It is easy to watch magical things happen when you are near Flying Ox Creations. Rachel Lewis’s felt masks, wings, and tails can turn any kid into a superhero, a dragon, or a kitten. These quality handmade costumes foster the imagination and spark creative play. In a high tech world it is a delight to see how simple it is to excite and engage children and adults alike. With a focus on soft textures and a penchant for humanitarianism, Flying Ox Creations is a simple concept with a lot of substance. Busy bee and creator, Rachel Lewis, took some time to dig a little deeper on what it means to don a mask and transform.
Maker Market: How and when did Flying Ox Creations start?
Rachel Lewis: My daughter can be really sensitive to the way things feel, and mass-produced costumes tend to make her itchy and super crabby. But she loves to dress up, so what is a mama to do? I made a couple sets of butterfly wings and a flamingo Halloween costume for her a couple years ago and then started giving them away to friends and family. I realized that I really LIKE making costumes, and a business was born. I put up an Etsy shop last March, so officially, I started not quite a year ago.
MM: How did you come up with the name Flying Ox Creations?
RL: Without getting too much into the specifics, I feel like oxen pop up a lot in my life. And I like them – they’re a solid, hard-working, get-things-done kind of animal, and these seem like good aspirational qualities for someone whose thoughts are usually bouncing around in a million directions. But I also love the idea of one of these strong, earth-bound creatures getting wings and a chance to fly. It’s a silly visual that brings me joy.
MM: What inspired you to start making kids masks and costumes?
RL: In an increasingly digital world, there are so many really cool ways to play that involve technology – but it’s also so important for kids to engage in imaginative, creative, active play. I want this for my daughter, and for as many other kids as I can stick my costumes on! Additionally, having a child who is sensitive to the way things feel showed me that there is a hole in the costume market – and while my masks/tails/wings are not necessarily specifically for kids with sensory issues, I want them to be comfortable and wearable for all kids, especially those who may have trouble finding something comfortable at a large retailer. I was also unimpressed by the quality of a lot of the mass-produced costumes I was seeing – kids play hard, and from a parental standpoint, it really sucks when that thing your kid is in love with falls apart after a little while.
MM: How do you decide what to make? Can you describe your creative process?
RL: My daughter is full of suggestions, and as she is my target demographic I really appreciate her input. I try to pick animals that have distinct, easily-identifiable facial characteristics that will translate well to felt. And then I look at a bunch of pictures of the animal, including cartoons, draw them out on paper, trace onto felt, cut, sew, make adjustments, repeat. Everything is hand-cut, and I do most of the sewing on the machine. It’s a really fun challenge to take something that is originally 3-D, the animal, and translate it to the 2-D flat mask. In a way it will become 3-D and animated again when the wearer puts it on their face.
MM: Did you play “dress up” as a kid? What kind of kid were you?
RL: I did, yes. I don’t think I ever in my life had an actual store-bought costume, and my mom was kind of a wizard at turning household items into costume props. We lived in Yemen, where you couldn’t just pop over to Target and get a superhero costume, so we had to get creative. I also spent a TON of time with my nose in a book, and I really liked stories that featured talking animals or time-travel.
MM: What do you think it is about putting on a mask that fosters imagination?
RL: I think that when you put on a mask, you get to be something or someone else for a minute, and we ALL want a chance to escape our own identity from time to time. Obviously, you can pretend to be a lemur without having a lemur mask on your face, but I think the mask is a little spark that gives you permission to really go for it.
MM: Last year you donated 10% of your profits to Big Home Academy. Can you describe your connection to this school in Ethiopia and why you decided to donate to it?
RL: We went to Ethiopia last year to visit my sister and her family, who live in Addis Ababa. The gentleman who started Big Home Academy works as a guard at the international school where my sister works, and she has gotten to know him that way. We visited BHA, and I was blown away by the love and passion I felt there. Basically, the founder is just a regular guy who saw a dire need for a school in his very low-income community and works really hard to make it happen. He is not rich by any stretch of the imagination, but he is so committed. He inspired me, and I wanted to help, even in just a small way. Getting to play dress-up is kind of a luxury compared to having a safe place to learn.
MM: What are some of your top sellers?
RL: Pink and purple kitties, all the live long day.
MM: Will you have any new and exciting offerings at the upcoming Maker Market?
RL: Yes! Super adorable bunnies and carrots for Easter baskets (down with jelly beans, up with masks!) Also making their Maker Market debut are beavers, lions, giraffes, cows.
MM: What is currently inspiring you? Music? Film? Blogs? IG accounts? ect…
RL: The list is long. We watch a lot of Wild Kratts in this house, and I would be lying if I said they didn’t inspire some of my animal choices. I have a life-long love of National Geographic and am straight-up obsessed with the National Geographic IG feed. There are so many unbelievable artists on IG – a few I especially love are @helenahpornsiri, who makes the most insane illustrations out of pieces of fern and @blrothshank, an incredible miniaturist. The Milwaukee Public Museum. Anything narrated by David Attenborough. Richard Scarry books. Lots of kids books, actually. I think that masks make beautiful gifts when paired with a book about the same animal. It’s really fun for me to look at books and think about masks that could go along, and vice versa.
Find Rachel Lewis and Flying Ox Creations at the upcoming Maker Market this Saturday at Discovery World. Or to find these amazing adorable creations online head to https://www.etsy.com/shop/Flyingoxcreations