In the Wild World of AK, celebrities wear comfy clothes covered in fellow celebrities’ faces.
Stars like Ruby Rose, Billie Lourde, Drea de Matteo, Kiernan Shipka, Noah Cyrus, Tana Mongeau, Chloe Fineman, Heidi Gardner and Jen Selter have all rocked Allison “AK” Kirwan’s one-of-a-kind merch — and you can, too.
What began eight years ago as a hobby of illustrating famous people as mermaids (because she “couldn’t draw legs and feet well”) has blossomed into a bustling business featuring what could be described as your favorite sticker book from when you were a kid, but like, as apparel.
Kirwan, 29, “decided to go full time” with her quirky company after getting laid off from her retail gig at the start of the coronavirus pandemic. It was the perfect time for Wild World of AK to flourish because everyone was stuck at home, online shopping, and craving both comfort and fun.
“That was a big growth stage,” she tells Page Six Style in an exclusive interview. “Everybody was in sweatpants mode. … The orders were coming in.”
Admittedly “not a TikTok person,” Kirwan recalls receiving a “wave of orders out of nowhere” after internet personality Tana Mongeau, 24, wore a pair of tie-dye sweatpants covered in screen-printed Louis Vuitton purses in a viral video.
“That’s when the all-over print stuff took off, so I kind of ditched the mermaid [merch] a little bit,” the Rhode Island native tells us.
Kirwan admits she “had no idea” “Orange Is the New Black” star Ruby Rose, 36, was even a customer until “somebody DM’d” her a selfie the actress took in the designer’s Dennis Rodman sweats.
“That was a fun surprise!” she says.
But with other big names, like “Sopranos” star Drea de Matteo, Kirwan has not shied away from “shooting [her] shot.”
“I did a [photo] shoot with the all-‘Sopranos’ characters [merch] and then I tagged her in it. And a ‘Sopranos’ [Instagram fan] account posted it and then I got the follow from her,” the young creative tells us of de Matteo, 50, who played fan-favorite character Adriana La Cerva in the hit drama series.
She adds that “Mad Men” star Kiernan Shipka, 23, and “Scream Queens” actress Billie Lourde, 30, have also “been really supportive” of her Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) pieces.
Just as her now-defunct Etsy shop was taking off, Kirwan says she was “kicked off” the e-commerce website over some of her mermaid drawings, which surprised the designer because she does them “all by hand” with “marker and pen.”
“That was my whole livelihood,” she recalls of her online store getting abruptly “closed down” with “hundreds” of unfilled orders.
“But it’s good, though, because now I have my own website,” she adds, noting that Etsy tends to “charge so many fees for smaller artists.”
Though her company has grown immensely, Kirwan is still a one-woman show.
“It’s fun to be your own boss — but also scary, too,” she tells us, adding that she’s also the company’s only employee.
“It’s just me!” she says with a nervous laugh. “I’m trying to figure out the next step of getting stuff out quicker and handle this volume change because with these viral celebrities, it’ll be like 100 orders out of the blue.”
Despite her successes, Kirwan admits she’s faced quite a bit of discouragement from chasing her dreams. It didn’t help that she felt forced to pursue photography in college “because there was no fashion major” where she went to school.
“I wanted to do it all,” she tells us.
So she “saved up” the money she received from graduation gifts — around $1,000 — and “got the first round [of mermaid T-shirts] screen printed.”
Now, not only does she own and operate her own business, but she also takes “all the photos” of her products for her website, giving her the complete creative autonomy she’s always wanted.
So what would she tell other aspiring artists in similar shoes? Nothing a WWE Superstar wouldn’t advise!
“Do not give up. I sound like John Cena, but don’t give up,” she insists.
“You just have to keep going for it. I almost gave up so many times thinking it wouldn’t work or slow sales, but just keep going. And do what you love, which is generic, but follow your heart and your passion. It’ll work out if you put the work in.”
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