Kawaii Shark Ita Bag Giveaway August 2, 2019 18:42

From Jess: 

As promised, here's the information on the Instagram giveaway we're currently holding for our Kawaii Shark ita bag!

In order to fund mass production of these bags, we need to sell a lot of pre-orders; in order to sell a lot of pre-orders, we need to spread the word. That's what this giveaway is all about -- that, that, and giving one lucky, randomly-selected shark fan a free bag! If you've already pre-ordered, 1) you're awesome, and we love you, and we literally couldn't do this without you, and 2) you can totally still enter, with the option to receive a refund on your purchase OR a second bag.

Here's how to enter:

1. You must be following @rescuesirens on Instagram.
2. Like AND comment (the shark emoji, your favorite shark species, etc.) on THIS INSTAGRAM POST to enter your name 2 times.
3. Tag a shark-loving friend ON THIS INSTAGRAM POST for 1 entry per friend, up to 5 entries -- but celeb/brand accounts don't count!
4. Share this post via your Instagram Stories for 3 entries.
5. Repost this post (via a reposting app or screenshots) to your PUBLIC Instagram account and tag @rescuesirens for another 5 entries.

      All in all, you have the opportunity to put your name in the (virtual) hat a total of 15 times! The more entries you have, the better your chance to win.

      Don't forget to tag and/or mention @rescuesirens when you share/repost so we can find and count your entries! We'll also be checking the #kawaiisharkitabag hashtag.

      Our giveaway will conclude this Sunday, August 4th, at 6:00 PM PDT (that's Disneyland time), with the winner randomly selected and announced after that.

      The fine print: we're not associated with Instagram in any way, shape, or form; no purchase necessary; open worldwide; must be 18+ to enter. The bags will not be completed and ready to ship for several months, so the winner will receive their bag when the pre-orders are mailed out.

      All pins pictured are illustrated by @kelleeart and are not included with the bag (so you should totally follow her on Instagram and collect all of them!).

      Good luck, and best fishes!


      My love/hate relationship with Shark Week. July 27, 2019 09:16

      From Jess: 

      I’ve loved sharks since I was a little girl, and one of the things I looked forward to most during the summer was Shark Week, when the Discovery Channel would devote seven days straight to programming about some of the oldest and most successful predators sharing our blue planet.

      Even back in 1988, when Shark Week first swam on the scene, some of the shows aired had sensationalistic titles, like “Caged in Fear.” I get it; you want to draw people in, and capitalizing on people’s fear of sharks is a great way to do that. But, at least initially, much of Shark Week’s content was devoted to dispelling myths about sharks as bloodthirsty sea monsters, as popularized in culture by 1975’s “Jaws” (admittedly one of my favorite films, despite the absolutely devastating effects it’s had on the public’s perception of sharks; “Jaws” author Peter Benchley later went on to raise awareness about shark conservation, and even hosted “Shark Week” one year). Shark Week was about having some spine-tingling fun by getting up close and personal with these fascinating fish, but it was also about education, and treated sharks as the amazing creatures they are.

      My BFF Kendra and I take a Very Important Photo outside SDCC. She’s the one who insisted we stop, which is just one reason she’s my BFF.
      My BFF Kendra and I take a Very Important Photo outside SDCC. (Kendra is the one who insisted we stop, which is just one reason she’s my BFF.) Did you notice the “Jaws” shirt in the background?

      These days, I like the idea of Shark Week, and the focus on one of my favorite groups of animals that comes with it... but the Discovery Channel itself is not without its problems.

      Shark Week is the longest-running event in cable television, and, as the years have passed, the attitude has shifted from a (generally) educational bent to one of entertainment without consideration for the responsibility the Discovery Channel has in shaping its viewers’ feelings about sharks, or even in representing scientific fact.

