From Mermaid to Tent Keeper, One Small Business Owner’s Hope to Bring Joy to Women Everywhere
By: Meredith Flory
Military spouses often find themselves needing to use their degrees, job training, and career experiences creatively. Aj Smit, the Armed Forces Insurance 2020 Lackland Air Force Base Spouse of the Year, certainly found a way to use her theater degree from the University of Northern Iowa and a dream from childhood to spread joy wherever she is stationed.
Smit has been a military spouse for eight years, living in Hawaii, Germany, Mississippi, and now Texas, but growing up in Northern Iowa she dreamed of the ocean. She remembers, “I always wanted to be a mermaid growing up, like people want to be a teacher or astronaut.” While she knew it probably wasn’t possible, she says, “[I] saved my birthday wish each year for this absurd thought, that I could be a mermaid someday.” She remembers wishing each birthday from ages 4 to 22, “Dear God, please let me become a mermaid. I don’t even need to breathe underwater, just the fins would be fantastic.” Then on her 23rd birthday, while looking for mermaid books, she “came across another article about a professional mermaid” and was immediately excited to find that, yes, in fact, people will pay you to be a mermaid. Soon after she got a monofin—a fin that both of your feet are attached to—and later added a tail, beginning her career as a professional mermaid.
She loves bringing “joy, whimsy and wonder to the world.” One of Smit’s early business avenues was performing for mermaid birthday parties. She explains, “At Hickam Air Force Base we could swim out farther down from where the kid’s party would be, and I would tell the adults where my treasure chest was so they could grab it from the hidden spot.” The chest would have books and treasures for the children, and Smit would know which child was the birthday child and call him or her by name as she swam into the party. She would lead games, swimming, and songs and “teach them to speak like dolphins (a lot of high-pitched yodeling, sorry parents), and they would just glow from happiness.”
As her career choice was unique, and military spouses move often, opening her own business seemed like the best way to continue performing. Because her talents and skills were focused on the arts, Smit’s challenge was the paperwork, record keeping, and other administrative duties required when running your own small business. She shares of growing as a businesswoman, “It’s something I’m always reminding myself of, and if people can take that from the get-go and be organized and make sure to keep your paperwork straight, everything else will be easier.”
Smit’s business, In-Joy Productions, has grown to include mermaid and fairy parties, storytelling, henna, and Red Tent events. (more…)