Funko x Austin: The Business of Fandom
In its SXSW brand debut, "geeky Gucci" Loungefly shows the future for hometown print mavens and newly acquired portfolio pals Mondo
When Austin’s print mavens Mondo were acquired by Funko (they of the ubiquitous Pop! Figures) last year, some fans decried the death of the independent company they loved, sucked into a corporate merger. But this year’s presence at South by Southwest of another Funko acquisition, high-end pop culture accessories firm Loungefly, may have shown that Mondo’s corporate future doesn’t mean losing its independent spirit.
Loungefly Senior Vice President of Creative Liz DeSilva described their products as “wearable fan fashion,” or as Senior Vice President of Creative, Innovation & Vision Derrick Baca cheekily calls it, “geeky Gucci.” They described their SXSW debut as a way to introduce the brand to audiences who might not know it beyond its Disney mini backpacks, the de rigueur storage statement for the parks. Yet its inventory has grown beyond the House of Mouse, to Studio Ghilbli, sports, horror, and most especially Eighties and Nineties pop culture icons, including three new ranges announced during the Festival: plush bags for Eighties cartoon Popples, glow-in-the-dark bags for the 30th anniversary of Jurassic Park, and a new range for Strawberry Shortcake (in one of their biggest new technical innovations, the bags actually smell like the old dolls).
However, the event was also an opportunity to check in with their Austin counterparts at Mondo, a firm equally embraced by fandoms for its cool cachet. Brandon Wainerdi – director of marketing and community – started as a fan first, sleeping in his car for shows at the old Mondo Gallery before joining the firm two years ago. With the move to Funko, he said, “Obviously, it’s been a lot of big changes for Mondo during that time, but all very good ones.” Yet a lot has stayed the same, the mission driven by the artists and creatives in the team. “All the people who have worked for Mondo for years and years, they’re still here,” said Wainerdi.
Their experience under Funko is similar to what’s happened with Loungefly, where quality has never been sacrificed for scale. Baca said, “There’s a lot of licensed products out there, but it’s always a race to the bottom. ‘Oh, that’s too expensive, make it cheaper, make it cheaper’ ... We’re the opposite. We want to put more value into the bag. Our price points aren’t the cheapest, but people understand the quality that they’re getting.”
The biggest change for Mondo is in scale, and ability to tackle bigger IPs like The Batman and Spider-Man: No Way Home, while retaining that Mondo community. “How can we make sure that fans can get something that they’re interested in?” Wainerdi said. “Being able to interact with someone when they’re getting a poster, getting a toy, when they’re looking at our booth, that’s really what drives us.”
The Loungefly team also had a chance to catch up with Under the Sea, one of their online affiliates based out of Austin. Founded by fans and collector Isela Villarreal (the name comes from her own love of Disney’s The Little Mermaid) and her husband, “Our exclusives are nothing but passion projects,” she said. And they come from Under the Sea, rather than top-down decisions from Loungefly or Funko. “You should experience our brainstorming sessions when we come up with ideas. It’s a room full of passionate family members discussing every movie and show we’ve watched together, how they make us feel and how we want that translated into what we consider a piece of art: a Loungefly Mini Backpack. Every exclusive we’ve sold has a story behind it and we love wearing that story on our backs.”