Sugarpill: An interview with Amy Doan
Amy Doan is a one-woman powerhouse who is equal parts kind, fun, unpretentious and driven. I first met her online in 2004, and it’s been wonderful to watch her go from her hot independent clothing line, Shrinkle, to her new runaway brainchild, Sugarpill Cosmetics. Sugarpill is a custom line of richly-pigmented eyeshadows in paint-bright, show-stopping colors, inspired by theatrical makeup and underground drag queen makeup, but with a velvety formula for daily, long-lasting wear. Sugarpill was concocted and created entirely by Doan, who was new to the cosmetics industry but wanted to create something different than what was already available on the market. By taking the best qualities of theater, luxury and club makeup, she combined them to make something totally new. After 5 years in the making, Sugarpill launched in February of 2010, and today we have the pleasure of talking with Amy about her cosmetics line, and what the past year and a half has yielded for Sugarpill.
It’s been eighteen months since the launch of Sugarpill, and you’ve been featured in Auxiliary, Papercut, Harlow, Faint, Gothic Beauty, Whore! and Creepy Queen magazines. How has the response to Sugarpill compared to the expectations you had when you first came up with the idea in 2005?
In 2005, I thought it’d be fun to have my own makeup line as a side hobby to mess with when I needed a break from sewing. I honestly did not expect Sugarpill to grow so quickly and consume my life to the point that my sewing would have to take a backseat. I’m definitely not complaining! Just surprised and thrilled that people responded so well to Sugarpill that my life took an unexpected turn.
You have a degree in journalism and a background in fashion design from your eBay / Etsy monster, Shrinkle. With your Shrinkle clothing designs already going strong, what turned your attention to starting your own cosmetics line?
I loved styling photo shoots for my clothing line with the most obnoxious hair and makeup I could find. For years I used theater and clown makeup to create the dramatic effects I was looking for. I wondered why there wasn’t a makeup line that offered the ridiculous and bright colors I loved, in super professional quality and ultra cute packaging. I felt like something needed to be done to make high quality, insanely pigmented cosmetics more accessible to people who don’t frequent clown stores and drag queen bars.
You independently researched, contracted and hand-picked everyone involved with the production of Sugarpill cosmetics, building the brand from the ground up. What’s it been like having such direct involvement with every step of the manufacturing and design, as opposed to stamping your name on a product that was corporate-owned or designed by other people?
I adore the creative process that goes into creating a unique product. My brain is always cluttered with a billion ideas, but there simply aren’t enough hours in a day to bring them all to life. By starting a fresh new brand, I hoped to put as much of my creative vision out there as possible and offer something new and exciting that wasn’t already available.
When I began to promote Sugarpill months before its launch, I was met with a bit of skepticism from people who wondered if Sugarpill would just be the same old shit as every other new makeup brand who repackages pre-made cosmetics and slaps their logo sticker on the lid. I felt like I had a lot to prove because of the horrible reputation that others had given the indie makeup scene. Customers are a lot smarter than these brands gave them credit for, and I had to work twice as hard to prove that I wasn’t going to let them down. I was incredibly antsy and couldn’t wait for everyone to have the product in their hands so they could see for themselves how awesome and one-of-a-kind it is. And they were definitely not disappointed, yay!
Were there challenges you faced in navigating new territory like the cosmetics industry?
Luckily, I was a licensed online retailer of Kryolan cosmetics for several years before I started Sugarpill. So it was a pretty comfortable transition because I had spent years learning what people like and dislike, and what they wished for in cosmetics.
The Sugarpill collection currently consists of 27 loose and pressed eyeshadows. Any plans to add any other types of cosmetics to the brand in the future?
1,000% definitely! The details are top secret though, sorry! I’m not superstitious at all, but I still hate talking about projects until they are ready for launch because I’m afraid to jinx it. All I can say is that we’re working on so much new stuff right now that I feel like my brain is going to explode!
Last year, Sugarpill caught the attention of Island Def Jam recording artist Kerli, who chose the makeup as the official brand for her “Army of Love” video. Did the Sugarpill contests in conjunction with Kerli bring a new audience Sugarpill?
That was nuts! I was a big fan of Kerli for years and admit I was a little intimidated at first by her extreme hotness. Turns out she is the sweetest, most down-to-earth person ever and was very eager to join forces with Sugarpill. We are awesome friends now, and she brings so many creative ideas to the table. She has the best style ever, so you can imagine how honored we are to be her official makeup brand!
Sugarpill was the official makeup brand for Sanrio’s Hello Kitty 35th Anniversary Celebration in 2010, and I know you also designed a dress for the fashion show, as well as a new dress for the Hello Kitty mascot! What was it like combining your fashion expertise with your new makeup line at the event?
Everything was sprung on me in small doses, so it all sounded very manageable at the time. First they asked me to design a dress for the fashion show, and I said, “Of course!” All my friends were going to be in the show too, so it sounded like a fun time. Then they asked if Sugarpill would be the official makeup brand for the event, and with slightly less confidence I answered, “Suuuuure!” We hadn’t even launched yet, but I figured I could skip a few nights of sleep and wing some shit. Then just days before the fashion show, they asked, “Oh yeah, and do you want to re-design Hello Kitty’s mascot dress?” That’s when I had my major “HOLY SHIT” moment, but I gulped and responded with an enthusiastic yes even though I was secretly dying on the inside. It was too awesome of an opportunity to turn down. I was absolutely delirious from weeks’ worth of sleep deprivation on the big night, but it was so worth it. Everything went amazingly beyond my wildest dreams. I was so happy that I cried at the end of the fashion show. No lie, my friends took pictures of me sobbing like a big baby in the middle of a party. I felt like such a proud mama!
Aw, that’s so sweet! Any plans to return to fashion design anytime soon?
I would love to, more than anything! I feel sad that I haven’t had time to design or sew since launching Sugarpill. Every week I say, “For real this time, no one bother me this weekend because I’m gonna bust out my sewing machine and make some really cool stuff!” Then the weekend comes and I mysteriously find myself working another Sugarpill event or project. It’s not that I ever wanted to abandon designing clothes in favor of working on the makeup line. But Sugarpill is growing so quickly that I have to do whatever I can to keep up. We are new, so I’m still learning how to balance and manage my time. My ultimate goal is to successfully run both businesses simultaneously.
Sugarpill is a unique product that meets a previously unanswered demand for bold, colorful, artistic makeup for daily wear. But what’s most inspiring to me about Sugarpill’s story is that it was a dream and creation realized by one person as an independent company. Any advice to entrepreneurs like yourself who are making their way in an uphill independent business or creative endeavor?
If you love what you do and are extremely passionate about what you create, then you’re on the right track. A lot of people go where they think there is money to be made, but screw what your parents said about following the money and being “stable!” The happiest people I know are the ones who know are extremely passionate about their hobbies, take risks, and don’t care how many hours a day they have to work or how many years they have to live on Cup O’ Noodles in order to turn their hobby into a fulfilling career and lifestyle. If you can’t imagine yourself doing something for 12 hours a day and being happy, then go find something else before your soul starts to rot!
Sugarpill: The official makeup brand for Island Def Jam artist Kerli
Shop Sugarpill Cosmetics at www.sugarpillshop.com
And follow Amy’s adventures on blog.shrinkle.com
Header photo of Amy Doan by Rachael Caballero. Doan’s ring in photo by Bela Koi Designs
Rosemary Van Deuren is the author of the young adult fantasy novel, Basajaun. View more of her fiction and essays at www.rosemaryvandeuren.com. You can also be Rosemary’s friend on Facebook and follow her on Twitter at @rosemaryvan.