Designer Emily Kelley has an ongoing TikTok playlist where she reviews new Taylor Swift merchandise whenever it drops. In one video from 2021, she shows a picture of a black crew neck sweatshirt that reads “Taylor’s Version.”
“I do think this is really cute,” she says. “But I could make it for, like, ten dollars, with my Cricut.”
Kelley does make Taylor Swift merch, with designs like flowers that represent each Swift album, or a visual representation of every song the singer has ever released. And she’s certainly not the only one.
Mashable writer Elena Cavender wrote an article in February 2023 about the rise of “subtle” fan-made merch, detailing various small businesses from a wide range of fandoms that sell reasonably-priced, handmade merch that evokes more subtle clues to fandom than traditional concert tees or giant posters.
Cavender points to research by Avi Santo, about fans and merchandise, that explores how media industries try to define fandom through consumerism.
“It’s an attempt to make fandom a lifestyle that fans pay corporations to have, rather than something that’s more organic and community-based,” Cavender writes.
But fans do value the tangential objects of fandom that connect them to one another — and their faves.
“Fans give their consumption an inherently private and personal nature that removes the object of consumption from the logic of capitalist exchange,” Santo writes.
In other words: when fans make goods to gift and sell to one another, they are creating an emotional connection; not just a capitalist one.
Lexy Jones, owner of a small Etsy business aptly named Lexy Styles, makes prints, stickers, keychains, and other small goods incorporating Harry Styles lyrics and themes.
When she started creating art around her favorite musicians in high school, she never realized it would lead to her undergrad degree in graphic communications — or a business that supports her studies.
“I think a lot more time and effort goes into making subtle, artist-coded merch. In my opinion, it’s much more intentional than just a hoodie with a giant photo of Harry Styles on it,” Jones says.
“Obviously, official merch is partly an advertisement for whatever tour or album it’s promoting, so it can’t really be too subtle, however, there is a special level of intentionality that small business owners have — to be able to take imagery from a song and turn it into a sticker that only the biggest of fans will understand.”
While there is certainly something to be said about self-branding, consumerism, and the fan economy, even at the hands of the fans themselves, Jones knows that it’s not just her brightly-colored designs that her followers and customers are there to see.
“No one is there that doesn’t want to be,” Jones says, of her over 28,000 Instagram followers.
“Even though we’re from all over the world, we all have at least one thing in common that brings us all together: our love of music.”
A version of this article was originally published in The 2023 Fandom Edition of the Goodnewspaper.
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