“It’s time for these stories to be told”: FanGirl’s Anita Castellar on diversity, creativity and fandom

We caught up with Anita to find out more about her approach to working with brands like La Borinqueña, Ms. Opal Lee and Saturday AM

Anita Castellar is the CEO at FanGirl Consulting & Brand Management, a firm with the slogan: ‘Unlocking fandom everywhere.’

We caught up with Anita to find out more about her approach to working with brands like La Borinqueña, Ms. Opal Lee and Saturday AM – and delve into the creative process behind her deal with OddFellows for OBD ice cream.

Anita, great to catch up. Thanks for making time. To kick us off, how did you find yourself working with brands?
It came out of left field. I was a super-nerd as a kid – an anomaly in my family! – and was really into kaiju, giant robots and kung-fu movies. I went to school, did a degree in business management, and thought I’d go and work at a big international company – which I did! I started off at Disney, but at Disney theme parks.

A super-nerd’s dream!
Well, when I got there I was really junior and I’d previously had an internship in a custom’s broker agency, so that got me my first job at Disney in their import department. I moved over and became an admin on the product development team, who were creating the shirts, pins and everything else you find in a Disney theme park.

I learned how to do product development there, and kept moving through the company until I got promoted into toys. That’s where all the nerdy stuff that I’d accumulated as a kid came into play!

Amazing. And what brands were you working on?
My boss was in charge of girls toys and I was in charge of boys toys, so that’s where I started working on Star Wars because of Star Tours. At the time, Star Tours was still a licensed attraction because Disney didn’t own the brand at the time. Same with The Muppets. That’s when I first started connecting with licensing people.

In 2009, the economy was in the toilet, and I got laid off along with a bunch of other people. I then applied for a job at Hasbro. It turned out the job was on the Star Wars team working with Derryl DePriest who I had worked with before!

I learned lots there in the two years I was there, and then I moved to California to work at Lucasfilm as licensing manager for hardlines. I was there almost five years and lived through the Disney acquisition, before another stint with the Disney parks, working on product strategy for Galaxy’s Edge. When my position was eliminated at Disney, that’s when my husband suggested I try consulting, and that’s how FanGirl came about.

Sounds like it would be a big change going from corporations like Disney and Hasbro to going solo?
Yes, it was super scary! I roped my husband into working with me, doing the back-of-house stuff. So yes, we launched the company three years ago and we’ve been tripping forward ever since!

Great stuff; and proof of the value of watching old kung fu movies!
Ha! Exactly; I found an outlet for it!

Before we dive into your work at FanGirl, are there any products from your time at Disney and Hasbro that stand out as being special for you?
There were quite a few things we did at the theme parks that were new, but the biggest one was the Build Your Own Lightsaber programme. I was on that team. It was a sensitive issue, because the lightsaber and role-play rights belonged to Hasbro – and still does – but we needed something different for the theme parks. We needed something that would really tie back to the attractions, because those are the items that sell the best in that space.

It started off as one fixture in what was called Downtown Disney at the time here in Orlando. It was a 10,000 sq ft toy store and a corporate alliance with Hasbro. Those fixtures are now in all the parks, all around the world, so I’m really proud of that.

Anita Castellar, FanGirl Consulting & Brand ManagementRightly so, it’s a great idea! Right, let’s talk about FanGirl Consulting & Brand Management. For anyone new to the company, what areas do you cover?
I picked the name because pop culture and being a fan is at the heart of it all. Striker is kind of my benchmark; they do really well working in deep fandom. That’s where I thought I could do well.

Our slogan is ‘Unlocking fandom everywhere’ and I like to speak to people around the business of fandom. People want to know things like how to tap into their fan base and make money at Comic-Con! So help them understand the power behind the fandom.

We started with Boss Fight Studio and their collectible action figure line, and now we work with Masked Republic and their Lucha Libre brand. We also represent La Borinqueña, an independent Puerto Rican comic book series. We’re Puerto Rican so there’s a personal connection there.

Our biggest brand is ODB – Ol’ Dirty Bastard from Wu-Tang Clan. You’d think that would be an easy one to build out but it was hard; really hard! Some people are turned off by the ‘B’ in his name,or his lyrics, but we focus in on the party atmosphere around him.

Right now, we’re also really jazzed up to represent Ms. Opal Lee and Saturday AM. Opal Lee is the grandmother of Juneteenth. She’s 94 years old and she’s a real inspiration. I didn’t know how to do licensing for an activist, but some small ideas have led to other bigger ideas and we’re off and running.

