Taylor Swift's enterprising fans get crafty — and business booms: NPR

Soaps from Sparta Candle Co. inspired by Taylor Swift's Eras tour and The department of tortured poets album.

Sparta Candle Co.


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Sparta Candle Co.

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Soaps from Sparta Candle Co. inspired by Taylor Swift's Eras tour and The department of tortured poets album.

Sparta Candle Co.

The official Taylor Swift online store is packed with earrings, hoodies, vinyl and other merchandise promoting the star's latest record album, The Department of Martyred Poets.

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

“We've created soaps inspired by all of Taylor Swift's albums. So of course we're excited to introduce these: Martyred poet!” says Duane Swenk in one TikTok video. It has been online for about a week now and has already been viewed more than 300,000 times.

Swenk is the spokesperson for his family business in soap and candles, the Sparta Candle Co. – and a big Swiftie. Wearing a beard, beret and The Department of Martyred Poets T-shirt, he shows off a soap in the shape of a cup of Earl Gray tea. It comes with a removable saucer.

“This soap has notes of black tea, bergamot and lemon,” Swenk continues in the video. “It's a perfectly moody scent to match Taylor's incredible new album.”

Months earlier The department of tortured poets When Duane Swenk's daughter, Jennifer Swenk, CEO and founder of Sparta Candle Co. and is also a devoted Taylor Swift fan, was looking for hints to turn them into potential product concepts. When she was browsing 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 drinking a cup of tea,” she said.

Music and style inspire shapes, scents and colors

Taylor Swift's music evokes imaginative shapes and scents for Jennifer Swenk. But Ashleigh Kiser thinks in colors. Her company, Sewrella yarnhas created a line inspired by Swift's Eras tour, which sees the pop star perform songs from across her catalog.

“Something that's more of a love song, like the Lover era, those were very light, very pastel, very kind of ethereal colors,” Kiser said of matching Swift's hits with yarn shades. “While the Always The era became darker, moodier and more complex in color.”

The company also just released a yarn collection based on The department of tortured poets.

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The Tortured Poets Department yarn collection from Sewrella Yarn.

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The Tortured Poets Department yarn collection from Sewrella Yarn.

Sewrella yarn

Kiser said she loves the way Swift inspires a kind of virtuous circle of creativity among fans.

“We had some customers who bought the yarn that was inspired by the tour. And then they went and knitted a sweater or a top, or whatever their project was. And then they wore that to Eras tour concerts,” Kiser said. “So it's like the music informs the yarn that informs the project. And it just keeps going.”

Communal feeling

This communal aspect of creating merchandise inspired by Swift appeals greatly to baker Emily Henegar. The one-woman business of the Nashville, Tennessee-based entrepreneur, Cookie in the kitchenmakes intricately decorated cookies that incorporate 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 that a fan made for Swift and which the star then wore to a football game.

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Cookie in the Kitchen's cookie collection is about Taylor Swift's relationship with football player Travis Kelce.

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Cookie in the kitchen

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Cookie in the Kitchen's cookie collection is about Taylor Swift's relationship with football player Travis Kelce.

Cookie in the kitchen

“I just scroll through Instagram and get inspiration from a lot of different places,” Henegar said.

Henegar said she doesn't mind other makers incorporating her artistry into their own Swift-inspired products. “It's nice when they can just mention me on their Instagram posts,” she said.

While Cookie in the Kitchen, Sparta Candle Co. and Sewrella Yarn serve customers primarily through their websites and/or physical stores, many small businesses that focus on Taylor Swift-oriented products are looking to Etsy and other arts and crafts-focused online marketplaces to reach fans.

“I mean, talk about bringing people together, and talk about really empowering creativity,” says Etsy trend expert Dayna Isom Johnson of Swift's impact on the platform.

Johnson said entrepreneurs on Etsy don't just come up with sales concepts in advance of the artist's album releases and tour dates. They also respond quickly to what Swift sings, says and wears.

For example, Swift's lyrics “So make the friendship bracelets” in her 2022 song “You're on Your Own, Kid,” she created unprecedented demand for friendship bracelets on Etsy. (According to company data, while Swift toured the US in 2023, she saw a 22,313% increase in searches for concert-inspired friendship bracelets.)

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

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

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Etsy witnessed a similar spike in searches after Swift launched a 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” — turned Swifties into wannabe poets; suddenly everyone wants an empty diary.

“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 has been known to send notes and even homemade gifts to creative superfans.

“They show me love all the time in different ways,” she said in a 2012 video for VEVO Music Network. “And I really appreciate it.”

A small business owner who makes Swift-themed T-shirts and other items told NPR that products have been removed from online marketplaces for possible copyright infringement.

But University of Pennsylvania law professor Jennifer Rothman said she is not aware of Swift filing lawsuits against small business owners, and she said Swift's general openness to fan-based creativity makes good business sense.

“Taylor Swift, I think, is just benefiting from the enthusiasm of all this fandom,” Rothman said.

The trade magazine for the music industry Pollstar Estimates Swift grossed nearly $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 have a significant impact on Swift's brand or bottom line.

“If anything, they reinforce it by encouraging the positive feelings around her,” Rothman said. “The fans still want the official merchandise and will queue for hours to get it.”

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

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