A lot of talk goes on during Pride Month about corporate pandering. Companies around the world suddenly get really queer-friendly, only to disappear when the month of June ends. During this time, it’s important to rally around and support queer-owned businesses, and Thomas Ariel Zeek and his company, Gothic Garden Cosmetics, are exactly what we mean.
I spoke to Thomas on a typical morning in May as he wrangled his kids ages seven, five, and three, took care of the family dog, and somehow managed to carve out a little time to tell me his remarkable story.
He and his wife met several years ago when Thomas was a high school senior and his wife was a college freshman. They both hung out at the same mall with friends, and Thomas admits he had never noticed her, but she had definitely spotted him.
As a joke, he and a friend made a dating profile for himself and lo and behold, his wife was there. They spoke on the phone for two weeks, and after their first meeting, something just clicked and things progressed as they do.
When Thomas became pregnant with their first child, small things he’d thought about himself before became much larger. He began seeing a therapist and working through those feelings which ultimately led to his coming out.
It has been just over three years since Thomas fully embraced his trans identity, and he’s been taking hormones for two years, now. At the same time, his wife also came out as a trans woman and began her transition, as well.
She’s an army veteran and due to complications during her service, suffers from a small tremor that made it nearly impossible to apply make-up herself. Thomas, naturally, stepped in and began helping her outside match who she was on in the inside.
That was when they began to run into a few issues.
“There were shades that we wanted that we couldn’t find on mattes that were workable,” he explained. “I tried a lot of different name brands and couldn’t find the colors she wanted that would blend really well. So, I started studying the science of make-up and began developing my own.”
As the colors and shades began to come to life and he finally had what they’d both been searching for, he found that he had a surplus of his creations. With a little encouragement from his wife and friends, Thomas took the plunge and began to sell his creations.
“It takes a while to come out with new palettes,” he admitted, “but that’s because I formulate and formulate, testing the products, and sending them out to friends with different skin types. I never want to have a product that I don’t feel good about. I’m really proud of what I’ve created.”
As a lifelong horror fan with a special place in his heart for supernatural and paranormal films like Poltergeist and The Conjuring, Zeek’s creations reflected those darker sensibilities first in single shades which then expanded into palettes of colors that speak to him personally.
“I’m a huge horror fan,” he said. “It’s sort of my coping mechanism. When I’m having a lot of anxiety, I’ll turn on a horror movie and it actually relaxes me. I’ve always had a soft-goth appearance. I may dress formally on occasion but I always wear combat boots. I collect decorative skulls and display them year around. That just kind of mirrored itself into my company.”
That company has become one of his children, and he spoke lovingly about how both he and Gothic Gardens have grown in the last year.
In the beginning, selling single shades, Zeek painstakingly crafted individual envelopes for shipping. When he expanded to creating full quads and larger palettes, he knew he wanted something different that was still unique in its presentation.
He committed himself to learning the process of book binding, and began creating hand bound small books for each of his creations.
Thomas Ariel Zeek does nothing half way.
In fact, at the moment, he’s working on a series of eyebrow pomades that will be releasing soon designing brushes that look like quill pens with the pomades stored in inkwell-style containers.
But what does he have available, now?
First up is The Garden Pond View quad.
“It kind of tells the story of finding a pond in a little gothic garden and the colors you’d see there,” Zeek explained.
Then there’s The Garden Bed quad which Zeek explained is based on the colors you might find in his Gothic Garden.
Hidden Cemetery is a stunning palette of colors that plays out its own horror story of finding a mysterious unmarked grave.
When Valentine’s Day was looming, Zeek committed to creating a color palette that was unlike anything he’d seen for what is normally marketed as a romantic couples’ holiday.
“I called it the Not So Romantic Goth,” Zeek said, sheepishly. “It sort of came from the idea that sex and love aren’t always connected. I wanted something that was completely separate from the lovey-dovey stuff you see for Valentine’s Day.”
The designer really went for it, taking his customers through a not-so-typical (maybe?) night out: Sunset, Drive-In, Starry Night, Dinner for Two, Heart Locket, Nightcap, Foreplay, Spank, Choke Me, Tied Up, Night Stand, and I’ll Call You!
My personal favorite is a palette he specifically designed for Pride Month called Coming Out of the Coffin. The palette not only allows you to embrace the rainbow, but Zeek donates a portion of the proceeds to the Ali Forney Center, which offers outreach resources to LGBTQ youth.
The color names here also give customers a glimpse into the causes and issues that are personal to Zeek, himself: Not Even My Final Form, Stop Policing, People’s Lives, Pay It No Mind, Breaking The Norm, My Bed My Business, They/Them Aren’t Hard To Use, There Are Even Gay Animals, Stop The Hate, Science Updates Everyday, Gendered Clothing Is Weird, and Da Vinci Was Gay BTW.
Gothic Gardens Cosmetics does much more than eyeshadow palettes, however. They also offer a small variety of blushes and highlighters at the moment, but he says he intends to branch out even more as the company continues to grow.
“I’m working toward adding products so that the entire face can be made up with my cosmetics,” he said, excitedly. “I’m in the testing phase for all of it!”
As I hit End Call on our conversation, I could not help feeling that I’d just spent a half an hour with a man who can and will shape the future of cosmetics as well as someone who will become a leader in our community through quiet commitment and perseverance.
To say the least, I was utterly impressed.