Indy mother-daughter duo makes headlines for their one of a kind college & business mascots

Big Tournament

INDIANAPOLIS — A mother-daughter duo is making headlines for the work they do making mascots.

Jennifer Smith calls herself the “Queen of Fuzz” at Avant Garb.

Originally, she set out to make mascots for avant garde theater. While in Washington, someone asked her to make a salmon for the Seattle Aquarium.

“I really I just feel like the mascots knocked on my door and said, ‘you thought you were going to do one thing but we have a better idea,’” she laughed.

Smith really got into making college mascots when she moved to Indianapolis. At the time, her daughter was under the age of ten, but helping sew purses and other small accessories for the costumes.

“We did Rex for the Children’s Museum, and Rowdy for the Indians,” Smith said. “And we have done a lot for the NCAA.”

Avant Garb has made almost all of IU’s mascots statewide, a president’s head for George Mason University and Victor E. Bull for the University of Buffalo. Smith has also helped design and make Nitro, the mascot for Indy Fuel, all of the jaguars for IUPUI and Big K, who you may have seen at Kroger.

“We’re one of the few really artisanal mascot businesses,” Smith said. “We only do one-of-a-kind of two-of-a-kind.”

Typically, Smith said, the college or business will come to them with an idea. She and her daughter work with their designer and start figuring things out from scratch.

“You can’t keep saying we want a red dinosaur. We have to sort of have a snout and a tail,” she pointed out.

Smith works with the client to come up with not only the look of the mascot, but how it feels as well.

“This is a tactile business,” she told CBS4. “People touch the mascot, and it needs to feel good.”

Avant Garb took CBS4 behind the scenes to show how they make certain mascots. Most of the secrets, Smith pointed out, are engineered on the inside.

“If it has a pot belly, we have to figure out how to do that. If it has muscles, we have to do that. We make the muscles out of a foam. We call it ventilator foam, which it is. It’s also the foam that is made for, say, cushions for boats. Water goes through it,” Smith said. “We’re painting the eyes. We’re getting the eyes custom made.”

In some cases, Avant Garb will install fans in the headpiece so that the mascot does not get too hot. Those cost extra.

“I want people who don’t normally talk to each other bumping shoulders with each other,” Smith said. “The mascot has brought them together!”

Smith, who isn’t really a sports fan, laughs at the fact that people pick their March Madness brackets based on the school’s mascot.

“I hope they take away joy. That’s really the business I’m in,” she exclaimed.

Avant Garb remains one of ten mascot makers nationwide. Smith and her daughter work out of the Stutz Building downtown.

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