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Eric Ducharme started Mertailor LLC in 2006, when he was just 16 years old and performing as the prince in Weeki Wachee Springs Little Mermaid show. Now 22, he’s made realistic, hand-painted custom mermaid tails for a range of clients as diverse as Lady Gaga, RuPaul’s Drag Race contestants, Target, and Saturday Night Live. Not to mention for all manner of child and adult who dream, as he has for as long as he can remember, of other worlds. Some kids want to grow up to become firefighters or superheroes, Eric says, but all he ever wanted to be was a merman.

Mermaids have been a part of Eric’s life for as long as he can remember. He grew up in the shadow of the Weeki Wachee Springs, Florida’s legendary roadside mermaid attraction, and was enthralled from the first time his grandparents took him to see the parks underwater theater, where a beautiful gold-tailed creature swam across the window, waving and blowing kisses to the audience. When Eric turned six, his father surprised him by having two glimmering mermaids swim up to the dock at Weeki Wachee’s waterpark, Buccaneer Bay, where Eric sat eating his birthday cake, so they could all chat and the mermaids could give the boy a birthday kiss and, with it, seal his fate.

He was still a kid when he started making tails out of anything he could find, including garbage bags, glue, masking tape, and the sheets off his own bed. He sewed his first fabric tails with a needle and thread, and later, after a few lessons from his grandmother, a sewing machine. At age nine, Eric attended his first camp at Weeki and finally got to swim in the springs himself. This is where he met former mermaid Barbara Wynns, who gave him his first tail, got him scuba certified, and imparted to him all her secret mermaid knowledge. For years she picked him up every day after school and on the weekends and took him to swim at the park, and they remain best friends to this day. Eric was 14 when he began donating his own tails to Weeki, and then filling actual orders. It was only a matter of time before he began performing as a merman while also making a real business out of his passion for enabling magical transformations by providing the most realistic, jaw-droppingly gorgeous tails possible.

Today, Eric creates tails from materials like silicone, urethanes, and latex rubbers. He continues to experiment with new materials and forms, and wont stop until his tails are as real as fish scales and ocean reefs, and available to every aspiring mermaid and merman who dreams of life in the sea.