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Calgary’s Lit Cosmetics glistens on international drag stage

When she was slinging drinks in Alberta bars more than 20 years ago, Calgary Glitter Queen Jodie Perks was using liquid glue topped with glitter to add some bling to her makeup.

“I was looking for glitter eyeshadow or glitter liner way back then and there was nothing,” recalled the native of Drayton Valley, Alta.

“Everybody kept asking me, ‘Where did you get your makeup?’”

That’s when the lustre of Calgary-based Lit Cosmetics began.

“I met (husband) James and I said – ‘I really think we can do this, there’s nothing really out there on the market that’s the same and so that’s literally when we started,” Jodie said.

That was back in 2002. Today, Lit Cosmetics provides professional makeup to some of the world’s biggest drag stars, not to mention global icon Lady Gaga, the performers of Cirque du Soleil and most recently the actors in the movie A Wrinkle in Time.

Lady Gaga used the company’s cosmetics at her Super Bowl performance back in 2017 and at this year’s Grammy Awards.

It wasn’t an easy road. Especially when you’re a glitter, sparkle and bling cosmetics start-up from little-known Calgary, Alberta and not from Toronto or Vancouver.

They’ve criss-crossed the continent hitting up cosmetic trade shows, meeting the right packagers, the top labs – and of course, getting their product into the right hands so they could build their brand.

“I think what happens is, you know you have the best product on the market, but you’ve got to let people know about it and you gotta get it in their hands,” said Jodie.

International drag performer Laila McQueen is a Lit Cosmetics user. COURTESY JODIE PERKS

She said that renown drag performer Trixie Mattel was a hard one to land.

“He doesn’t just talk to anyone,” Jodie said.  “But you throw it in their hands and say, ‘let us know what you think.’”

Still, despite their profile in the US and internationally, few people locally know a company that provides makeup to the stars – and is one of the leading providers to the international drag scene – makes its home in Calgary.

“A lot of people don’t know that we exist. Our audience is more USA and international than Canada, actually,” said Jodie.

While glitter products are their gold, what separates them from others in the industry, they say, is the base. The base is the adhesive that’s used to hold the glitter on.

“We’re definitely more well-known for our bling and drag and sparkles. We’ve got more colours than anyone in glitter,” said James.

That’s their attraction to drag queens around the world. Local drag star Perla Coddington told LiveWire last week during an interview for the Sashay, Fillet event, that Lit Cosmetics were the best due to their colour selection and a base that’s far better than other providers.

“Working with drag queens and other performers, we’ve looked at them as being makeup artists in general. They’re just another facet of the makeup community and we grow and learn by the people we’re working with,” said James.

“They’re makeup artists that take everything to the extreme, but they also know what works and what’s safe.”

Both Jodie and James are excited to see the drag scene in Calgary exploding, with performers like Coddington getting national and international attention. Jodie mentioned the recent event Drags Benny and other events during Calgary Pride that will see some of drag’s biggest stars in the city. They’ve seen the local growth in their business as well and they’re thrilled to see the growing understanding of Calgarians.

“It’s a part of acceptance,” said Jodie.

“I think people are changing their ways a little bit, of accepting people for who they are and it’s good to see.”

And while Lit’s bread and butter comes from the drag scene, they’ve got a little bit of mainstream bling coming out in September and October. Most of their current products are a two-step application process.

“People don’t like it,” said Jodie.

“They like plug-and-play. Glitz, glitter and let’s go.”

The Calgary couple also has their eyes on an expansion to Los Angeles. While all of their products are assembled here in Calgary, they import the raw materials from across the border and end up sending the packaged finished product to clients abroad.

Still, they’re proud to be Calgarian and to have their home base here. And they couldn’t be more tickled to tell people their glitter comes from this mountainside in Alberta.

“We enjoy sticking our necks out. It’s something that’s near and dear to us and something we take so much pride in,” James said.

“We’re from Calgary, we’re from Canada. And a lot of people equate quality with having a product come from Canada. But they always think of Toronto, they never think of Western Canada.”