Locally Richmond is an occasional series of profiles that highlights the small businesses that contribute to making Richmond a unique community.
When does an artist know she has reached a milestone in her career? For Angela Jarman, she knew the minute her work was worn by models strutting down the catwalk of Victoria’s Secret fashion shows. Jarman makes fairy wings—small or big, as intricate or as simple as the client requests—and she is making a name for herself and her niche.
“I’ve been drawing since I was in third and fourth grade,” says Jarman, a Richmond artist. “I was always interested in the fantasy genre, and for a long while unicorns were my main subject matter and that is mostly all that I drew.” Soon after high school, Jarman decided to get into graphic art and design because her father told her it would be a more lucrative career, and easier to find work, than simply drawing pictures, which was “mostly true,” says Jarman.
In addition to being a graphic designer in the Bay Area, Jarman worked part-time at children’s parties doing face painting and dressing up as a princess or fairy.
Before long, Jarman was itching to make her own costume to wear at the events she was attending. “I really wanted an original fairy costume, and my favorite movies that inspired the look were The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth. In each movie there were these iridescent and insect-like fairy wings, instead of the glittery and pink fluffy wings,” says Jarman. “And so I tried to re-create that.”
For her first set of wings, Jarman used iridescent film, heat set vinyl, and wire. She met a photographer who worked at Avalon Arts, a studio in Vallejo, who had a fairy portrait series. Jarman traded her handmade wings for use at the studio in exchange for professional photos of her artwork. Next, she decided to see how well a pair of her wings would sell—when she posted an ad online, they sold almost immediately. Around 2003, she chose to make “fairy wing maker” her full time profession, and launched her own company, “Fancy Fairy Wings and Things!” Jarman continued to work at parties as well as working for a Halloween company until about 2013, before fully relying on wing making to support her financially.
Jarman works from her home, where her studio is colorfully decorated with fabrics, plastic flowers, glue guns, and sewing machines. Fairy sculptures and paintings cover the walls and shelves, adding inspiration in every corner. A mannequin in the corner next to her living room is wearing a set of light pink wings attached to a corset, ready to be photographed and listed for sale on Jarman’s website.
The process of making fairy wings begins with taking a template Jarman designs on Adobe Illustrator and sending it to a metal shop, where workers cut out the wing frames from large stacks of aluminum sheet. After that, each frame gets sanded by Jarman at her home then she takes them to get powdered at a local shop in Richmond. Next, Jarman brings them to her home to be laminated with an iridescent film and clear vinyl. Once the laminate is applied, Jarman heats the wings with a heat gun and she smoothes the surfaces down to be as wrinkle-free as possible. For the final step, Jarman cuts out the wings using a heat tool and attach them to a U-shaped back brace.
Jarman typically produces about 10 sets of wings a week and ships them all over the United States and Eastern Europe. A large majority of her clients are avid cosplayers, who wear the wings as part of their costumes to conventions, or Halloween enthusiasts looking to make an original outfit for a party or event. Until recently, she took commissioned orders. But once she found her waitlist was reaching 8 or 9 weeks out, to have a bit of relief and to better manage her time and work flow, she decided to re-format her business and only list sets of wings she had already completed and is ready to ship. All sales are made through her personal website or through her Etsy account.
While her business was rapidly growing on its own, Jarman’s seen growth in publicity since her wings were featured in the Victoria’s Secret fashion show in 2014 and 2015. “They found me through a Google search. That was my end goal and had been my dream to have my wings in the Victoria’s Secret fashion show,” says Jarman. “I thought, if that could happen then I knew I made it.” The show’s producers ordered one set of dragonfly wings, and once they received them they called Jarman back and ordered 4 or 5 more.
Last November Katy Perry wore Jarman’s wings for a holiday H&M advertisement. The wings were a see-through white. Jarman originally made them to be light-up wings with the assistance of her boyfriend Jordan Price, but since the set of the ad was all white, rhinestones were added to give the wings a little bit of sparkle under the lights of the cameras.
While Jarman says her sales did not skyrocket after this high-profile placement, she did see more increased interest in her wings for theater performers, photographers and costume designers.
Jarman has no plans to open up her own shop, but says she may try to find a private studio to do her work in the near future. Rather, she is more interested in meeting with other artists involved in fantasy costuming. “This year I am most interested in attending the Labyrinth of Jareth Masquerade Ball in Southern California, it is an event where the bigwigs of the movie and costume industry go,” says Jarman. “It would be a great place to begin to put a face to a name of the people who are buying my wings and to be around a community who appreciate the work that goes into them.”