For long enough now, the cosmetics industry has depended on self-hatred to sell their products. A sure way to get outside validation, to have your beauty legitimized is to paint yourself like another human being who is considered much prettier than you. Kim Kardashian is prettier than you, Zayn Malik is prettier than you; Courtney Act is clearly prettier than us all. For these rare few, the beauties that came out of the womb with thick lips, cow-like eyes and a ready-made contoured face – they can expect to be both honoured and resented. In order for this elite to be told that they are beautiful, it’s only a matter of chapstick and mascara. For the rest of us, to deviate away from this monolithic vision of beauty is often scary territory. We put our faces next to these adorned mugs, and the difference between the two is made up for in self-hatred and many dollars worth of make-up. In the drag world, this is only one category of beauty. It’s fine to be fishy, but it’s inspired by a place of self-love; these queens project a fantastical image that is wholly self-representative. Amy Doan, founder of Sugarpill cosmetics feels that the rest of us have a lot to learn from drag queens. Her line of cosmetics has been inspired by the underground queens who have used make-up, not just to become someone else, but to perform as a character of their own making. Sugarpill is unabashed, unapologetic make-up and offers a very appealing alternative to the near-impossible image that the beauty industry wants you to aspire to. Amy’s brand is not only cruelty-free; gorgeous and eccentric; spectacular and ludicrous – it allows us to perform to the outside world as the person that we truly see ourselves as.
After finishing a journalism degree in the early 2000s, Amy’s first creative export was Shrinkle – an indie, DIY clothing line which she pursued in her ‘drunk party girl days’. She remembers these formers years with friends who modelled her early designs in front of a pink leopard print bed sheet taped to her fridge. Her theme was, in her words, “slutty, hyper feminine, technicolour” clothing. To actualise her chichi concept she and her friends wore super bright theater and stage makeup. Alongside selling her garms, Amy had many inquiries about the makeup she was wearing in these initial photos. Since the cosmetic industry at the time seemed to be beggared of anything non-bland, it was difficult to obtain any high quality makeup in bright colours. As Amy recalls, “if you wanted rad colors you had to stalk the Halloween store once a year and buy cheapie stuff that made your face smell like crayons.” Vibrancy was inaccessible but as Amy observed, highly sought after. She began to start selling the theater makeup as worn by her and her friends; taking regular trips to the theater store to restock. Though without the cloying scent of crayons; sourcing makeup from someone else couldn’t fulfil Amy’s prodigious vision. She needed control over the quality, brand identity, and the products and colors on offer. Separating herself away from the security of the theater store, she started work on Sugarpill Cosmetics. What intended to be a weekend hobby soon became Amy’s best business venture – and has effloresced into one of the most revered makeup brands today.
Amy creates makeup to bring fantasies to life. In her own, she is “Barbie 80s and 90s era only, when she had the biggest hair and makeup” Sugarpill has always teemed with fantastical, theatrical intensity as it hailed from those theatre store days. But for many, the fantasy is simply to go out and feel good in one’s skin. Whilst most other cosmetics companies try to achieve this by allowing the wearer to slide more easily into conventional ideas of beauty; Sugarpill is an extravagant F- you to all of that. Amy’s selection of eyeshadows, nails, eyelashes – encourage people to go out, unafraid and ashamed, away from the modesty of insipid makeup. However, Amy adds that “it breaks my heart whenever someone tells me they wish they could pull off wearing bold makeup. Anyone can pull it off, it just takes confidence!” There seems to be a vast difference between wearing makeup that transforms you into someone else’s ideal, and curating the dream version of yourself, with help from Sugarpill. Those who consider makeup as wholly vapid are sorely mistaken. The transformation is evident in dramatic forms like drag, but makeup can also metamorphosise those without a stage. The way we beat our mugs not only alters ourselves, but the world around us and how it affects us. It is Amy’s belief that, “When you feel awesome, others will pick up on that confidence and think you look awesome too.” Amy calls herself “a VERY late bloomer” to the world of cosmetics, but her first source of inspiration happened to be a “cross-dressing hooker being arrested on some cop show.” Amy remembers her wearing bright royal blue eyeshadow covering her lids all the way to her brows, and thinking, “WOW I can’t wait until I’m old enough to wear makeup like THAT!” When she finally was, Amy stumbled upon a tiny pot of loose eyeshadow in the perfect shade of ‘hooker blue’ that she had seen on TV so many years ago. Sugar pill’s Royal Sugar eyeshadow most closely resembles the inspired hooker blue, but Amy says that, “I wish I could find out whatever happened to that sex worked and send her one!”
Unlike a startling amount of cosmetics companies, Sugarpill is strictly cruelty-free. “Animals are for kissing and cuddling, not testing on” Amy attests. Throughout her creations, both in Shrinkle and Sugarpill – cats are a prominent feature and integral to her brand. They are an emblem of Amy’s vegetarianism and love of animals, for as she testifies, “Cats changed my life!” Although she never had any pets growing up, Amy adopted her first cat aged twenty-three. Enter: ‘Maus’, the love of Amy’s life. “The love and connection I felt with Maus was so intense”, Amy says, “I discovered parts of my heart that I never knew existed!” For most of us, the seminal parts of our lives include falling in love (with a human); growing out of bratty puberty and into boring adulthood; discovering RuPaul’s Drag Race. But for someone as gentle and as twee as Amy, it seems fitting that her life’s plot-twist began with a kitty-cat. It’s almost impossible to believe now, but life pre-Maus, Amy considered herself a “selfish, pessimistic and shallow person.” But soon after bringing him home, Amy says that “Maus taught me to be calm, gentle, and compassionate.” Because of him she also stopped wearing fur and became a vegetarian and maybe wouldn’t have become my lady-icon as she is today. Nevertheless, she makes her point poetically; declaring that “self-improvement is a lifelong process I work on every day, but I believe world peace can be achieved if everyone just has at least one to two cats.”