High Fashion: This Woman Gets Paid to Make Stunning Dresses… Using Balloons
Picture a balloon artist.
I see a clown slathered in white face paint and a big red smile -- the kind still smiling even when he’s not. (And yeah, for some reason the clown’s a he.) Curly red hair, too. And he’s probably got a pouch around his waist with a bunch of sad, uninflated balloons.
Now erase that -- because it’s a little creepy.
Instead, picture an attractive 20-something. Her long brunette hair is draped over a colorful cluster of balloons, which -- big and small, long and short -- are all tied and twisted together to create wearable art.
Sometimes she stands on stilts, allowing for several extra feet of balloons to billow beneath her torso.
This is Molly Munyan -- better known as Molly Balloons. She’s the creator and sole proprietor of Molly Balloons, and she makes a living by creating and wearing balloon art.
How Does One Become a Professional Balloon Artist?
Well, it all kinda, sorta started with a little white lie.
One year for her birthday -- she thinks it was her 9th -- Munyan’s mom got her a book that explained how to make balloon animals. Munyan had always been the creative type, so she’d make little creations when she was bored.
Fast forward about six years to her freshman year of high school. Munyan, who is based in Kansas City, Missouri, picked balloons back up “for kicks and giggles,” she says.
Soon, people were asking if she did parties. “Oh, uh… sure!” she’d say.
That fall, Munyan reached out to her local Chick-fil-A. And lied.
“I told them I was a professional balloon artist,” she says. “I asked them if they could hire me for some kids events.”
They said yes, so Munyan went out and bought a balloon apron, created a Facebook page, made business cards and showed up to Chick-fil-A pretending to be a professional.
It didn’t take long for her to realize she could actually make something of her quirky art.
During her junior year of high school, she branched outside of dogs and hats and swords -- among other common requests -- and started exploring balloons as an art. That’s when she made her first balloon dress.
“I was like, ‘Hmm… maybe this is what I do,’” she says.
Munyan set a goal: She’d create and wear a balloon dress for her senior homecoming. She’d get herself nominated for homecoming court, so she could walk down the field in her dress. She was fine not being the homecoming queen -- she just wanted some publicity.
But she actually won. “That’s really when I realized the power of balloons,” she says.
By time she walked across the stage at graduation, Munyan had never worked a minimum-wage gig like many of her classmates. Instead, she’d made money using her balloons.
That’s when knew she could create a full-time career from her balloon art.
“I don’t know if there’s a moment where I was like, ‘I’m Molly Balloons!’” she says. “I was just like ‘Why wouldn’t I do this? I’m a working artist, and I haven’t even graduated yet.’”
From Balloons to a Dress: How She Does It
Munyan offers a lot of balloon-related services, including decorations and live entertainment. But arguably her most awe-inspiring creations are her dresses.
“The whole schtick is that you’ve never seen dresses like this before,” she says. “Anytime I show up in a balloon dress, it’s so shocking because no one has seen a balloon dress before -- probably, I mean, most likely.”
She says these beauties are a great marketing tool, too.
When the Kansas City Royals landed in the World Series last year, she made a dress for each game, which garnered tons of attention from local news outlets. Even Cosmopolitan picked up on her work.
Munyan says it’s the live element that’s so appealing -- other dressmakers aren’t doing that. But it’s also what makes creating these dresses a challenge.
“I’m the worst time-manager,” Munyan says. She can’t start a creation too early because, well, deflation. On the other hand, she can’t wait too late because then she won’t finish on time.
She says the dresses take anywhere from 8 to 17 hours to make. She once cranked one out in six hours. She created eight dresses in three days for a fashion show in March.
Then there’s the popping element. Something always pops, but it’s repairable; she doesn’t have to scrap the whole thing and start over.
Heat can also be an issue.
Other times, the balloons just don’t cooperate.
“I always said if I have anger issues, I wouldn’t be able to do what I do,” Munyan says. “You have to be so patient with this medium.”
How Much Does She Earn Making Balloon Dresses?
Like many other art forms, these babies sell for a lot more than they cost to make.
The most expensive materials Munyan has to buy are Quick Link balloons (or Link-O-Loons) -- the ones with the little nubs for linking. She usually gets about 100 for $10. Other balloons, like the long skinny ones, are about $6 for 100.
Short cocktail dresses usually cost her about $10 to make. What she calls stilt dresses -- super long ones -- cost about $40.
Retail value? The balloon dresses sell between $500 to $1,200.
And if Munyan’s the one sporting it, she’s also paid per hour for her appearances. It’s a live art installation and photo opportunities.
“That’s just what I love to do anyways -- be the life of the party, inspire awe, be the center of attention,” she says. “That’s just a blast.”
When asked about her team, she laughs. It’s just her, but she hopes to soon hire an assistant or manager.
Munyan’s Advice: Find Your Niche
Balloon art showcases all of Munyan’s strengths: It’s artistic, theatrical and outgoing. That’s what pushed her to pursue it as a career.
And that’s what makes her -- and her art -- so special.
“No one is you, and that’s your power, especially if you’re a creative,” she says. “You have to find out what your niche is and how you can exploit that. You have to stand out.”
Once she figured out how to stand out and created her own market, she had to figure out how to make money (i.e. “Hi Chick-fil-A, I’m a pro.”).
Perhaps most challenging, Munyan has had to learn how to run a business.
At 17, she figured out how to send invoices, manage emails and her time, as well as schedule events.
She’s also had to deal with being a young woman in the business world, where she’s had to demand respect “because, a lot of times, if you don’t stick up for yourself, nobody else will,” she says.
Munyan has recently taken a brief hiatus, during which she traveled throughout Southeast Asia with Elsa Rhae of Elsa Rhae Creations, a face painter and makeup artist.
Together, they embarked on what they called an international art project, sharing their respective arts with folks around the world.
In the meantime, if you want to see more of Munyan’s creations, find her on Instagram, or follow her on Snapchat (@MollyMunyan).
Your Turn: Would you ever wear a balloon dress?
Carson Kohler (@CarsonKohler) is a junior writer at The Penny Hoarder. After recently completing graduate school, she focuses on saving money — and surviving the move back in with her parents.