Inside The Whimsical World Of Disney-Inspired Accessory Designers
By Claire Linic
As a writer, online shopper, and pop culture fanatic, I spend most of my waking hours online. And when you live most of your life online, it’s important for sanity reasons to have a few healthy(ish) online obsessions.
Cue, my current one: Disney Designers.
It all began one fateful day when I was creating my wedding registry on that great, fantastical online marketplace Etsy. Unsuspectingly poking around for Disney decor, I stumbled upon my first-ever Disney Designer account — thus altering the course of my life forever.
I become so enraptured, I ended up pulling a whoopsy late-nighter, curling up at the foot of the bed so I wouldn’t wake my husband. I jumped from account to account, chomping on stale chips, my mind swirling with thoughts about what it would be like to create things as magical as Disney-inspired accessories for a living. A few short hours later, I woke up to a pile of crumbs, dozens of screenshots, and a fervid new passion.
Disney Designers — my unofficial moniker for this glorious group — are makers that devote their time to creating accessories inspired by Disney magic. They spend their days translating their love of all things Mickey Mouse and his brethren into wearable pieces for like-minded souls to enjoy. Using a little faith, trust, pixie dust, talent, and hot glue, they conjure up a range of unique adornments — from earrings, phone cases, mouse ears, to hair bows, and necklaces — all based on their beloved favorite characters.
My inadvertent discovery of the group awakened something deep inside of me. It soon became clear that I had to delve deeper. Talking to my husband about Disney Designers constantly for months wasn’t sating my addiction. So I convinced (read: tricked/bamboozled) my editor into letting me write a piece about it so I could interview a couple Disney Designers (. . .and maybe, just maybe, even become their gal pal.)
What I discovered is that, like any good niche online community, Disney Designers are shrouded in a bit of mystery. An unofficial group, there is limited data on how many creators exist, where they hail from, or how much they produce — there is only that which can be gleefully discovered and admired, primarily on their main hub of Etsy where there are currently over 17,000 handmade Disney-inspired products.
I soon found out, however, that this mysteriousness in no way means that the amount of sales Disney Designer Etsy shops accrue is something to dismiss like an elephant using its ears to fly. In fact, though these shops are not mainstream, their popularity in fringe and fan communities is growing. With every new Disney release (um, hi Star Wars), inspiration for new products erupts. The 2015 Disney/Pixar release of Inside Out, for example, has already inspired nearly 300 new mouse ear designs. Other new shops and products are popping up on Etsy weekly. And for many of these designers, their full-time job is this manufacturing of adorable items.
In order to better understand this growing phenomenon (and, OK, yes, to appease my own gnawing curiosity), I reached out to Angie of Modern Mouse Boutique. I’d first e-met her when I was searching for the perfect pair of bridal mouse ears — as one does — for my friend Caroline’s bridal shower. Thanks to procrastination, I only had five days to procure the whimsical headband, but, happily, Angie was kind enough to make a supply run to make them and then rush ordered them to me. (Fairytale ending: they came a day before I needed them and Caroline was able to take them on her honeymoon to Disneyland.)
It turns out that a mere year ago, Angie (Michel-Angie-lo?) was unhappily working a dead-end job. She decided she wanted to make the leap of faith and focus her time and energy on creating speciality Disney mouse ears. Her husband was already running the Disney fan site Modern Mouse Radio, so she was familiar with the Disney community. Upon Angie’s day-job mic drop, the Modern Mouse Boutique became something of a sister company (wife company?) to Modern Mouse Radio. With a Twitter following of over 2,500 and another 1000 on Facebook, Modern Mouse Radio already had a solid fan base of Disney fans that the husband and wife team hoped could help jumpstart Angie’s new venture. The dynamic Disney duo made a timeline of one year and agreed that if the company hadn’t taken off by then, Angie would go back to her day job.
“Luckily it took off pretty quickly. It’s my only source of income and my husband quit his job to join me. Now we do Modern Mouse Radio and Modern Mouse Boutique full time,” Angie told me. “It’s amazing considering we were working two dead-end jobs just a year ago and now we both get to work from home and talk Disney all the time!”
This kind of success is not uncommon within in the Disney Designer realm. A number of these makers are living what I consider to be the new and improved American dream: the artists are their own bosses, they seem to truly love what they create, and they have the best excuse to rewatch The Lion King whenever they want. Less business casual, more Hakuna Matata.
Ashley from Mickey Waffles has enjoyed similar success on the bow-end of the Disney Design spectrum. Starting with her Peter Pan-inspired bow, fashioning other hair pieces has become her full-time job. From that first bow, her repertoire has spiraled into more than 100 Disney-related products. “I was looking for something that I could create and share with others and came across bow-making. My love for Disney naturally inspired me to create bows made after the characters, attractions, and parks that I love,” she said.
And the bow-making business, for the record, is not for the faint of heart. Cinderella had cute rodents to help her design her clothes — women like Ashley are out there doing it all on their own. “On a typical day I’m spending five to six hours on creating bows,” she told me. This five-six hours a day doesn’t include the packing, shipping, social media, or answering questions via Etsy, either. Despite the consistent hard work, it’s not uncommon for shops like Mickey Waffles to receive so many orders in a week that they have to put their Etsy shop on pause in order to catch up and get everything shipped on time.
So what is it about these Mickey-infused accessories that land them firmly wedged in hearts across the age spectrum?
Certainly, the utter power of childhood nostalgia is not to be underestimated. Case in point: while I definitely enjoyed Disney movies growing up, my fixation didn’t fully blossom until my adult life. I have Disney blu rays, vinyls, accessories, stuffed animals, iPhone games. . . and I could never bring myself to get rid of the VHS’s, y’know, just in case. . .
It seems I’m not alone in my adulthood obsession. Based on my tireless research — endless hours of absorbing this community, reading reviews, expanding my own ever-growing collection of pieces via Etsy, and delighting in photos posted of these animated-flicked inspired accessories on Instagram — just as many adults are buying them for themselves as they are for younger fans. A healthy portion of the photos posted in reviews on Instagram show adults proudly sporting the handmade accessories.
Proof of the Disney brand’s evergreen nature is perhaps best illustrated by the recent emergence of the Disney dating site Mouse Mingle (where you can “Find YOUR Mickey or Minnie. . .”). While I can’t be certain what keeps people intrigued as adults, I’m willing to bet it has something to do with the spirit of fun. There can be so many ugly things in day to day life, why not spend a little time focusing on the universe of Snow White, Minnie Mouse, and Simba?
As for me and my obsession, while I’m not Twitter friends with Ashley or Angie (yet!), my wallet has never been emptier and my heart has never been fuller.
Sometimes we have to hand-design our own damn fairy tale ending.
Lead image credit: Lady Bird Bows