Nikta Dragun has built a reputation off her transformative makeup tutorials and relatable life advice. But when the influencer posted a video in response to transphobic remarks by Victoria's Secret's then Chief Marketing Officer Ed Razek, it went viral, making her an integral voice for the transgender community.
The YouTuber and beauty expert, who has been candid about her experience of being a trans woman, routinely talks about the lack of representation in the beauty industry at large — a discourse that resonates and reflects within her millions of engaged followers (2.1 million on YouTube and 4.1 million on Instagram, to be exact).
So it's no surprise that when the influencer debuted Dragun Beauty, one of the first beauty brands owned by and made for trans people, the full line ended up selling out within a single night. "Brb, gonna go lay some more Dragun Eggs," she wrote on Instagram to celebrate the massive success.
Dragun Beauty is currently limited to a color corrector and a face powder, both of which are truly "transformative," she says. This fantasy comes wrapped in a purple dragon egg — her signature packaging — and includes both the DragunFire Skin Perfecting Potion and The DragunHeart Transformation Powder. All items are vegan and cruelty-free, which is also part of the reason the influencer chose to launch her brand independently.
The "fantasy" Dragun consistently refers to has been a vital part of her platform since coming out online as trans three years ago. Once simply a beauty-focused YouTube channel, Dragun's authentic approach to addressing the lack of diversity in her industry has quickly pushed her to global ubiquity.
Today, Nikita Dragun announces she's restocking Dragun Beauty products, much to her fans' delight. The burgeoning entrepreneur recently sat down with PAPER to talk about manifesting her fantasy into a beauty brand, the idea behind all her products and the lack of representation within beauty.
Full Look: Wesley Berryman
Where did the idea for Dragun Beauty come from?
Starting a beauty brand was never my super fantasy because I had seen such a saturated market. We see so many Instagram gurus doing beauty collaborations and coming out with a lipstick or a basic ass eyeshadow. And I've been approached by every brand you can think of to just slap my name onto something, but I never really stood behind the product itself. I wanted to be passionate about it and I felt like I wanted to do something different. So I decided to put my big girl panties on and have a boss up moment. I knew that these big conglomerate brands coming to me would never approve of this idea that I had about being a trans-owned brand for trans people and for all people. I can't for sure say I'm the first, but I'd like to think I'm one of the pioneers right now in terms of the beauty space.
Were there any products you were particularly excited about creating?
I wanted to create a color corrector, which was very important to me in my transition... correcting my five 'o' clock shadow, my under eye bags and my hyper-pigmentation because I'm ethnic. It also corrects hickeys and bruises and all sorts of crazies from a night out.
It's a step that's a primer to the primer — the step that a lot of people are missing in their makeup routine and so it's not really replacing anything; it's not a new product, for sure. But at the same time, have I mastered and perfected this product? Have I formulated it to its best possible quality with amazing ingredients like Shea Butter, vitamin A, vitamin E, and all sorts of ingredients? Is it the top of the line? Have I done the work to educate people? Absolutely.
So I encapsulated this into a transformation egg — the tongue-in-cheek is TRANSformation. Because this is something that I wanted as a kid that I could have given myself three years ago or to a friend, or to someone who was transitioning. These are products that are truly transformative, and on that same token, my transformation face powders are very hammer and nail of the beauty routine. I use makeup not only for artistry, but for the transformation aspect.
"I just want people to have the opportunity to live their fantasy."
What sort of research did you need to do to perfect these looks?
I've spent so long studying the male and female faces, and how they differed. I would look at human anatomy books and see how the light hits a man's face versus a woman's face, and that's really what it all came down to. So I wanted a product that could cheat that in terms of feminizing my face. I was able to create these brightening powders that basically create these face filters on the skin. It's not a highlighter, there's no sort of iridescence to it at all. It's a truly transformation face powder that you apply under your eyes, down your nose, center of your forehead, your chin, and that just gives you this instant spotlight effect. Anywhere you are, any lighting you're in, it always looks like you're glowing. But it's not a shimmery product. So I guess I had this crazy idea and no one fucking stopped me. Anyone can live their life, but not anyone can live their fantasy and I just want people to have the opportunity to live their fantasy.
