State College

Making safety fun again: Vendor crafts a niche during her first Arts Fest

A unicorn helmet is on display for sale at Tail-Wags Helmet Covers during the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts on Friday. Karyn Climans creates all of the characters and designs for the covers that fit on bike and ski helmets.
A unicorn helmet is on display for sale at Tail-Wags Helmet Covers during the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts on Friday. Karyn Climans creates all of the characters and designs for the covers that fit on bike and ski helmets. adrey@centredaily.com

Aaliyah Benson slid on the helmet, fiddling with the buckle between tiny fingers. A sense of style was not lost on her: Aaliyah, 3, quickly sought out the pink helmet cover, which featured a cat design and twee ears.

Her mom and dad, Leasia and Randy, watched as Karyn Climans assisted Aaliyah with the straps.

“If anything, she’ll just wear it as a hat,” said Leasia, smiling.

Aaliyah, though, does ride her bike, thank you very much.

For Climans, the creator of Tail-Wags Helmet Covers, moments such as the one on Friday at the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts are indelible. When she started her company in 2006, her goal was to make safety fun. Selling that proposition to 3-year-olds is a tall order, but one made easier when your wares are shaped like dogs, sharks and bunny rabbits.

Climans, who was enjoying her first Arts Fest, welcomed more families like the Bensons to her South Allen Street stand, which sat in the shade near Schlow Centre Region Library. They perused the colorful covers, perched them on their heads and pointed at the more daring creations. Tails, hence the company’s name, swished from beavers and fish, while a panda poked its head out at the crowd. The puffer fish, a bright yellow shock of spikes, was almost sold out.

“All my initial designs had tails that wagged,” Climans said. “While the kids are riding, biking or skiing, the tails are wagging the whole time.”

The Toronto native learned how to sew in high school. When her youngest son Daniel went through school, Climans designed costumes for some of the plays.

She suffered a ski accident that could have killed her, she said. The ski patrol told her it would have if she hadn’t been wearing a helmet.

“I’m lucky to be alive,” she said.

From her harrowing experience, safety took an even greater precedence to Climans. Combined with a creative whim, Tail-Wags was born.

Daniel, who was also a part-time ski instructor, continued the tradition. He’d don his mother’s inventions with brio, while the students guessed what he would wear next.

On Friday, other big kids did the same. Climans, who was wearing one of her creations, smiled as a gaggle of college students stopped and modeled her wares.

“It’s not just the kids playing dress up in the booth, it’s the adults, too,” she said. “So it’s been really rewarding for me.”

Roger Van Scyoc: 814-231-4698, @rogervanscy

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