Twin sisters from Twin Cities turn mere mortals into mermaids

  • Article by: KATIE HUMPHREY , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 17, 2014 - 1:12 PM

Twin sisters from St. Paul are swimming in business – outfitting real-life mermaids worldwide with elaborate, colorful fishtails at a cool $2,500 a piece.

Once upon a time, the mermaid Ariel dreamed of ditching her fins for feet.

Every day in the real world, twin sisters Abby and Bryn Roberts fulfill the fantasies of people who want to become mermaids.

From a St. Paul studio they work their magic, crafting flesh-like silicone mermaid tails in a rainbow of colors that could fool any beach wanderer or sea-weary sailor.

Forget the sequins-and-spandex you’d see in high school plays. Mermaid wannabes plunk down big money for these lifelike custom fins, which start at $2,500.

Who would pay this much to swim with the fishes?

The “mer”-community worldwide — 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 children’s parties are placing orders faster than the sisters’ fledgling Finfolk Productions can make them.

“We do look at each other almost every day and say, ‘We make mermaid tails for a living,’ ” Bryn Roberts said.

By sheer accident, the 22-year-old sisters dove into a thriving but hidden mermaid culture, connected by social media and celebrated in pop culture. It’s part Disney, part “Splash,” part ancient myth — brought to life in shows and conventions around the world with names like MerFest and MerPalooza.

“We’ve always had this fascination with mermaids,” said John Athanson, public relations manager for Weeki Wachee Springs in Florida, a mermaid Mecca of sorts. “There’s something just mesmerizing about a pretty girl in a mermaid tail.”

But it’s not all girls in tails. There are mermen, too.

Bootstrapping mermaids

Becoming a mermaid isn’t particularly glamorous.

Donning 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.”

For the sisters, figuring out how to make their first tail took a lot of sweat, molding goop and Google. It’s not like there’s an instruction manual for this sort of thing.

But 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.

“I don’t know how we did it,” Bryn said.

After seven weeks experimenting in Bryn’s garage, they had five lifelike tails.

“They came back with these tails and I was just stunned,”said Carr Hagerman, artistic director at the Minnesota Renaissance Festival.

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