For those who think mermaids are lost to centuries-old sailors’ tales, think again.
Thanks to Eric Ducharme, mermaids are no longer a myth, and anyone can get their one-of-a-kind tail.
Ducharme’s love of the enchanting sea creatures inspired him to launch his own business, The Mertailor, at 13 years old, to make mermaid tails for customers looking for a magical underwater experience. Based in Crystal River, The Mertailor sells custom-made spandex and silicone tails, so people can temporarily trade in their legs for one sleek fin.
“Growing up I was always really artistic, and I loved the underwater world,” the 24-year-old business owner said. “So it just all connected.”
The catalyst that sparked this obsession was a trip to Weeki Wachee Springs his grandparents took him on when he was 6.
The springs are one of Florida’s iconic attractions, famous for its mermaid shows, where women will put on tails and perform aquatic shows in the “Mermaid Theater.” It was in that theater where Ducharme became entranced by the mermaids gracefully gliding through the water.
“It was like my Disney World,” he said. “It was such a magical place because it was all natural…it wasn’t all plastic and fiberglass.”
Afterwards, he began crafting mermaid tails out of anything he could get his hands on.
“If I had scrap fabric or old clothes, he would utilize anything that he could to make a tail,” said his mom, Candy Ducharme.
She works as a seamstress for the spandex tails and is The Mertailor’s accountant. She said it was his grandmother who finally taught him how to sew when he was 9, so he could make a proper tail.
Ducharme was attending the Lecanto School of Art when he started performing in Weeki Wachee’s underwater shows and donating his tails for their mermaids to use.
“It got to a point, though, where I decided that Weeki Wachee was a brick wall,” he said. “They weren’t appreciating what I had to offer; they were more so taking advantage of my talents and my time.”
He said his time spent at Weeki Wachee Springs was a good foundation for his business, but he ultimately decided he wanted to focus more on developing The Mertailor.
Those efforts have paid off.
Some of his clients have included Lady Gaga and Saturday Night Live. His tails have been featured in various magazines, including a high-fashion editorial in W Magazine. He was also a subject on TLC’s television show, “My Crazy Obsession,” which aired in the U.S. last year and highlighted his all-encompassing love of mermaids.
“Being on TLC definitely assisted with the boost of our sales, without a doubt,” Ducharme said. “But it was going to come either way; I could just tell with the way things were going.”
He said that when TLC pitched him to the world, they focused more on him as a merman, rather than focusing on his work making the tails. But he said being on the show allowed people to research more about him. Ducharme said he gets recognized even when he’s pumping gas.
“We’re at the gas station and people are like, ‘Oh my gosh, you’re the dude that was on TLC. You’re the merman dude!’”
The Mertailor recently moved into a new office space to keep up with the expanding business. Ducharme works there with his mother, Candy, and his boyfriend, Matthew Quijano.
Quijano heard all about the mertail business on his first date with Ducharme.
“I figured he was just screwing around with me…but then he showed me his work, and I was blown away,” Quijano said.
Quijano is an artist himself and mostly focused on drawing, but he delved into clay sculpting after Ducharme asked him for help on a new tail project. Almost five years later, they are still collaborating together to come up with new designs and innovations.
“It is probably one of the most amazing, enchanting experiences to be able to make dreams come true,” Ducharme said. “Because that is what we do.”
Airbrushed mermaid bikini tops sit on a table to dry. Customers can buy the tops on the Mertailor’s website for a complete mermaid look.
Ducharme and Quijano take measurements of the clay so they can determine how long the sculpted tail should be. Cardboard cutouts of potential new fluke shapes are hung on the wall behind them.
Matthew Quijano draws the outline of a tail on clay to make a new, intricate scale pattern.
Ducharme evens out the blue-dyed silicone over a scale-patterned mold. He said a completed silicone tail can weigh 25-30 pounds, but in water it feels almost weightless.
Quijano rolls up a ball of clay to make each individual scale. He is working on a new pattern that incorporates both large and small scales.
Ducharme tests an airbrush behind a plastic curtain, which contains the paint fumes. He says that since they have moved into their new office space, they now have the room for a designated airbrushing station.
Colored scale patterns hang on a drying rack. Ducharme said no two tails are exactly the same.
A finished tail lies on a table. A full silicone tail costs about $2,700, with additional costs for more customization.
A finished tail is matched with the customer’s color specifications. Ducharme said no two colors will end up being exactly the same because they are all mixed and airbrushed by hand.