      The last straw, for me and many others, was 2013’s mockumentary, “Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives.” This special — the most-watched in Shark Week’s history, at least at that time, with nearly 5 million viewers tuning in — included a disclaimer at the very end noting that it was a work of fiction, but it turned into a “War of the Worlds” situation when people failed to get the memo that this was all in good fun and believed Discovery Channel’s premise that Otodus megalodon, an ancient shark thought to have reached in excess of fifty feet in length, still roams the seas to this day. (In reality, it’s thought that the megalodon went extinct some 3.6 million years ago, even earlier than originally estimated, according to an article published earlier this year in PeerJ.) And why wouldn’t people trust Shark Week? Up until then, it had been a pretty credible event. Unfortunately, there are people even today who believe that the megalodon still exists, thanks to that mockumentary.

      Despite the criticism it received, Discovery Channel continued on with its (ahem) “docufiction” the following year: “And a look at [2014]’s lineup shows that Discovery has doubled down on its faux-documentary programming with programs like ‘Lair of the Mega Shark,’ ‘Megalodon: New Evidence,’ ‘Zombie Sharks,’ ‘Alien Sharks: Return to the Abyss,’ and ‘Shark of Darkness: Wrath of Submarine,’” observes a great article on the topic in The Week, “The history of Shark Week: How the Discovery Channel both elevated and degraded sharks.” 

      When Chris and I wrote “Rescue Sirens: The Search for the Atavist” in early 2015, Chris included this bit, from marine bio major (and, unbeknownst to her, shark-tailed mermaid) Kelby’s point of view:

      The ocean. She’d never seen it in person. As long as she could remember, Kelby had been obsessed with it. Watched every television show about it she could find. Treasure-hunting documentaries, nature specials, even “Shark Week” despite the fact that it had slowly shifted from informative edutainment to sensationalistic trash.

      ...As you can tell, we have some pretty strong feelings about this.  =)  It’s not an unpopular opinion, particularly in the scientific community. Some researchers even report being misled about the nature of Discovery’s programs prior to agreeing to take part in them, and argue that their statements were later taken out of context during the editing process.

      That very year, though, new Discovery Channel President Rich Ross promised that the network would stop airing such nonsense. “I don’t think it’s right for Discovery Channel, and think it’s something that has run its course. [Mockumentaries have] done very well… but I don’t think it’s something that’s right for us,” Ross told critics in February 2015. “Fake Stuff Out at Discovery Channel,” reported Deadline gleefully.

      But what about the programs that aren’t outright fiction, but still choose to emphasize the scarier side of sharks? Ross was named the permanent replacement for Eileen O’Neil, who, in 2014, shared this gem, from the aforementioned The Week article: “O'Neill defended Shark Week's more sensationalized programming, saying that ‘the culture right now... has certainly evolved to kind of appreciate the fear factor of sharks.’ This year's programming, she said, reflects ‘Americans' appetite to be absolutely be challenged on fear levels and fantasy levels and mystery levels, which I think you see throughout the television universe right now.’”

      What a load of chum.

      People don’t need help fearing sharks, Ms. O’Neill. I think it’s pretty fair to say that sharks are already considered terrifying man-eating machines by your average citizen, and that hampers conservation efforts intended to halt the killing of sharks for sport, for their fins, and — yes — out of fear; the annual death toll of sharks numbers in the tens of millions, with higher estimates approaching 100 million sharks killed per year. In contrast, shark bites typically number under fifty worldwide, with fewer than ten of those encounters being fatal. More people are killed by deer every year than they are by sharks; Bambi just has better PR than Jaws does. (If you’re curious, deer account for about 200 deaths per year.) When you consider the number of human beings in the water globally every single day, the number of people killed or injured by sharks is remarkably low. Problem is, it’s so frightening when it does happen that it looms larger in the public’s mind than much more common causes of death, not unlike the fear of dying in a plane crash when you’re statistically more likely to be killed in a car accident on your way to the airport. So, yeah, people already “kind of appreciate” the “fear factor” of sharks, and the majority of people aren’t interested in helping to save something they fear — no matter how vital to the balance of our ecosystem.

      (Incidentally, Rich Ross replaced Eileen O’Neil as the network’s president because O’Neil was promoted to Global Group President at Discovery Studios. Ross left the company last year, and it looks like his role was taken over by Nancy Daniels, whose claims to fame over at TLC include overseeing such classic series as “My 600-lb Life” and “90-Day Fiancé,” so, you know, that’s super encouraging.)

