more organic content on Instagram now versus YouTube, and [influencers] use it to connect with their followers one-on-one; when it comes to buying products, people want to purchase from people they can relate to.

How have your relationships with brands changed over time?
I’ve been doing this since 2013, and it was different when I started. Before, brands would casually reach out saying, “Hey girl!” Now I get approached more formally with budgets and expectations. Brands used to be interested in you when you reached 100,000 followers, and that was my goal back then. Now, 100,000 is considered a micro-influencer. If a company reaches out now about something like reviewing a new shampoo, I have to at least try it out for about a month. Some brands don’t like that. They’ll say, “That’s outside of our timeline.” I will respond, “Sorry, that’s how I work.” I have to test a product before I recommend it. And if I don’t like a product, I will send the product back. It doesn’t happen as often as it used to, because I’m more comfortable now and I know what I’ll probably like. At the same time, I think brands appreciate that honesty more now than ever.

Why? What’s changed in the social media space since 2013?
Influencers used to be able to get away with more, but now, more people hold them accountable for what they say or promote. [In the past], brands could get away with it when an influencer pushed their product and actually didn’t like it. But now it’s different; brands have learned that they should work with more honest people because that’s how they keep their relationships with their customers. They don’t want to get into sticky situations now [because of callout culture.]

I also used to sit on my floor and record a simple video and get so many views, but to capture the audience now and get someone to subscribe to your channel, it has to be captivating and above-and-beyond in production value. I do all my setup, my lighting, my editing; I am a one-woman show. At this point, I should have somebody helping me out with production.

What did you learn from the fallout of KL Polish that you’ve applied to Lights Lacquer?
I learned that you should cross all your T’s and dot all your I’s. You should consult your lawyers, get advice from people around you, especially other business people, and don’t be afraid [to ask for help]. When I started KL Polish, I thought, “I’m an influencer; I got this; I can do this.” I didn’t ask for advice or do my research. I’m also the sole owner now of Lights Lacquer, so I do feel the pressure more than ever. I’ve hired people who have been doing this for their entire lives and who are helping me get the brand where it needs to go. Before, I was just really focused on colors and formulas, and not the business. I learned to be more open to other people’s advice and to take in their opinions and accept constructive criticism.