Nikita Dragun on ‘moving the needle’ for trans inclusivity in the beauty industry

With 7 million Instagram followers and 22 million viewers of her new Snapchat show “Nikita Unfiltered” launched on March 22, trans beauty influencer Nikita Dragun has moved into bonafide celebrity territory. As she expands her beauty line Dragun Beauty during Pride month and continues to work with brands including Anastasia Beverly Hills, Each & Every and Missguided, Glossy spoke with her about the beauty industry’s embrace of Pride, her outspoken support for trans inclusivity in beauty, and how mobile platforms have propelled her to stardom and sales.

What inspired you to adopt the name Nikita Dragun?
I was always really obsessed with the show “Nikita” that was on the CW. She’s an Asian female assassin, and she was so badass and kind of looked like how I envisioned myself to look. When I was growing up in Virginia, I’d a lot of times be the only mixed kid in the class. Sometimes they would bully me and be like, “Oh, you look like a dragon,” because I’m Asian. At the time, when you’re a kid, it was like the worst thing ever to be called anything, [but] it kind of turned into my thing.

In addition to being a beauty influencer, you’ve spoken out about trans issues; why do you think it’s important to use your platform for this?
To have such a giant platform and not use it in any regard, regardless of whether it affects your community or someone else’s, I think is awful.

As young people, we especially have a big burden on us to really be active in order to make different policies in our government, [to] reflect what we as people feel. In regard to trans issues, I felt such a huge need to speak out every time because that is the community that I am most part of. You have countless girls and boys who are trans, who face constant brutality and injustice.

What do you think about the beauty industry’s embrace of Pride with critiques about how some of it might be performative?
Yeah, I would definitely agree with that a little bit. Sometimes it can be a little bit performative, or it can be like, “Oh, we’re just checking off a box.” But regardless, I think pushing the movement out there is incredible. I think that when something is inauthentic nowadays, people can smell that shit from a mile away. And they’ll run the other way. I think, at one point, it was very much everyone trying to hop on the bandwagon. Hopefully, people are only doing stuff authentically now.

What kind of changes have you seen in terms of trans inclusivity for the beauty industry in recent years?
It’s definitely growing, but I think there could be more of a movement for inclusivity. I’ve seen incredible campaigns involving trans models or trans people. Personally, anytime someone tells me I’m the first trans person to do something, I guess it’s an accomplishment in a way, but at the same time, it’s like, “Come on, it’s 2020.” I can’t believe I’m the first trans CEO or beauty owner. 

What do you think of L’Oréal’s reconciliation with Munroe Bergdorf?
I know Munroe personally, and she’s such a very vocal advocate for the trans community. I see her fighting all the time against injustices or being very informative. She has informed me on a lot of situations that have gone down. If a brand is being inauthentic or they’re just being weird about the trans situation, it should absolutely be held to the fire.

What still needs to continue to change in the industry, in terms of inclusivity for trans people?
I’m not knocking it; I think there is really truly a change in the industry. But I think it’s going to get to a point where inclusivity is not even going to be called out anymore. I think it’s just going to be inclusive, and I think we’re making active steps towards that. I have a lot of hope for the community, and I’ve seen a lot of great campaigns, activism and brands speaking up, because truly, beauty has no definition.

Tell me about your Snapchat show — why did you decide to go with this format for a show and what do you like about it?
I’ve lived a very unique life, and a lot of times people have tried to exploit it. I was never really down to sell it out there for just anything. When Snapchat came to me, they just had such a great grasp on the story that I wanted to tell and just documenting my life. It wasn’t a set-up script.  I didn’t have to be PC. I didn’t have to really watch what I said. 

Having the opportunity to reach my audience, which is digital, through digital, I think that was a big thing, too. Sometimes creators make the jump over to traditional stuff, which is obviously amazing and fine, but I love being digital. I love this little world, and obviously, that’s where everything is moving toward. Even I can’t really sit through hour-long programming anymore, so having these 5-minute-long episodes was incredible.

What’s the concept behind your beauty line?
I felt as though I had to put my big-girl panties on, and instead of collaborating with a brand to create a product and then make a small percentage off of my name, I wanted to create my own brand. The company’s been around for a little over a year now. We’re expanding to a full line, which is incredible. We have something really crazy coming up that I think is going to shock a lot of people.

It’s so dope that I was able to create not only a brand showing that a trans person could be a CEO of a beauty line, but also to show unique products that I felt the beauty industry was not only lacking, but also wasn’t highlighting or educating on. Specifically with my color corrector, I learned that from the trans performers that would teach me how to color correct my beard, my five o’clock shadow or my under eyes. I honestly feel like a boss, being 21 and walking into the room with people three times my age.

Is that intimidating at all?
I mean, maybe for them.

Was it hard to line up funding?
I don’t have any investors, but I think being taken seriously in the beauty space was the hard part for me. Being so young, people just thought, “Oh she must have some sugar daddy.” I created a multi-million-dollar brand off of three products. I think a lot of people were just really shook by that.

You recently restocked a product through Instagram. What are the benefits of selling through this Instagram drop model?
I’m purely digital. So, even with my Snapchat show, they were so gracious to allow me access to their shopping feature. On my Nikita Unfiltered page, there’s also the shopping tab where you can directly buy Dragun Beauty. Utilizing digital [e-commerce] is essential, especially with my audience. You might see me using it on my Story, Snapping and whatever, and then the next second, I’m able to directly link back. They won’t even have to leave the app; they can shop within the app itself, in order to buy the product or get reminders. Utilizing different features is extremely important, and I think that is the new age, especially for me because I’m DTC. Today was a restock because we just came out of the Covid situation, and then on Thursday, I’ll drop a new product. 

Are you a “Game of Thrones” fan, and would you consider partnering with the new Targaryen spinoff?
I am the mother of motherfucking dragons. I’m not even going to talk about the last season; don’t get me started with that. I’m a huge “Game of Thrones” fan. Khaleesi always — that’s just my inspiration for everything, that kind of power and being a boss-ass bitch. No doubt, but they’re probably going to go with a big brand. I would be down, though. 

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