An ordinary forty-year-olds life changed thanks to a visit to the American continent. When Aneta Janovská first saw girls swimming in America with colourful fins like fairy-tale mermaids, her childhood dream wouldn’t let her rest. On maternity leave, she slowly started thinking about launching a somewhat risky business. The thing is, we don’t have a sea in the Czech Republic… but it paid off. This mother of three is slowly but surely reaping a harvest. So much so, in fact, that in the interview with Luxury Prague Life she told us that she probably won’t return to her former occupation…
The very first time was seven years ago at Sea World in Orlando. We were there on a family vacation, the kids were still little. All of a sudden, a colourful silicon girl swam up to us. At first we she frightened us, but we were delighted. Then I started noticing it all over America, where it was booming at the time. I used to go there often. Other than that, mermaiding originated in the Philippines, where it’s been going on for more than ten years.
The best ideas always occur at the pub. We were sitting around with family and friends and I was telling my father how much I like and enjoy it. I addressed an American brand, which has been making fins for eight years and is the global leader. I simply called them and started distributing their products herein the Czech Republic. I waited for the reactions from customers, and when I saw that it works, I decided it would be better to make our own. My father suggested that it shouldn’t be a problem, so we soon started manufacturing them together.
I was on maternity leave. I was and actually still am an employee of Microsoft in the Czech Republic, where worked between maternity leaves for the past 12 years. Before that I worked for IBM for five years, and I’ve been working in IT since leaving school. I worked during every maternity leave. During my third one, I didn’t want to go back to work so soon and decided to enjoy it more. The idea to start my own business came when my daughter was almost 6 months old, and I thought ‘it’s now or never’. When else should one dedicate one’s self to starting one’s own company? It’s not possible when you’re employed.
I put together a team of people – graphic designers, production experts, textile specialists, a webmaster, a team of divers to develop the fins and more. There were many people who contributed to creating the product. I cooperate with Martin Zajac, a coach and member of the international freediving team APNEAMAN and the Czech freediving team coach. When we started developing the product, I visited companies, textile firms, started making calls around the world to find out what works at factories… It took me a year before I had a final product, and the work was very intensive. And that’s how my Happy Tails ® brand was born.
Precisely. You have to make ten or more prototypes of the fin design, try various materials, make the right cuts. You spend years finding the right materials, fabrics, not to mention the complexity of creating original graphics to print on the fabrics. It’s all an awful lot of work.
The reactions were very positive. Everybody wanted to dry it and they were thrilled by the project as soon as I presented my vision. Some came up with their own ideas and quickly became members of the core team. It all charged me and drove me forward. I was continuous learning and I still learn something new every day.
Hundreds of thousands. I had immense support from my husband, my family… everybody. Thanks to this support, I didn’t have to go to the bank for a loan, which is an advantage that not everybody has.
Yes. The return on investment is longer when developing and marketing your own product than it is e.g. when distributing an already finished product. The company started doing well and we are in the black. Naturally, the investments are huge but the mermaid boom has already started in Europe and the time has come when business are addressing our company of their own accord and asking to sell our products and become authorised dealers. For instance, some of our largest business partners are Aquapalace Praha, Divers Direct, Apneaman, we have launched cooperation with Tatralandia in Slovakia and other important partners on the Czech market and abroad.
Definitely not. I’m always doing something. I have three young kids, so if I’m not working all day, I’m taking care of them.
I have a nine-year-old boy and two daughters who are seven and three. My son loves swimming and does it well, but without a costume. He thinks it would be embarrassing, but younger boys swim with it. But it’s puberty, I get it. The youngest is just learning and the middle one swims and wants to be at every event with me. This isn’t always possible, but I often bring her along.
I have to admit that after my third pregnancy, I have issues even putting on a bathing suit. I agreed individual training with coaches and I swim when there is no audience. I used to go to the seaside all the time, and it was my childhood dream to swim like a mermaid. When we were little girls at the cottage, we had a group and called ourselves the dolphins, and swam dolphin-style in the pond. (laughs) I prefer to devote myself to the growth of the company and developing new products.
Yes, mainly for the abdominal muscles, and for every muscle in the body. When swimming with a fin, the movement comes from the core of the body, from the hips, and muscles which you didn’t even know exist have to work. It’s a difficult swimming style. Little kids have toned abdominal muscles and a six-pack after three months of regular swimming! (laughs)
We have a list of place at the happytails.cz website where you can swim, and the number of places is increasing rapidly. The boom is mainly among children, and there are no lessons for adults yet. But in Chicago, for instance, thirty adult women meet regularly every week for mermaiding, like others do for yoga. They swim to music, train synchronised routines and it looks amazing. It’s something like synchronised swimming. They do it to have fun, but also to exercise, lose weight, shape their bodies! Then there are professional mermaids, who perform around the world in entertainment shows, or in aquariums and shopping centres. Whoever thinks it’s simple fun is wrong.