      Did Rich Ross keep his promise before his departure? Well, 2017 saw Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps hyped to “race” a great white shark, but at least Megalodon was left to rest in pieces (in the form of fossilized teeth) at the bottom of the ocean.

      I still don’t bother tuning in to Shark Week, but I DO love the way sharks are celebrated by other organizations as they ride the wave of this summer institution. Instead of sacrificing your brain cells watching “Capsized: Blood in the Water” (Discovery Channel’s first scripted, feature-length film, starring Josh Duhamel as some dude on a yacht that goes down in a storm and leaves the crew to fend off hungry tiger sharks — seriously? Seriously?), do yourself a favor and follow accounts like the Monterey Bay Aquarium (Instagram, Facebook), whose recent meme made me genuinely LOL:

      All that said, I, too, am definitely going to take advantage of this week by holding a contest to win one of my Kawaii Shark ita bags. More details to come!

      I leave you with one of my extremely rare comments on social media (heck, I’m not even good at responding to comments on my own posts); when someone I know shared this and it popped up on my timeline, I just couldn’t resist.

      I’m fun at parties.  =)

      C’mon, Discovery Channel. Do better. Do good. You have the power to make a difference — make it a positive one!

      (And, for the record, I used to swim with sharks as part of my job, so it’s not like I haven’t been in the water and touched these toothy bois myself. I talk the talk and swim the swim, baby.)

      Chihiro Howe draws the rest of the Rescue Sirens June 30, 2019 22:00

      From Jess: 

      Back in March, I shared a sketch of Rescue Siren Maris drawn by artist Chihiro Howe. Chihiro first drew an illustration of Kelby during our Mer-May 2017 fan art contest, and, ever since, Chris and I have really wanted to see her artistic take on the rest of our Miami Beach mermaids. Once Maris was done, we commissioned Chihiro to sketch the other four girls! (We figured we’d get a second Kelby to complete the 2019 set.) Chris and I then digitally colored each sketch.

      Without further ado, enjoy the collection!

      Once again, for more of Chihiro’s adorable artwork, just follow @chihirohowe on Instagram. For prints and your even your own sketch commission, check out Chihiro’s Etsy shop.

      Next up in July: San Diego Comic-Con approaches!

      Kawaii Shark Ita Bag and New Enamel Pins May 27, 2019 10:30

      From Jess: 

      My husband Chris and I have been itching to get into the enamel pin game for years. Before he met me, Chris had an enamel pin produced of Ogo, the main character from his webcomic "Kiskaloo" (around 2009 or 2010?); then, in 2012, we had four different pins made based on some of Chris's cute pin-up drawings. We didn't really know the first thing about pins, though, and we weren't super stoked with the results, so we've never sold any of those.

      In 2017, we decided to finally try again with our Chibi Rescue Sirens pins: five adorable, extra-cartoony pins of each Rescue Siren, along with the series emblem.

      By late 2018, I wanted to get more involved and level up our pin game. I teamed up with Kellee Riley, one of our wonderful "Rescue Sirens" artists and a great friend, and I learned all about the ins and outs of enamel pin design and production. (If you want amazing mermaid pins, they really don't get better than Kellee's, available in her Etsy shop.) Once I was semi-capable of adapting artwork into pins myself, I was off to the races! I've been cranking out new pin designs ever since, which we'll be debuting this July at San Diego Comic-Con.

      First up, though, is this gorgeous 2" Nim pin, which Kellee adapted flawlessly from her own artwork and I had produced: 

      Rescue Siren Nim mermaid enamel pin by Kellee Riley

      Isn't it stunning? I can't stop staring at it!

      The really awesome part: Kellee currently has a limited number of Nim pins for sale in her Etsy shop, so you can buy one RIGHT NOW! Please go throw money at her if you can; I'm so grateful to Kellee for being my "pin pal," and she deserves all the success in the world. (Not only because she's a wonderful person, but also because that means she can keep making pins! Mwahaha! I need my KelleeArt fix.)