Saturday AM is a black-owned digital manga publishing brand owned by the company My Futprint Entertainment. We’re looking at physical publishing for that, as well as collectables and trading cards. A lot of the brands we work with are heavy lifters, but it’s time for these stories to be told.

Anita Castellar, FanGirl Consulting & Brand Management

Is that ‘heavy lifting’ a challenge you relish?
I am enjoying it, but it wasn’t actually the goal. I would like to have a ‘big’ brand. It makes things easier – doors open more quickly and phone calls get answered more quickly! On the other hand, with our brands, we see exactly where the royalty money is going. It’s really gratifying to see businesses and brands grow.

It’s all about tapping into storytelling. People might think a brand like La Borinqueña is too niche or too young. It’s been around since 2016! Yes, it’s bilingual… Yes, it has its heart in Puerta Rican culture… But she’s a superhero, she’s a strong female lead and she sits right alongside something like DC really well.

Anita Castellar, FanGirl Consulting & Brand Management

I enjoy the challenge, but I wish people would be a little bit more open to new licensing programs and opportunities. There’s so little room now for new brands and there’s not a lot of risk-taking at all. Some are willing to, but not many.

You mentioned earlier that it’s time for these brands’ stories to be told. Has the wider industry recognised that certain communities haven’t been catered to with licensed product based on their favourite brands – and that there’s a big opportunity there?
People are starting to wake up to it. Diversity is a business and there’s a business case for it. There’s a lot of people across the board that have been undervalued, to a certain degree.

We really saw it with Black Panther, and how that resonated. People see the reaction and say “Wow, they’re there!” Well, where the hell did you think they were?! They were always there giving you their money, but you never took the time to properly tap into that.

You have to respect the fans. They can see right through cash grabs and label slaps. People know when you’re being authentic and when you’re not. It’s reflected in the sales. There’s more to be done, and one of the problems is a retail blockage. There’s not enough places to put things at retail.

Could the industry be doing more to encourage greater diversity in terms of the retailers stocking licensed product?
People want to, but small retailers don’t know about licensing, and we in the licensing community can’t always find them. We don’t have a bench; we don’t have people going into colleges on career day to talk about working in licensing. Licensing International is getting better at that kind of thing, but most people don’t know what licensing is.

We have to close the gap, because I’d love to see another BAIT. They’ve grown from a little thing into something really cool, and they have their finger on the pulse of pop culture. Everyone is knocking on the door to work with BAIT.

You did the deal for ODB ice cream with OddFellows, which is a fantastically creative collaboration – and isn’t an obvious route for that brand to go down. How do you approach striking these kinds of left-field deals?
I come from a fan’s perspective, and then evaluate the business aspect to it. I also read everything – I read Brands Untapped, I read Licensing International’s stuff, I read License Global. It’s a key part of my creative process to keep on top of these things; educating myself and keeping engaged with the wider industry feeds my creativity.

Anita Castellar, FanGirl Consulting & Brand Management

I read a press release about OddFellows creating ice cream flavours for a DJ group out of New York City. I thought maybe they would be open to doing something with ODB. Everyone wants to do a Ben & Jerry’s collaboration, but Ben & Jerry’s doesn’t go with ODB. I’m always looking for partners that are creative, willing to take a risk and willing to be on the fringes – because that’s ODB. It has to be authentic, and that’s what fuelled the deal for ODB ice cream.

Talk us through the creative process there. How did you translate ODB into flavours that made sense for the brand?
ODB had many alter egos. He would show up on stage and introduce himself as someone else completely. That was the jumping point because some of those alter egos matched up with flavours, like Peanut the Kidnapper and Joe Bananas. Now we have some ice cream – and it’s good! It’s really good!

Anita Castellar, FanGirl Consulting & Brand Management

It looks great; big well done on that! So, before I let you go, one last question: how do you fuel your creativity?
I read a lot of industry stuff and I’m always scrolling through Linkedin. I also used to love to go to fan conventions because you get a lot of unique perspectives there. I have a 19-year-old and a 22-year-old, and my son is going to school for video game art. We’re always talking about his games and so now I follow eSports and the video game space closely.

My daughter is going to a school for interpreting, and she wants to be a performance interpreter – I’m like a sponge, always absorbing things from both of them that inspire me.

Great stuff; always fun to catch up Anita – thanks again for making time.

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