Little girls love fairytales, princesses, and playing dress up. I mean, it’s a girl thing. Eventually this childhood play gives way to the awkward tweens and boys and all that stuff. But for Wheeling’s 20-year old Aspen Matlock, fairytales and make- believe were the genesis of an idea that grew into Party Princesses, a profitable business venture that has taken off quicker than Aladdin’s flying carpet.
Aspen, daughter of Dennis and Connie Matlock of the Dimmeydale section of Wheeling, is an amazing young woman with a vibrant personality. She’s also a criminal justice student at West Virginia Northern Community College aiming for a career with Homeland Security – a far cry from Cinderella and make-believe princesses and faeries.
The idea of a costume-themed business that would provide entertainment for kids’ parties was generated by Aspen’s Instagram following of a California-based performance artist involved in “Cosplay.” According to Wikipedia, “Cosplay is a performance art in which participants called cosplayerswear costumes and fashion accessories to represent a specific character or idea. Cosplayers often interact to create a subculture centered on role play and a broader use of the term “cosplay” applies to any costumed role play in venues apart from the stage.”
“I loved to dress up in costumes as a kid, and I took dance and figure skating, so I figured that I could do something like that,” the affable young lady explained. And so Party Princesses was born.
The enthusiasm in her voice is catching as she recalls how she got her first costume pattern similar to what is worn by Elsa and Anna, the most recent Disney fairytale characters that have taken the world, yes, the world, by storm via the movie screen and the associated merchandising that comes with it. Her sister, Holland, a senior at Wheeling Central Catholic High School, had a friend whose grandmother agreed to sew the costumes.
And so the story continues.
“Once I got the costumes I created a Facebook page and made a flier that the owner of Sikora’s Montessori School agreed to hand out to her students’ mothers. That’s how I got my first party,” Aspen said, noting that word-of-mouth among the parents spread the word.
Aspen explained that when she and her sister were younger, they were at Disney World and people often commented upon how much she and Holland resembled Disney characters. Aspen decided that she and her sister should work together to make appearances at children’s parties as characters similar to the Disney duo Elsa and Anna. Holland hadn’t seen the movie when her big sister decided that she would be perfect to play the part of one of the duo, but the hair color was wrong. She needed red hair with a streak of white in it.
“Holland said ‘okay, whatever’ and dyed her hair to match. My mom thought it was hilarious,” Aspen said! So, the die was cast, or maybe it was the hair dye that was the deciding factor, for this sibling duo to go full steam ahead with Party Princesses.
Aspen’s dad took over the technical side of the business to make sure the appropriate tax ID was in place, taxes, and all that in order, since Party Princesses was getting busy with parties every weekend after the initial start-up. Initially, Aspen thought appearing at parties in costume would be just “a nice extra-curricular activity.” The fact that she was making money appearing in costume at birthday parties all over the city offered a bit of an added incentive to expand her repertoire of characters. She had any potential copyright issues resolved via an attorney.
Party Princesses may be making some dough, but Aspen has a prudent head on her shoulders, according to Connie Matlock. Each party’s fee is divided into thirds. The sisters each get a third, the other goes into the business account. Costumes, etc., need to be sewn. And if Holland isn’t available, she has a friend, Emily Martin, who helps out and is Aspen’s “go to girl.” For princesses that Aspen can’t portray, such as the frog princess and the Powhatan Princess, her friend Braedyn West, a sophomore at The Linsly School, takes over those parts and has helped at several parties. Cole Roesing, a junior at Wheeling Central, plays the pirate and Prince Eric and perhaps a few superheroes.
Aspen’s business continues to thrive, with at least two parties each week for children whose parents want that special fairytale factor that makes little girls giggle with glee to meet a real princess or fairy. Aspen has appeared at various locations, including parties held in homes, church centers, and at Art with a Twist at the Centre Market. The sister duo appeared as the Snow Queen and Snow Princess on the Carpet Showcase Flooring Center float in the Wheeling Christmas parade.
“That was a lot of fun,” Aspen quips. “I remember all the children’s faces that saw us. They were so happy, they would yell for us to wave at them.”
Aspen has also appeared at the Augusta Levy Center and the Saint Clairsville Public Library. At the Augusta Levy Center the Snow Queen appeared at the holiday season rather than Santa. Aspen said the children were “too afraid” of Santa. At the Saint Clairsville library she shared the spotlight with Santa Claus.