      In addition to our Nim pin, I'm crossing my fingers that I'll have a Kelby pin finished and in-hand by SDCC, too. I've adapted Kellee's artwork for Kelby and the rest of the Sirens, and I'm currently deciding on the best pin manufacturing home for them that's capable of faithfully producing each design (glitter, screenprinting, and all).

      In the meantime, though, I have a sneak peek (read: factory photos) of two sets of pins that any ocean enthusiast or mermaid fan will want, whether that's to fill empty spaces in their pin boards or simply to add a little flair to a jacket lapel or hat (or whatever else you feel comfortable poking holes in, really).

      Tiny seashell filler pins
      Tiny seashell filler pins

      These itty-bitty 0.5" filler pins are inspired by the cute seashells and coral you can find on the beach in one of my favorite video games, "Animal Crossing." I love shell-shaped filler pins and use them all the time in my pin layouts, so I wanted to make my own set (including more than just your traditional scallops). This is the result!

      But that's not my biggest pin-related news this month.

      Have you heard of ita bags? An ita bag (which can take the form of a purse, a backpack, or a convertible combination of the two) has a main compartment for holding your items (phone, wallet, etc.) as well as a secondary compartment, which features a clear vinyl window. Within this compartment, you can display enamel pins, embroidered patches, pinback buttons, photographs -- whatever your heart desires!

      Ita bags have their origins in Japan, and they're quickly gaining popularity across the world. There are a lot of really appealing ita bag designs out there (and I own several!), but the type of bag that I wanted most didn't exist, so... I made it.

      Meet the Kawaii Shark ita bag, by Rescue Sirens.

      I'm so proud of it! I designed it from scratch, and it's everything I'd hoped for in an ita bag. What you see here is the first sample bag that I received from my manufacturer, with a revised sample waiting to be photographed (I added an interior label and altered the tooth position a tiny -- and I mean tiny -- bit). The front of the bag (the display compartment) is about 12" tall by 10.5" wide at its base, and the shorter main storage compartment behind that is about 4" deep, giving you plenty of room for both your pins and your daily essentials.

      How do you display your pins, you ask? While Kawaii Shark comes with a removable pink satin "pillow" to stick your pins to...

      Kawaii Shark ita bag by "Rescue Sirens: Mermaids On Duty"
      Kawaii Shark ita bag by "Rescue Sirens: Mermaids On Duty"

      ...I highly suggest using the pillow as a cutting guide and creating your own ita bag inserts using stiff felt. That's what I've been doing, and it works like a charm! I'll probably write a blog post next month demonstrating that and recommending my favorite felt, and showing off some of my favorite pin layouts displayed inside the bag.

      Once I nail down overall costs and decide on a retail price, my plan is to open up pre-sales in the "Rescue Sirens" Etsy shop. Pre-sales will be offered at a discount in thanks for being awesome and ordering early, and that will pay for the cost of mass production. Once the bags are produced and shipped here, I'll send them out to people who pre-ordered them, and then I'll sell the rest of them at the standard price. I expect the entire process to take about two months from the time mass production begins, assuming everything goes swimmingly.

      Sharks are such a passion of mine, and shark conservation is a big part of "Rescue Sirens," so I thought this would be the perfect bag to display Rescue Siren pins, Kellee Riley's mermaid pins, ocean-related pins, or anything else you can dream up. (I just made a "Jurassic Park" pin layout a couple of nights ago!) I can't wait to share this with all of you, and see what you come up with to display in your ita bag!

      If you're not doing so already, please follow us on Instagram for updates, and/or sign up for our mailing list to learn when our ita bag pre-sales go live (and for more information on when our pins are available).

      Mer-Made in the USA May 21, 2019 16:00

      From Jess: 

      This is not going to be a fun post, but I think it’s a necessary one. We'll return to your regularly-scheduled happy Mer-May news soon.

      In the past week, I have observed two American small businesses that I admire and support — a well-known mermaid tailmaker, as well as deluxe art book publisher Flesk Publications — struggling with the new 25% tariff being implemented on goods produced in and imported from China. These are smart people who are doing everything rightcreating things of beauty to share with all of us at prices we can afford, and now they're being forced to question their companies' futures.

      ”Well,” the knee jerk response seems to be, “just stop doing business in China!”

