Raina the Mermaid’s exquisite custom-made orange mermaid tail hangs over the edge of her underwater stage at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic. Children in the front row huddle around it in awe.
“Look mommy, a real live mermaid,” shouts a nine-year-old girl.
Raina starts off an afternoon of educational entertainment with some underwater music from her friend’s “shell phone” and a flap of her tail.
The real live mermaid
A lot of work goes into making appearances on land and in water when you work full time in the mermaid industry.
It takes 30 minutes from start to finish to wiggle into the tail, gather the appropriate amount of seaweed for your hair, apply rare sea jewels and give yourself that underwater glow.
Stephanie Brown, the entrepreneur behind Raina the Mermaid, has it down to a science.
“How many people get to wake up every day and go ‘this is my life, it’s so cool’?” said Brown. “I’m a mermaid. This is my real job.”
Raina’s tail comes all the way from California. Its state of the art draining technology, fiberglass fins and custom painted orange silicone cost the pretty price of around $4,000.
When she’s not performing underwater for birthday parties, music videos, or educating children on land, she’s managing her businesses: Halifax Mermaids, Atlantic Mermaids and Canadian Mermaids.
Brown turned her background in teaching and love of mermaids into something quite unique. She has managed to find a way to do what she loves, and “not in the traditional sense.”
The rabbit hole of mermaid culture
In the midst of the pressures of getting her degree in teaching, dealing with chronic pain, and being diagnosed with a learning disability, in 2007 Brown found herself “falling down the rabbit hole of mermaid culture.”
“At that time I didn’t think it would be a business,” said Brown. “I just thought it would be an amazing experience that I just wanted to take part in.”
Her first tail was plain and impractical, and her first time in the water “wasn’t as easy as I’d hoped it would be,” said Brown. “I had never taken into consideration that I was a terrible swimmer.”
By 2009 Brown had a new tail and was performing at birthday parties and doing some photography.
Brown says her professors had warned her about the difficulty of getting a teaching job upon graduating, but she always thought it would work out.
“It was very hard to give up the idea of being a classroom teacher,” she said.
Things started moving quickly after Brown made the decision to commit herself to the mermaid business.
“What started off with a garbage bag and a tail and a girl who couldn’t swim,” said Brown, has now “hit us like a wave.”
Mermaids: the new craze
“We like to joke that mermaids are the new vampires in the mer-world,” said Brown. “Ten years ago you couldn’t even find a book about us other than The Little Mermaid.”
Brown has published two books about how to be a mermaid and her own journey.
When Brown is not performing she’s teaching mermaid hopefuls or handling the business aspect of being a professional mermaid. Her mermaid business is growing so quickly she’s applied to the ADP small business grant contest for $10,000 this month in hopes of being able to keep up with demand.
“We’re hoping to buy a portable tank,” said Brown. “It would make our on-land gigs that much better.”
Information, imagination and inspiration have been part of Brown’s vision for Halifax Mermaids from the beginning.
The fusion of education and entertainment enables Brown to teach children about myths and legends surrounding mermaids from around the world, as well as the importance of protecting our oceans from plastic waste.
“Children learn best through play experience,” said Brown. “The imaginative world of mermaids can teach children information in a new and exciting way.”
In her case, the inspiration comes in the form of a tail.
“Even the world’s worst swimmer can put on a mermaid tail and feel like they are becoming this imaginative creature,” said Brown. “You get to slip into this other world which is so empowering.”
Tales and tails
Appearances like the one this week at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic are all part of Brown’s busy mermaid life.
Hundreds of children have been lining up to meet Raina after every session at the museum. They smile for a photo and wait for a personalized postcard from a real live mermaid.
Jenny Nodelman, marketing and events officer at the museum, says Raina’s presence ties in to their efforts to educate museum patrons about the sea, including legends and myths. She says many parents are happy to see their children so enthusiastic.
“Children are coming dressed up as mermaids and pirates,” said Nodelman.
Austin Wright was excited to see Raina the Mermaid. “I’ve never seen one before,” he said. “I like mermaids because they like to swim and I like to swim.”
Austin’s older sister, Kayla, says she likes mermaids because they “are very rare, and have tails and fins.”
Nodelman is happy that thanks to Raina, children and families are having fun at the museum.
“Hopefully it changes the mindset of young ones and families to see that the museum is a community space for families as well as a place of history and heritage,” said Nodelman.
For Brown, the fact that there are so many children excited about the mermaid world makes it all worth it.