The Mainstreaming of Drag-Related Merchandise

Drag performers have been active in collaborations in the cosmetics space in a big way going back at least four or five years—we wrote about the trend in 2018—and to some extent well before that. More recently, they have also been gradually doing deals in an ever-widening swath of categories, including products for children.

That includes RuPaul, who has given almost all the drag performers involved in licensing the platform to become mainstream stars, through the reality competition show RuPaul’s Drag Race, currently airing on MTV. RuPaul’s own products have ranged from RuPaul Little People from Fisher-Price to RuPaul Chia Pets from Joseph Enterprises.

Other drag performers pairing with marketers or agents to create products tailored to a mass consumer base include:

  • Fay and Fluffy, of the Canadian preschool TV series The Fabulous Show with Fay and Fluffy. Also known for their drag story times in Toronto, they signed a deal last month with Mango Publishing for a range of books, with the first launching in June. Sinking Ship is the licensor of the TV series. Fay and Fluffy are rare examples of drag performers with a high-profile licensing deal in place but no connection with Drag Race.
  • Gottmik, a drag performer and makeup artist. In December 2022, Gottmik retained UTA to handle licensing and collaborations—with fashion mentioned as a key category—as well as other commercial activities, from literature and music to performance.
  • Nina West. In June of last year, West partnered with Dearfoams for a collection of new slipper designs timed to Pride Month. The collection, which encompassed several styles in seven colorways, celebrated self-expression. Some of the proceeds went to the Nina West Foundation, which supports LGBTQ+ organizations. West is from Columbus, Ohio, where Dearfoams is located.
  • Willow Pill. The performer teamed with Welli Belli on a special chocolate chip cookie flavor of the company’s vegan, probiotic snack bars last June. The Pride Month collaboration, which was meant to spread awareness of Irritable Bowel Syndrome, included a sweatshirt as well. A portion of the proceeds from the latter went to Chicago House, which supports people living with or vulnerable to HIV/AIDS.
  • Kim Chi, who is billed as a live-action anime character. Kim Chi paired with CVS in April 2022 to distribute the Kim Chi Chic Beauty makeup line, produced since 2019 with Bespoke Beauty Brands, in at least 139 of the retailer’s U.S. BeautyIRL departments. A wide selection of products is included in the line, from liquid lipsticks and glitter highlighters to corrector palettes and setting powders. While many drag performers have a presence in cosmetics, not many have as high a mainstream profile as Kim Chi in this category, thanks to the deal with CVS.
  • Groups of performers. Funko’s Funko Pop! Drag Queens set, which debuted in 2019 and has produced several waves of vinyl figures, encompasses a variety of drag performers, many of whom made it big on Drag Race, including Shangela, Jinkx Monsoon, and several more, along with RuPaul.

Despite the proliferation of products for mainstream consumers across categories, there is still an emphasis on limited, one-off collections, especially around Pride Month, although year-round programs are slowly growing. One of the most prolific sources of merchandise is the specialty online shop DragQueenMerch, founded by performer Biblegirl, which has paired with more than 100 performers for licensed products from apparel to home goods.

Meanwhile, beauty partnerships remain at the core of many of the top drag performers’ licensing and collaboration activities, which makes sense given their frequent and dramatic use of cosmetics. A non-comprehensive sampling of the drag celebrities who have had deals in this space in the past couple of years—some ongoing—include RuPaul with MAC, Aquaria with NYX, GiGi Goode with Christian Audette, and Alyssa Edwards with Anastasia Beverly Hills. Trixie Mattel and the above-mentioned Kim Chi, who both have their own makeup brands, paired last year for a collaboration called BFF4EVR. And Miss Fame has a proprietary brand called Miss Fame Beauty.

Drag performances have been attracting protests and controversy in some areas of the U.S. But clearly acceptance is growing overall, as mainstream marketers increasingly consider collaborating with these performers on an expanding array of merchandise and through a widening number of distribution points.

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