Mermaids wash up on Brackett’s Landing North

Trio hopes to one day open a ‘mermaid cafe’ in Edmonds
By Brian Soergel | Aug 21, 2019
Courtesy of: Lee Lageschulte From left: Synfonia, Orlaithe (pronounced Orla), and Linyenea, the Salish Sea Sirens, entertain a crowd at Brackett’s Landing North on Aug. 18.

You weren’t seeing things.

Three mermaids emerged from their natural habitats to wash up on the rocky jetty at Brackett’s Landing North in Edmonds on Sunday, wowing both the wide-eyed curious and those eagerly awaiting their scheduled appearance.

But while these mermaids – like all mermaids, really – found it difficult to walk outside their watery home, they had no problem playing musical instruments with their human hands while singing and sharing stories.

Naturally, there’s a story behind the aquatic trio – which calls itself the Salish Sea Sirens – one that centers on their human roots in south Snohomish County.

Wait, don’t sirens lure sailors to their deaths, their lilting voices causing ships to dash upon the rocks?

Nope. These are nice sirens.

According to Jenisa Barr, aka Orlaithe (pronounced Orla) of the Salish Sea Sirens, the three – including Jillian (Linyenea) and Shae (Synfonia) – connected through their mutual interest in making and wearing mermaid tails. Simple, really.

Jenisa met Jillian at a park event shortly after she joined the Seattle “pod” (what they call their mermaid swimming meet-up group), and met Shae at a Renaissance Faire after that. They became friends through swimming meet-ups, and gradually learned that they all lived fairly close to each other.

Jenisa, 31, a nanny who previously worked as a college arts administrator, lives in the Pinehurst neighborhood of north Seattle; Jillian, 32, lives in Shoreline and is an engineering manager for a software company; and Shae, 30, is a yoga instructor and bookstore product manager who was born in Edmonds and lives in Lynnwood. (Jillian and Shae did not want their last names used.)

They became a business trio last fall.

“We crafted together often, making crowns and hair clips and jewelry, and sewed tails out of fabric we had printed,” Jenisa said. “During the dark months, we would escape after our kids went to bed (she has a 4-year-old, and Jillian has a 3-year-old) to local pools, to model our crowns underwater, practice tricks and try out our newest tails, and emerge to go to late night business meetings at pubs and bars.”

The were often soggy and red-eyed from chlorine, but still managed to hang onto their underwater makeup and crowns.

“Jillian was able to build our website using all of our own photos,” said Jenisa, “thanks to those post-bedtime photo swims.” Shae set up and runs most of the Salish Sea Sirens’ social media, and Jenisa drew and designed their logo.

After getting their business license, the trio set out to sell their handmade items at fairs and festivals, performing as mermaids (separately or as a group), and offering mermaid photo shoots.

They’re all stocked up.

“We have a specialized camera housing for underwater shoots,” said Jenisa, “a set of rental tails, tops, wigs, and accessories to deck out our clients, and mermaid face paint to complete the transformation. At parties, we bring live music and sing-alongs, games, crafts, and generally behave in character.”

So far this summer, the trio has hosted a booth at the Edmonds Spring Fest from Urban Craft Uprising, performed at a two-day renaissance faire in Yelm, been to a few birthdays (one with the Seattle Mermaids at the Harbor Square Athletic Club in Edmonds), and modeled during a two-day mermaid pinup photo shoot in partnership with NW Pinup Posse.

Sunday at the beach

This Sunday, the mermaids broke into three lines to each meet and take photos with children, answer questions about life under the waves, give tail high-fives, and hand out their no-touch sea life "treasure hunt" coloring sheets and natural gem gifts.

“It was a low tide, so we talked a lot about the things that kids might find in their beach exploration, like tidepool sculpin and ochre sea stars,” Jenisa said.

“This was the first time we'd organized anything solely for our business and not as part of a larger fair or festival, so we certainly took home some notes on how to improve the experience for that many people, which we estimated at over 500, such as better line forming areas with clear margins and shade, limiting the numbers of people waiting, and printing far more than double the amount of postcards and kids' coloring sheets.

“We ended the day at 3 p.m. by scooting down to the now-incoming water, and swam away to ‘disappear’ around the jetty, which felt like heaven, after sitting in direct sun over 80 degrees for three hours.”

Why mermaids?

“Why mermaids? Because that's who we are at heart,” Jenisa said. “We love singing, enchanting people with music, art, scenery, and colorful costumes, and celebrating friendship and body positivity. We love living in a world where we can be friends with ocean life, swim all day, and make fantasy our home.

“It feels like magic to get to do that. We're not alone, either. Though kids may be our biggest fans, there are hundreds of other adults who want to live in this ‘wave’ of pop culture as well.”

Jenisa admits that mermaiding is an expensive hobby. It can cost thousands for a tail and shells, or hundreds of hours in crafting if you're skilled enough to make your own. She said the Salish Sea Sirens aim to make tails and transformations more easily accessible and friendly to local hobbyists, which is why they opt to sell tails made from fabric instead of high-priced neoprene or silicone, and with less danger from heavy materials or unwieldy flukes.

“Right now,” said Janisa, “we're working on ironing out our production – like sizing and sewing consistency – and we hope to open for online orders soon.”

The home beach, and future plans

As Salish Sea Mermaids have built their business, Edmonds has become what they call their “home beach.”

“We've done five or six appearances/photo shoots at Brackett's Landing, and we consider it the place where our characters live,” said Jenisa.

“We've met with the Small Business Development Center representative at Edmonds Chamber of Commerce, and our big dream is to open a brick-and-mortar mermaid cafe someday together, and Edmonds would be our ideal place. That or Hawaii, right?”

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