Still in awe of her success, Aspen says, “I had no idea this would take off like it has. I was hoping I could make a little bit of money with maybe two or three a month. This is definitely way over what I expected!”
Aspen also credits her mother, a 20-year veteran pre-school teacher, as her inspiration. There were no “ordinary” birthday parties for Aspen and Holland. Connie made everything magical for her daughters on their special days. Aspen has wonderful memories of treasure hunts, dragons, magicians, clowns, Minnie and Mickey, and so many other themed birthday parties.
“My mom would work for months to make the party favors. They were just the best parties,” Aspen wistfully recalls.
Ironically, there was never a princess party!
Recently, Aspen had a new dress made for one of her cast of characters. The repertoire now includes a Snow Queen, Snow Princess, Golden Princess, Fairy Blossom, Fairy Godmother, Princess Ella, Princess Snow, Powhatan Princess, Tink Fairy, Princess Beauty, Frog Princess, Beautiful Mermaid, Blue Fairy, Pirate, Prince Eric, and Rapunzel. She will soon have a roster of superheroes so that she can do more parties for boys.
Although the Party Princesses are super busy, there’s more to this story. These young women never seem to let grass grow under their feet. Aspen also works as a cashier at the Mount de Chantal Kroger part-time, goes to school, and teaches snowboarding at Oglebay, where she and Holland both work at the Good Zoo in warm weather. Holland also works the concession stand at the ski area.
At one point, Aspen tried to contact the person on Instagram who does CosPlay to ask for some tips, etc., but there has been no reply. Aspen said she just wanted to let her know that she influenced her to start her own business. Yes, she’s that kind of person – gratitude comes second nature to Aspen Matlock; just ask her mother.
When asked if she was surprised by the success of Party Princesses, Connie said “I figured if she started it off the right way it would really go. When my girls were growing up and I was so busy with teaching, I would have jumped on the idea of having something like Party Princesses at parties.”
Openly proud of her daughters, Connie attends some of the parties if it looks like an extra hand is needed. Her teaching experience with little kids gives her an added insight into what this age group likes so she’s able to offer the girls some pointers. However, Connie proudly notes, “she’s held her own.” But it’s more than just succeeding at Party Princesses that makes the Matlock’s proud of their Aspen.
There’s also a very benevolent facet to Aspen’s personality that makes her parents even more pleased with her success.
“Aspen recently started talking about giving 10 per cent of all she earns to a different charity each month. The first one was to Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City,” Connie said.
Not only that, Aspen has had requests to do videos in costume for children who have cancer and for a little girl with Downs Syndrome. Connie said Aspen did a video for a little girl with just a month to live. Aspen personalized the video by using the child’s name and talking directly to her. And she does it free of charge.
“She has never gotten paid for this type of work. The words never leave her mouth about payment for this service. I’ve told her,” Connie adds, “you give, and you get, and you receive. You never take, take, take. I am so proud of her. She never complains,” Connie says when a request of this kind comes her way.
Growing up, Connie recalls that Aspen always enjoyed the fantasy word. Despite the fact that her daughters are “polar opposites,” they work well together. While playing the Anna and Elsa type characters, each girl is playing someone with a personality totally opposite their own nature, something that Connie finds amusing. Holland always has been the super-organized daughter, while Aspen is the free spirit, completely opposite of their make-believe counterparts, Connie laughed.
The Party Princesses are going strong these days, delighting little girls and boys celebrating birthdays. Their Facebook page is full of pictures from their costumed appearances, including a recent surprise appearance at the end-of-year skating party for the Wheeling Figure Skating Club. The princesses skated along with the children and posed happily for pictures by the entranced youngsters.
What’ next on the agenda for Wheeling’s youngest entrepreneur? Aspen says she will continue Party Princess parties after completing her two-year associate degree at WNNCC. She eventually wants to obtain a master’s degree on a path to a career in the Department of Homeland Security. Holland will attend West Virginia University to study for a career in pediatric oncology after graduation from Wheeling Central this spring. In the meantime, Wheeling’s newest businesswomen can rightly claim the title of Wheeling’s Royal Family!
photos by Wallis