Molly Munyan had her balloon dress epiphany as a senior in high school, when she tried out to be homecoming queen. Molly had been nurturing a side hustle as a balloon artist - one she faked her way into as a 15-year-old freshman performing at children’s parties at her local Kansas City Chick-Fil-A. By her senior year, she was dreaming bigger.
"I wanted to walk down the field at the homecoming game in a balloon dress," she said. So she spent the summer practicing, and in the fall, Molly realized that dream. She was voted homecoming queen and got to wear a bright blue, two-piece balloon dress on the football field.
But the balloon-making didn’t go away with homecoming. Molly became a professional balloon artist working kid and adult parties in Kansas City, and she has embraced her career to the point where she has adopted a new name. "I am Molly Balloons," she said. "Even if you met me in the grocery store, ’Hi, I’m Molly Balloons.’"
Molly Balloons first went viral last year when her hometown team the Kansas City Royals went to the World Series and she created a different Royals-themed balloon dress for each game. Before the project took off, the people around Molly told her that it didn’t make sense. "They said, ’Molly, I don’t know if this World Series dress line is the best use of your time,’" she recalled. "’It’s really time-consuming and nobody’s paying you.’" But the dresses were a major success. At team’s victory parade, she wore a floor-length blue balloon gown. "I had probably between two and 40 cameras pointed at me for four hours straight," Molly said. "I was like, ’Whoa, this is huge.’"
The balloon dress has now become a core part of Molly’s business. Though she still makes balloon art at high-end parties, she gets more requests to go to events wearing balloon dresses and standing around "as an art piece." For a three-hour job, she once got paid $1,500 - and she’s just getting started. In addition to building her business, she wants to dress a celebrity for a red carpet event within the next two years, create a costume for a music video, and make a hat for Ellen DeGeneres.
Molly considers herself an artist and something of a fashion designer. "I see shapes and lines and designs through nature and architecture and people’s clothes," she said. "Ideas come to me at stoplights. I don’t watch TV and rarely watch movies, I just watch fashion shows." In March, she designed an eight-piece collection of balloon dresses and had a fashion show of her own.
To make her dresses, Molly starts by building rows of balloons on a dress form. (She usually sticks to 100-percent balloon materials for her dresses, but will be experimenting with different textiles soon.) "I’ll keep adding rows until the dress takes shape," she said. "It’s like basket weaving, but squeakier." The dresses can take anywhere from seven to 17 hours straight to make, and she works alone.
The job isn’t without its hazards: "I’m developing carpal tunnel and arthritis and tendonitis and tennis elbow," she said. "My hands will go out before my ideas run out."
There’s also the occasional drunk man at the party who wants to pop a balloon. When that happens, she will swat him away without issue. If a balloon does pop for whatever reason, she can do repairs on site with the spare balloons she’s carrying with her.
After a day or two, the balloon dress deflates, and then she might use the remnants to make a jokey dress for a Barbie - but more likely, she’ll throw the dress away. "The only thing about balloons that aren’t perfect for me is that they aren’t good for the environment," she said. "It doesn’t rest well with me. I don’t even like to think about it. But I still do them. I’m just shitty."
But the long hours, physical strain, and environmental concerns don’t take away from Molly’s total joy in having found the thing that she was meant to do. "It’s called ikigai in Japanese culture," she said. "It’s the thing that you’re good at, that you love to do, that can pay you, and what the world needs. I was born to be fun at parties. In fact, I’m so fun at parties that people drop hundreds and hundreds of dollars for me to come to their parties. I can’t believe that I get to do this everyday. I’m so infinitely grateful that I found balloons."
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