These Afro-Latina twins are transforming the cigar industry

In a world that's been living the shift of Afrolatino visibility and POC representation, the cigar industry still has to catch up. But these twins are doing what they can do change that...

Yvonne Rodriguez and her twin sister Yvette are the proud founders of Tres Lindas Cubanas Cigars, the only Afro-Cuban, female-owned cigar brand in the U.S.

Yvonne says the inspiration for the brand came from her grandmother, the late Esperanza. She recalls the five-foot giant as the matriarch of the family, a woman unapologetically herself, who took up space and demanded respect.

“When we were little girls, my abuelita would smoke cigars in front of us in the house, and she would ash the tobacco onto her skirt. That left a lasting impression on us. She was very loud, and she was in control of her house. For back in her time she was a very progressive woman,” Rodriguez says.

Abuelita Esperanza was a Cuban exile, cultured and aware. Yvonne says she was their idol and the third of the Tres Lindas trifecta. Her memories and the smell of the cigars stayed with them and permeated their minds as adults. It became apparent for the sisters that their roots and their ancestry were an integral part of their identity, an identity they actively wanted to represent.

And reflecting upon their childhood memories, they knew precisely how they would achieve that.

In 2014 they launched the Tres Lindas Cubanas Cigar, an industry that Rodriguez says lives on the foundation of female energy.

“We do everything in the cigar business. The Latina woman and the Afrolatina woman do everything with their own hands, from the seed of the tobacco to rolling it to everything – we are the creators and professionals of this craft, and we never get recognition at all,” Rodriguez says.

“You always see the owner, who’s usually an older Cuban man, as the image. You never see the real people working with these leaves. We figured it would be beautiful for us to show who they are.”

Before moving into the cigar industry, the twins worked in media, with Yvette specializing and opening her own public relations firm and Yvonne as a digital media editor. They launched their brand with a small budget and still do the marketing and distribution in Miami.

Rodriguez says they took the non-traditional route and decided to feature their history, ancestry and celebrating the Afrolatina woman as their brand pillars.

Now they feature three blends as their main sellers: La Negrita, a strong Torpedo Oscuro Maduro with a triple fermentation process that features spicy and sweet notes; La Mulata, a medium to full-bodied stick wrapped in Nicaraguan Habano leaf composed of Seco and Volado leaves; and La Clarita, a light Torpedo Connecticut wrapped with Ecuadorian Connecticut Broadleaf. The blends are dried and prepared in Esteli, Nicaragua, and grown there as well as in Ecuador, Honduras, and Costa Rica.

Rodriguez says there’s something special about working with the land and letting craftswomen and men create their own unique product. Any single cigar can take anywhere from eight to ten months from harvest to the point it reaches consumers.

Environmental changes also affect the business. Rodriguez says crop yields are now smaller, which in turn makes cigars limited edition. Because of this, Tres Lindas Cubanas has always been mindful of their environmental impact, reducing their carbon footprint by using repurposed boxes to package their products, taking public transportation for meetings, and, among other things, using environmentally friendly inks for printing. They also employ women, some of whom are single mothers, and artisans locally in their towns, creating a healthy economy for the people abroad.

Ultimately, Yvonne agrees that this industry would not be the same without the help of her people. She credits another Afrolatino from Brickell Cigars for opening up the doors for the Tres Lindas Cubanas brand, and the consumers’ curiosity for supporting an independent brand like theirs.

“People call us, and they ask us to tell them about our grandmother,” Rogriguez says.

“They want to hear our story, and they know we’re invested in the culture and business. They want to speak to us, and this has opened up a lot of dialogue, especially during the political season. Going into cigar shops has given this community a platform to speak and to learn from each other.”