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Taylor Swift fans mean business with Tortured Poets soap, Eras yarn, Kelce cookies

Sparta Candle Co. soaps inspired by Taylor Swift's Eras tour and <em>The Tortured Poets Department</em> album.
Sparta Candle Co.
Sparta Candle Co. soaps inspired by Taylor Swift's Eras tour and The Tortured Poets Department album.

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.

But there's also a parallel industry devoted to selling crafty products inspired by Swift's music and style — and it's thriving.

"We've made soaps inspired by all of Taylor Swift's albums. So of course we're excited to introduce this one: Tortured Poet!" says Duane Swenk in a TikTok video. It's been up for about a week, and has already been viewed more than 1.4 million times.

Swenk is the spokesperson for his family-run soap and candle business, the Sparta Candle Co. — and a big Swiftie. Wearing a beard, beret and The Tortured Poets Department T-shirt, he's showing off a soap in the shape of a cup of Earl Grey tea. It comes with a detachable saucer.

"This soap has notes of black tea, bergamot and lemon," Swenk goes on to say in the video. "It's a perfectly moody scent to pair with Taylor's incredible new album."

Months before The Tortured Poets Department dropped, Duane Swenk's daughter, Jennifer Swenk — who serves as the Sparta Candle Co.'s CEO and founder and is also a devoted Taylor Swift fan — was hunting for hints about it to turn into potential product concepts. When she browsed through the upcoming song titles, she saw one called "So Long, London."

Jennifer Swenk said the combination of London and the overall poetry theme of the album gave her the idea for the soapy tea cup.

"I felt like poetry goes hand in hand with having a cup of tea," she said.

Music and style inspire shapes, scents and colors

Taylor Swift's music evokes fanciful forms and scents for Jennifer 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.

"Something that is more of a love song, like the Lover era, those were very light, very pastel, very kind of ethereal colors," said Kiser of matching Swift's hits with yarn hues. "While the Evermore era got darker, more moody, more complicated colors."

The company also just released a yarn collection based on The Tortured Poets Department.

The Tortured Poets Department yarn collection from Sewrella Yarn.
/ Sewrella Yarn
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Sewrella Yarn
The Tortured Poets Department yarn collection from Sewrella Yarn.

Kiser said she loves the way Swift inspires a sort of virtuous circle of creativity in fans.

"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 or whatever their project was. And then they were then wearing that to Eras tour concerts," Kiser said. "So it's like the music informs the yarn which informs the project. And it just keeps going."

Communal feeling

This communal aspect of creating merchandise inspired by Swift appeals strongly to baker Emily Henegar. The Nashville, Tenn.-based entrepreneur's one-woman business, Cookie in the Kitchen, makes intricately decorated cookies incorporating details from Swift's work and life.

She said she sometimes incorporates other artists' designs into her own. For example, Henegar said she decorated a cookie with an image she found on social media of a beanie hat a fan made for Swift, which the star then wore to a football game.

"I'm just scrolling Instagram, getting to pull inspiration from many different places," said Henegar.

Henegar said she doesn't mind when other makers incorporate her artistry into their own Swift-inspired products. "It's nice if they can just credit me on their Instagram posts," she said.

While Cookie in the Kitchen, Sparta Candle Co. and Sewrella Yarn mostly serve customers through their websites and/or brick-and-mortar stores, many small businesses focusing on Taylor Swift-oriented products look to Etsy and other arts ands crafts-focused online marketplaces to reach fans.

"I mean, talk about bringing people together, and talk about really amplifying creativity," said Etsy trend expert Dayna Isom Johnson of Swift's impact on the platform.

Johnson said entrepreneurs on Etsy aren't just coming up with sales concepts ahead of the artist's album releases and tour dates. They're also quickly responding to what Swift sings, says and wears.

For instance, Swift's lyric "So make the friendship bracelets" in her 2022 song "You're on Your Own, Kid" created an unprecedented demand for friendship bracelets on Etsy. (According to company data, while Swift was touring across the U.S. in 2023, it saw a 22,313% increase in searches for concert-inspired friendship bracelets.)

A selection of Taylor Swift-oriented friendship bracelets on Etsy.
/ CustomBraceletWorld/Etsy
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CustomBraceletWorld/Etsy
A selection of Taylor Swift-oriented friendship bracelets on Etsy.

Etsy witnessed a similar spike in searches after Swift wore an unusual choker necklace at this year's Grammys.

And this latest album, with its references to poetry — "You're not Dylan Thomas, I'm not Patti Smith" — has been turning Swifties into wannabe poets; suddenly everyone wants a blank journal.

"We've seen a 727% increase in searches on Etsy for poetry-related items," Johnson said.

Swift's response to fans' creativity

Swift herself seems to embrace her fans' creativity. She's been known to send notes and even homemade gifts to creative super-fans.

"They are constantly just showing me love in different ways," she said in a 2012 video for VEVO music network. "And I really appreciate it."

One small business owner making Swift-themed T-shirts and other items told NPR they have had products taken down from online marketplaces for possible copyright infringement.

But University of Pennsylvania law professor Jennifer Rothman said she is not aware of Swift launching lawsuits against small entrepreneurs, and she said that Swift's overall openness toward fan-based creativity makes good business sense.

"Taylor Swift only benefits, I think, from having all this fan enthusiasm," Rothman said.

The music industry trade publication Pollstar estimates Swift grossed close to $200 million in authorized merchandise sales last year. Rothman said 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.

"If anything, they boost it by boosting the positive feelings around her," Rothman said. "The fans still want the official merchandise and will wait in line for hours and hours to get it."

Jennifer Vanasco edited the audio and digital versions of this story.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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