Have you had this idea for a while?
I had the idea for a very long time in terms of the products that I've always wanted to see in the beauty industry. I never thought that I would be the person to create that. I feel like I'm a part of this group of people that is not necessarily being served to. I felt like there were certain products that I needed in terms of feminizing my face and there wasn't anything like that. So I had to step up and have that moment. It was obviously a vision of mine and a far-fetched thing of living this dream of having my own brand. But I never thought I'd have the opportunity to do this 100 percent on my own, or have this be 100 percent my vision, from the packaging to the formulas to the label to the text that's on the back of the sticker. It's a lot of pressure, especially at this young age.
After the Victoria's Secret viral moment that I had, I realized that the world hasn't seen a trans person in this light. It's not my job to be going crazy for my community, but at the same time I feel like I do owe it to do something with my platform other than take selfies and do nothing with five million followers.
Clearly, there's a big market out there for the products you've created, but why do you think other mega brands have failed to cater to it?
Because it is a niche market, people are always weary. We're just getting into the age now in the beauty world where we're starting to be inclusive of skin tones and skin colors, which is outrageous. In terms of the beauty industry, things are dated. My brand and the vision behind it was to create something different that the world has seen — to create a beacon of hope, but also to create really great products for my community. These are products for an everyday girl, these are products for a boy, these are products for literally everyone. I do want to address my community because it is under served, and we constantly get a door slammed in our face. The Victoria's Secret moment was just one instance.
To have people stand up and to have such a movement behind it just really shows that the world is changing. It's so foolish for brands not to come up to the times and to think that, This is not a mass market that we can sell to or this is not going to make our sales. It's ridiculous. I'm hopefully changing that. I'm like, You guys have been on the snooze for too long.
"Anyone who's behind the times is going to be left behind, so get with the future."
The beauty industry is starting to make diversity and inclusivity a big part of the conversation. But it often feels inauthentic. Do you think a lot of it is just marketing or is it genuine?
I do think sometimes they try to get a token in terms of like, We need an ethnic girl or we need a plus-size girl, we need a trans model. So in some cases, it's about checking the box. We see that in every industry. Is it maybe for the right or wrong reasons? We can't necessarily say that. But I'm excited to be a trans-owned brand serving to my people and to everyone.
Maybe these brands are doing it just to check the box, but at the same time at least something is being done — at least they do feel the pressure. And in this day and age, my generation can sniff bullshit and we can sniff authenticity in a second. That's what's so hard for these bigger brands to understand. They're constantly like, Why can't we get sales from this market, why are they not buying anything, why are they not owning cars, why are they not owning houses? It's a constant new age versus old age debate, what we always see with technology and social media. Anyone who's behind the times is going to be left behind, so get with the future.
Full Look: Wesley Berryman
Over the years, in what way have you felt marginalized by the beauty industry?
Well, in a couple different ways. Experiencing two different lives growing up as a little boy in Springfield, Virginia, I always wanted to become more of myself and I've always been a woman on the inside. Even walking into major makeup departments I felt like I was marginalized by being a male at the time trying to buy makeup.
Having that thing of, Makeup is only for women... that was the biggest thing for the longest time. There was also the part about being from an ethnic background. I'm not super pale, so sometimes not having my right undertones, not having my skin tones, not having things that cater to my specific needs was an issue. Even today, I do feel marginalized in terms of being a trans person, and a woman in general, just feeling like I don't have these products that I definitely need.
Have you seen improvements?
Over the years, things have gotten so much better. I'm excited for the beauty industry and I'm obviously just a big fan. At the end of the day, I don't think it's a competition at all. I'm a beauty connoisseur and I'm a beauty lover, so I'm hopeful for this space. Ultimately the idea of beauty is this idea that beauty comes from within and all sorts of cliché stuff. But at the end of the day, it's makeup. It comes off. It wipes off your face. With all the craziness in the world, beauty should be the one space that shouldn't have any type of marginalization or any kind of status quo. it's a space that's supposed to be beautiful, and what makes everyone beautiful is their unique qualities. So everyone should be celebrated for their own unique individual beauty.