At present, everybody can try mermaiding e.g. at Aquapalace Praha, at Svět Plavání in Jesenice, at Kenny centres, Mommy time, Nekky Zlín, those from Brno can go to Mořsképanny.cz or the Hastrmánci centre, near Hradec Králové at SK Vlnka Všestary. There are increasingly more places and all of them are listed on our website.
I think so. We are even thinking about an event, something in the style of mermaid mania, which would involve various contests in speed, grace, or a Miss Mermaid… events for big and small mermaids that would be more than just a sporting event.
Of course. Not often, but sometimes we encounter reactions like – Wow, what nonsense and it costs so much. Although we explain to people what the basis is, and what it’s all about, there are those who don’t want to understand. But that’s the same with everything.
The starting price is 3790 CZK for the complete set including the swimming suite. For adults it’s more than 4000 CZK.
It’s not, especially if you consider the quality materials we use. We import the fabrics from one of the best factories in Europe, from Italy – they are used by the most prestigious brands from swimwear. The fabric could be used to make five swimming suits… And the costume also includes a swimsuit set, bikini.
This is how we explain it to parents, who think it’s too much to spend four thousand on the thing. If I want a high-quality bathing suit that won’t fall apart after my first swim in the sea, it costs thousands as well.
However, we also offer customers the option of buying the monofin alone, which costs 1490 CZK. Parents can thus motivate their children. If they learn to swim with the monofin, they can then get the full costume. Children learn to swim with the fin, the right movement, how to put in the energy, learn the basics of diving, dolphin rippling. Then they are truly motivated, and family often gets together to buy the costume, for instance as a birthday present. We perceive how much more the children value the gift, they get something that they have wanted for a long time, and let’s be honest, finding a gift like this, which is functional and serves for sports, is fantastic in this day and age. A priceless gif… (laughs).
I would like to keep going, in any form. I have offers to return to my field, but I can’t really answer your question right now. There are several ways to stick to mermaiding and I think I will take advantage of one of them and stay with the brand I have created. That’s how much I enjoy running my own business, and I have huge support from my husband and entire family… We are starting to operate in Slovakia and other countries now.
There are many companies in Europe, in almost every country there is already one distributor or direct manufacturer. Even here there are a few companies involved in mermaiding, and those who have started copying our brand and American ones. It is always easier to use graphics already finished and make copies. Everything can be imitated nowadays. We bet on our vast expertise, originality and the best European materials. For instance, you can never make such high-quality materials in the Czech Republic, which never was and never will be a textile country. In short, the factories don’t have the equipment to achieve the required quality. Our company has actually been contacted by people from Asia who like our graphics, and would like to sell them there. Despite having plenty of manufacturers in Asia already.
For a Czech brand, it is of course a very interesting experience and offer, so we have even started trading with Asia.
About ten. Everybody work by agreement, we don’t have any employees. We use a range of experts who have their own employees and we consult them in certain areas – they participate in product development. Another part of the team is in Moravia, where we sew the goods and give them their final look. We place high demands on seamstresses as well. The workshop has a wealth of experience, most of the employees went to industrial textile school and are therefore deservedly a leading supplier for the German market, specialists in swimsuit materials, which not every workshop knows how to work with. We have recently started sewing neoprene suits in Moravia at a company with twenty years of experience, and the quality is superb.
It’s more than a full-time job. Every day, I devote 150% to work, staying up until two in the morning. In the meantime I take care of the kids, and sometimes it’s demanding on my time. Without the help of a nappy, good friends and family, I would never have made it this far. I always thought that I work a lot at the corporation and never thought I could do even more. With my own business, I have so many ideas I want to realise that the tempo can’t be stopped. (laughs) But I do try to slow myself down a bit.
For instance, we recently established the Happy Tails Mermaid Academy, whose expert guarantor is Martin Zajac and the internationally renowned Apnea Academy. We thus ensure the specialised training of instructors not only in the Czech Republic, who want to teach their clients mermaiding and obtain an internationally valid certificate.
We have a great novelty in store for customers, which will bring everybody closer to mermaiding. The details will soon be available on our website. I do have to leave some surprises…(laughs)
What is mermaiding like in practice? We had our lovely editor Dominika transform into a little mermaid for a while. The video of her experience is available at the link under the article and you can read about her experience HERE! It’s worth it!