How Cannabis Queen Shea Couleé Is Branching Out

The ‘Drag Race’ all star star talks new line of drinks and what makes Chicago drag so special.

Shea Couleé
Shea Couleé | Photo by Eric Magnussen
Shea Couleé | Photo by Eric Magnussen

Timing is everything. I reached out to Shea Couleé to set up an interview to chat about, among other things, her new line of cannabis drinks. Little did I know that a few weeks later she would be announced as part of the all-winners cast of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars Season 7.

Fortunately, we had plenty of other wonderful things to talk about, like how the pandemic changed her drag, the failed war on drugs, and what makes Chicago drag so special.

John deBary: How have you been doing during the pandemic and these last two years, including winning season five of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars?

Shea Couleé: For me, it’s really been shifting my focus back onto the creative and the art behind my drag. Prior to the pandemic, there was just so much focus on being on the road and making in-person appearances. But when you’re doing that day after day, you start to lose a little bit of the creativity because you’re just so busy trying to make sure that you’re present and showing up and you deliver. Being able to slow down has been nice because I’ve been able to creatively stretch a little bit within my drag.

What would you say those creative developments have been like?

I would say a lot of songwriting. Also trying to expand branding opportunities and going into areas that we don’t see drag queens as much: like releasing a beer with Goose Island. I was the first drag queen to enter into the beer space. I released a soap called 100k Bar and a whipped shea body butter called Slay Butter and have been putting a lot of energy into sustainable, ethical, natural skincare. [The pandemic] gave me a chance to look at all the things that I enjoy that don’t require being in a club.

I guess that brings us to your line of cannabis drinks with Green Monké. What drew you to that?

I feel like a lot of us were drinking a bit heavily at the beginning of the pandemic. We didn’t know what was going on, we had a lot of free time. Once I started to look for alternative ways to relax and decompress that didn’t necessarily involve a hangover the next day, that’s when I really got into cannabis drinks.

Once the conversation started with Green Monké, I thought it was a great activation because not only was it a product that I personally enjoy, but we had the component of our campaign where we were giving back to help support Black entrepreneurs in the cannabis space. We understand that there’s such an imbalance between Black-owned cannabis businesses and the bigger, more corporatized businesses.

That’s the partnership with Our Academy, right? Can you talk more about that?

It’s a space to create support and build equity for Black business owners in the cannabis space. There are so many Black incarcerated individuals due to the war on drugs. Whole entire communities have been uprooted by the over-policing of Black people.

Now that we’re getting legislation supporting cannabis businesses, we’ve seen so many people coming into these spaces and trying to take a monopoly on them. This is an opportunity to help build equity for a lot of the people that built the infrastructure for this industry that others are now benefitting from.

You’ve said that you were inspired to start doing drag by RuPaul’s Drag Race. What was your first time in drag like?

Oh my gosh. All my first times in drag…all awful. The most specific memory for me would be Pride of 2011. I got these cute little pair of heels. They were purple glitter, but they were cheap as hell. The glitter around the toe literally cut into my toes so bad that I barely even made it to the festivities. I had to go to Walgreens and get pedicure sandals because I couldn’t even walk. So definitely a little crunchy at the beginning.

My first time performing was at Jeezy’s Juke Joint, three weeks after that. It all happened by mistake. I misunderstood an email assuming I was being cast for a solo act. I completely came up with a number off the top of my head and sent all the tech details. And of course she gets this email thinking to herself, “I could not believe this bitch just cast herself as a solo act in my show.” But she let me perform. I went out there and did a burlesque routine to Beyonce’s “Sugar Momma.” I got a standing o—the applause was thunderous. That was the beginning of Shea Couleé.

How has Shea developed as a character since then?

I feel like the character isn’t far different from who I am in my day to day. My overall evolution is less talk, more action. I am a firm believer that action speaks louder than words and I feel like showing up, doing the work, cultivating your talents and supporting your community are all really important, key components of the Shea Couleé brand. Throughout the years, all I’ve tried to do is to show people that fundamentally that is who I am.

What’s the defining characteristic of Chicago drag?

We’re simply the best. And it pisses all the other drag queens off because they know it and we’re not shy about it, but we simply are the best. Chicago is a city that not only cultivates really talented people, but we build each other up. I feel like there’s a real sense of sisterhood and support. It’s a rich, diverse community of alt queens, pageant queens, glam queens, fashion queens, drag kings, and AFAB performers. You name it, there is space here in Chicago for them. That’s just what makes Chicago drag so much fun.

What’s on your to-do list for 2022?

You can expect some collaborations with Green Monké, you can expect me to expand my bath product line and can expect more music and a tour, and some other really fun things I can’t talk about right now but you’ll find out very, very soon.

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John deBary is a drinks expert and writer. His first cocktail book, Drink What You Want, is available now, and his next book, Saved by the Bellini is expected in early 2023. He is also the co-founder and president of the Restaurant Workers’ Community Foundation, which is dedicated to improving the lives of hospitality industry professionals through advocacy, grant making, and impact investing. John is also the creator of Proteau, a line of non-alcoholic drinks.