"My generation can sniff bullshit and we can sniff authenticity in a second."
Do you have any beauty icons that you look up to?
Yes, Selena Quintanilla — Bidi bidi bom bom — hit the floor with that red lipstick,and purple jumpsuit! I'm from a Mexican heritage, so obviously being biracial is a whole different topic but I think she represented being such a powerful woman in the industry. I also always loved my classic beauties like Marilyn Monroe, because she was able to create this Norma Jean fantasy. I feel like that's what I've created over the years with Nikita Dragun: this dragon energy. Also I've had so many important women in my life. Obviously my mother and my grandmother were glamazons and taught me beauty in different ways. I think a woman looks beautiful when she comes back home to her kids after a 10-hour shift at her job. I truly find beauty in so many different ways.
Why was the line limited to four products?
It was limited because, first of all it's 100 percent me and I don't have that crazy amount of budget to just drop 20 million products, but also I really felt it was important to keep it very singular and focused to what I wanted to do. This is a transformation kit. By having those other basic products — which eventually I will get into — I just wanted to focus on one key thing for my first launch. I wanted to have people die over the egg moment.
Full Look: Wesley Berryman
What are your favorite beauty brands or products?
I love everything that Fenty beauty has done in terms of their inclusivity and Rihanna's idea of wanting to be inclusive of all skin tones — creating that loud noise in the beauty industry. I also appreciate Kylie Cosmetics for her entrepreneurship in terms of how she was able to market her brand. I think she has set up a great business model in the way she is now considered a self-made billionaire. Having these strong women and seeing something disruptive and different in the beauty space is what's amazing.
Do you have a skincare routine?
I think skincare is the fundamental of everything. I keep it very basic. It's all about taking care of my skin after the makeup; I feel like that's important for me. I learned this new two-step system from Asia where you do a cleansing oil or cleansing balm and then you do a real cleanser, so I've been trying to be good about moisturizing — moisturizing my neck, my ass, my hands, all about it. That's my biggest thing.
"Having these strong women and seeing something disruptive and different in the beauty space is what's amazing."
So you don't have like a 17-step intensive routine?
No I don't. I wish I did. I'm jealous and envious of people like that. My skincare is very simple. It's like two cleansers, one to take off makeup and one to really wash my face. I obviously do my serums, essences, and eye creams and my moisturizers, but nothing too extraneous.
Outside of Dragun Beauty, do you have a go-to product?
I love African Black Soap. I think it's really great in terms of its cleaning properties if you're able to find the right kind. I really appreciate it especially because I get a lot of body acne. I also really like witch hazel. As much as I can, I try to stick to more natural things.
Full Look: Wesley Berryman
You also mentioned that you'll probably be adding more products to your line. Is that true?
100 percent I'm adding more. I want a full line eventually, but for now I'm focusing on a diverse range of things that we hadn't seen in the beauty industry and that are gonna go in line with my idea of transformation. I'm like, Girl, I've got plenty of eggs in the works, it's crazy. I'm actually so excited — not that I'm more excited for the egg, but it goes with the whole theme so I'm excited it's coming back.
Were you expecting the collection to sell out so quickly?
It's something that you hope for. But I ordered a lot of units because I hate when people go on sold out just to say they sold out. I feel like customers get so annoyed. I just wanted to have enough, but obviously still didn't. I've never put my name on a makeup product so I didn't know what I could sell or how I could sell it. It was very surprising but I'm super excited about it.
Would you be open to a collaboration in the future?
Yes! Now that I have my own brand, some of my friends have come out of the woodwork being like, I would love to do a collab.
For more information on Dragun Beauty by Nikita Dragun, visit www.dragunbeauty.com.