Causin poses for a portrait June 5, 2014 on the
shore of Lake of the Isles in Minneapolis in the
mermaid tail she purchased from Bryn and Abby
Roberts at Finfolk Productions.
upon a time, the mermaid Ariel dreamed of ditching her
fins for feet.
day in the real world, twin sisters Abby and Bryn
Roberts fulfill the fantasies of people who want to
a St. Paul, Minn., studio they work their magic,
crafting flesh-like silicone mermaid tails in a rainbow
of colors that could fool any beach wanderer or
the sequins-and-spandex youíd see in high school
plays. Mermaid wannabes plunk down big money for these
lifelike custom fins, which start at $2,500.
would pay this much to swim with the fishes?
"mer"-community worldwide ó yes, there is
such a thing. They are smitten with the tails designed
by this landlocked duo. Adults who perform at
Renaissance festivals, aquariums and childrenís
parties are placing orders faster than the sistersí
fledgling Finfolk Productions can make them.
do look at each other almost every day and say, ĎWe
make mermaid tails for a living,í?" Bryn Roberts
sheer accident, the 22-year-old sisters dove into a
thriving but hidden mermaid culture, connected by social
media and celebrated in pop culture. Itís part Disney,
part "Splash," part ancient myth ó brought
to life in shows and conventions around the world with
names like MerFest and MerPalooza.
always had this fascination with mermaids," said
John Athanson, public relations manager for Weeki Wachee
Springs in Florida, a mermaid Mecca of sorts.
"Thereís something just mesmerizing about a
pretty girl in a mermaid tail."
itís not all girls in tails. There are mermen, too,
the sisters said.
a mermaid isnít particularly glamorous.
the second skin calls for awkward wriggling and yanking.
Once the tail is on, there are just two ways to move
around on land: roll or be carried by a "mertender."
the sisters, figuring out how to make their first tail
took a lot of sweat, molding goop and Google. Itís not
like thereís an instruction manual for this sort of
when the Minnesota Renaissance Festival put out a call
for tails in 2012, the sisters took a stab at it. They
drew on their experience as Renaissance Festival
performers, channeling their enthusiasm for costuming,
theater makeup and prosthetics. Abby admits she dragged
the more skeptical Bryn into the project.
donít know how we did it," Bryn said.
seven weeks experimenting in Brynís garage, they had
five lifelike tails.
came back with these tails and I was just stunned,"
said Carr Hagerman, artistic director at the Minnesota
since perfected the process: Each tail is made to
measure and takes at least a week to complete. They mold
silicon for the body, fins and fluke ó the large fin
at the end. To make the tails sturdy enough for
swimming, they build them around a monofin (a big
flipper with foot pockets used by swimmers and scuba
divers) that is camouflaged by the fluke. The painting
got out about their tails, mostly through the online
forums on MerNetwork.com (of course, mermaids surf the
Internet). The sisters set up a Facebook page (now with
more than 15,000 followers) and used Kickstarter to pay
for additional molds. They traveled to Hawaii to shoot
promotional pictures and videos. The next thing the
Roberts sisters knew, they were shipping tails overseas
ó Australia, Singapore, Iceland, France.
community is big enough that there is demand, but small
enough that word spreads quickly," Bryn said.
fall 2013, they had both quit school and their other
jobs to make mermaid tails full time.
spring, Weeki Wachee called. The kitschy tourist
attraction, now a Florida state park that attracts
275,000 people a year, has been home to mermaid shows
since 1947. They were wondering: Would Finfolk
Productions send some tails for performers to wear in
the annual mermaid calendar?
have some beautiful, beautiful tails that they lent
us," said Athanson. "When these tails came in,
you just have to look at them like works of art."
true appreciation comes from diving in.
way you move through the water is so fluid," said
Allie Causin of Coon Rapids, Minn., who performs as
Lyrique the Mermaid wearing a Finfolk Productions tail.
She also models tails for the company at mermaid
is a dancer and fell into "mermaiding" when a
friend who performs in Renaissance festivals as a fairy
needed some mermaids for a childrenís book photo
when we first discovered it was a thing," Causin
myths have been around for hundreds of years, captured
most famously in the fairy tale by Hans Christian
Andersen. Athanson, of Weeki Wachee, says he sees
interest spike every time a mermaid surfaces in pop
culture: Disneyís "The Little Mermaid," the
30th anniversary of "Splash," and a 2012
documentary-like science fiction program on the
Discovery Channel have all kept mermaids at the surface.
hobby? Sure. But a few stares or sarcastic comments donít
stop Causin from pulling on her tail for a swim at Cedar
Lake or a local pool, with or without other mermaids.
(In case you were wondering, a group of mermaids is
called a "pod.")
just this freedom," she said. "Itís very
much a way of dancing in the water."
the mer-world is fanciful, the Roberts sisters are
protective of their clients, especially the mermen.
first reaction is, ĎThatís different and weird and I
donít like it,í?" Abby said.
children donít seem to share those reservations.
the sisters occasionally don tails, they see it over and
over: A girl or boy, usually about 4 years old, hands
planted defiantly on hips, turns to a parent and says,
"See? I told you mermaids were real."