Sheri Olesen, founder and owner of Drag Off, is a driven business owner, but it’s the friendships she makes through the work of her Fairbanks business that mean the most to her.
Olesen, 39, created an all-organic skin care line for her own use after learning that some commercial products contain ingredients that can be toxic.
She found a cold cream recipe and tweaked it, then decided to give her potions as Christmas gifts to her family. Her sister-in-law in Seattle shared some of the products with noted Seattle drag queen Betty Wetter, who tried the Drag Off makeup remover and loved it.
Olesen offered to share her recipe, but Wetter said she wasn’t about to make the stuff; she just wanted to buy it. Thus, Drag Off was born in Olesen’s micro-factory (basement) two years ago.
She connected with Faith Taylor, a drag queen in Florida while on vacation and further cemented her involvement in the drag community. As a marketing strategy, she attends RuPaul’s DragCon, a national convention for drag queens and admirers.
Owning her own business is not new to Olesen. She previously owned the downtown business Chartreuse but gave it up when she became a mother.
She recently launched a two-unit Air BnB in downtown Fairbanks.
Born near Spokane, Washington, Olesen came to Interior Alaska with her military family at the age of 4. At 17, she moved to Colorado but eventually came home to work in the special needs community and for Taiga Ventures setting up camps and expediting.
“I never knew I was an entrepreneur,” Olesen said. “I just knew I didn’t like working for other people.”
She credits her husband and her parents for supporting her endeavors and is thrilled with the juxtaposition of having a quiet home life with her family and still getting to hang out with drag queens.
“We have so much fun,” she said.
“It’s definitely a special niche,” Olesen said. “But the products aren’t just for drag queens. It’s an intensive moisturizer that I even use on my kids’ rashes.”
Drag Off has three lines: the Basic Bitch, the Betty (lavender, mint and vanilla) and the T (tea tree oil and baking soda).
While she is working hard to make a profit, Olesen said her real purpose for running the business is to be able to give back.
“My main goal is philanthropy,” she said.
She intends to offer grants that individuals and nonprofits can apply for. A particular interest is equality for LGBQT+ people, and she hopes to attend more Pride events around the country.
Her goal for Drag Off is to eventually move out of her home and create a safe workplace for LGBQT+ employees.
“It’s my way of improving things,” Olesen said. “I’m not resisting or fighting, but if I make money I can support people who resist and fight.”
The biggest challenges are finding eco-friendly packaging and marketing her products. Her advice for other women is as bold as Olesen herself. “You have to be ready; you have to be persistent; you have to have grit. You can’t quit because something doesn’t go right. Be ready to take action.”
Olesen said she’s put a lot more money into her business than she originally planned. “But I did promise my husband a Porsche — a used Porsche — someday,” she said, laughing.
“And there have been tears,” she admitted. “There have been times I asked myself why am I struggling with this.”
Her latest boost has been the inclusion in Beauty Backer, crowdsourcing for beauty product companies.
Her website is drag-off.com.
“I’m getting a great response,” Olesen said. “People who use Drag Off love it.”
Nancy Tarnai has been writing about Interior Alaska lifestyles for the News-Miner since 1995. She can be reached at email@example.com.