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The thriving market of crafty products inspired by Taylor Swift

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The official Taylor Swift online store is chockablock with earrings, hoodies, vinyl and other merchandise promoting the star's latest record-breaking album, "The Tortured Poets Department." Well, there's also a parallel industry devoted to selling crafty products inspired by Swift's music and style, and as NPR's Chloe Veltman reports, it's thriving.

CHLOE VELTMAN, BYLINE: Fewer than 2,000 people live in Sparta, N.C., but the tiny town has a social media star whose videos of each been viewed hundreds of thousands of times on TikTok.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DUANE SWENK: We've made soaps inspired by all of Taylor Swift's albums, so of course we're excited to introduce this one - Tortured Poet.

VELTMAN: In this video, Duane Swenk wears a beard, beret and "Tortured Poets Department" T-shirt. He's the spokesperson for his family-run soap and candle business, the Sparta Candle Co., and a big Swiftie. He's showing off a soap in the shape of a cup of Earl Grey tea. It comes with a detachable saucer.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

D SWENK: This soap has notes of black tea, bergamot and lemon. It's a perfectly moody scent to pair with Taylor's incredible new album.

VELTMAN: Duane Swenk's daughter, Jennifer Swenk, is the company's founder and CEO.

JENNIFER SWENK: I've kind of grown up with Taylor Swift. She's gotten me through a lot of difficult times. And I'm a huge fan.

VELTMAN: For a while before the album dropped, Jennifer Swenk was hunting for hints about it when she browsed through the upcoming song titles. She saw one called "So Long, London."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SO LONG, LONDON")

TAYLOR SWIFT: (Singing) So long, London.

VELTMAN: London? Poetry? These hints gave Swenk an idea.

J SWENK: I felt like a poetry beat goes hand-in-hand with having a cup of tea.

VELTMAN: Taylor Swift's music evokes fanciful forms and scents for Swenk, but Ashleigh Kiser is thinking in colors. Her company, Sewrella Yarn, has created a line inspired by Swift's Eras Tour, in which the pop star performs songs from her entire catalog.

ASHLEIGH KISER: Something that is more of a love song like the "Lover" era, those were very light, very pastel, very kind of ethereal colors.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOVER")

SWIFT: (Singing) Take me out, and take me home.

KISER: While the "evermore" era got darker, more moody, more complicated colors.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EVERMORE")

SWIFT: (Singing) Gray November. I've been down since July.

VELTMAN: Kiser says she loves the way Taylor Swift inspires a sort of virtuous circle of creativity in her fans.

KISER: There were customers of ours who were buying the yarn that was inspired by the tour, and then they were going and knitting a sweater or a top.

VELTMAN: These crafters were then showing off their Swifty knits at Eras Tour concerts.

KISER: So it's like the music informs the yarn, which informs the project. And it just keeps going.

DAYNA ISOM JOHNSON: I mean, talk about bringing people together, and talk about really amplifying creativity.

VELTMAN: That's Dayna Isom Johnson. She's the trend expert for Etsy. The online marketplace is a magnet for Swifties.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU'RE ON YOUR OWN, KID")

SWIFT: (Singing) Make the friendship bracelets. Take the moment and taste it.

VELTMAN: Johnson says this lyric from Swift's 2022 song "You're On Your Own, Kid" created an unprecedented demand for friendship bracelets on Etsy. The company saw a similar spike after Swift wore an unusual choker necklace at this year's Grammys. And Johnson says this latest album, with its references to poetry...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE TORTURED POETS DEPARTMENT")

SWIFT: (Singing) You're not Dylan Thomas. I'm not Patti Smith.

VELTMAN: ...Has been turning Swifties into wannabe poets. Suddenly, everyone wants a blank journal.

ISOM JOHNSON: A 727% increase in searches on Etsy for poetry-related items.

VELTMAN: Swift herself seems to embrace her fans' creativity. She's been known to send notes and even homemade gifts to creative superfans. Here she is in a 2012 video for VEVO music network.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SWIFT: They are constantly just showing me love in different ways, and I really, appreciate it.

VELTMAN: University of Pennsylvania law professor Jennifer Rothman says Swift's attitude makes good business sense.

JENNIFER ROTHMAN: Taylor Swift only benefits, I think, from having all this fan enthusiasm.

VELTMAN: Rothman says Most of these small scale, highly creative riffs on the artist's life and work often don't significantly impinge upon Swift's brand or bottom line.

ROTHMAN: If anything, it boosts it by boosting the positive feelings around her.

VELTMAN: The music industry trade publication Pollstar estimates Swift grossed close to $200 million in authorized merchandise sales last year. Fans are still happy to wait in line for hours to get their official "Tortured Poets Department" sweatshirts. Chloe Veltman, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Chloe Veltman
Chloe Veltman is a correspondent on NPR's Culture Desk.
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