      Okay. Let me tell you a story  a story about a book.

      Chris and I printed our novel “Rescue Sirens: The Search for the Atavist” in the United States. Right here in Glendale, California, in fact! Both the hardcover first edition and the paperback second edition were printed and bound in the USA.

      There were a lot of advantages to this! We have a good relationship with our local printer and were happy to work with him again, we were able to drop in and see the books in progress, the entire process was really fast (we needed the first editions in time for San Diego Comic-Con 2015), and the books turned out beautifully both times. Chris and I like to support small businesses and to buy American when we can, and it was gratifying to know that the money we’d spent on printing the books was going back into our very own community.

      But there’s one big disadvantage: with all the books we’ve sold since 2015, we have not profited ONE CENT.

      ”Well,” asks the same person who suggested not doing business with China, “why don’t you just charge more for your books?”

      That’s an easy one: because people won’t pay what’s necessary for us to make money when printing in the United States.

      Here are some numbers for you. I don’t normally discuss finances this openly, but it’s vital in this situation to drive home my point.

      Illustrator fee: $8,000
      Colorist fee: $1150
      Printing/binding fee: $19,924
      Total cost: $29,074

      Printing fee: $16,442

      Those were the costs for 1,000 books each time, which makes figuring out the unit price really simple: $29.07 per hardcover, and $16.44 per paperback.

      We sell our books for $20 each.

      See where this is going?

      Every single copy of “Rescue Sirens: The Search for the Atavist” has been sold for a profit of about $3.56 (paperback), or for a loss of $9.07 (hardcover). Once we sell every copy of our novels, we will still be in the redAnd that’s not even taking into account the inevitable damaged books, gift and personal copies, or books we’ve sold through Amazon subject to their FBA fees (compounding the loss). We're just trying to fill the hole as much as we can.

      The thing is, Chris and I knew going in that we were going to lose money, but printing and selling these books was important to us and that was a sacrifice we were willing to make at that time. We figured we’d compensate for it in other ways. He and I are fortunate enough that we were able to take a loss in order to get the first “Rescue Sirens” book out there — but most people are not. If this was our livelihood, we would obviously be screwed.

      Let’s take a look at what we would have to charge in order to make this financially feasible. Keep in mind, we’ve already received plenty of complaints for selling our books for twenty bucks apiece! If we had, instead, offered them at 250% of our cost — which 1) pays for production, 2) provides us the same funds to print the books again, should we need to, and 3) earns us some actual profit on top of that — then we’d be charging $41 for the paperback and $73 for the hardcover. Do you think people are going to pay that for an 8.5"x5.5", 192-page novel? Because I can tell you that they won’t. I sure as hell wouldn’t.

      ”Well, why don’t you just sell the books digitally?”

      Yeah. We do that. You can purchase “Rescue Sirens: The Search for the Atavist” on Amazon for your Kindle or tablet/smartphone for $2.99. It’s almost pure profit for us. And, over and over, the feedback from customers has been, “I just prefer a book that I can hold in my hands.” Digital sales have been negligible (around five hundred “copies,” last I checked).

      So, tell me, what are Chris and I supposed to do when it comes time to print the next "Rescue Sirens" book and we don't want to (or can't) take another multi-thousand dollar hit? As I think this post has proven, keeping book production in the United States is unsustainable, and our current government is busy making it too expensive to work with overseas manufacturers, as well.

      Is the US-China relationship and how it relates to the state of American manufacturing today a problem that has an easy solution? Of course not. I would never claim that. It's complicated, and has been for decades. But punishing small businesses by charging them money for having their goods produced overseas at a cost that allows them to actually make a living isn’t helping.

      If these new duty taxes aren’t affecting you or someone you know now, they will be soon, even if it’s indirectly through the items you purchase. And if this keeps up, we’ll see a world in which products either cost a LOT more, or they simply cease to exist. I don’t want to lose beautiful fabric mermaid tails, or Flesk Publications’ gorgeous art books; I want to see these businesses (and the families behind them) thrive. That means something has to change... and these new tariffs need to go.

      Further reading:

      John Fleskes’ Facebook post about how the new tariffs are affecting Flesk Publications