Unicorns are ailing in Silicon Valley. Uber the ride-hailing unicorn is besieged by scandal, WeWork the shared-office unicorn fighting lawsuits from former employees. Home-rental unicorn Airbnb has been ensnared by regulation and virtual-reality unicorn Magic Leap was sued over some unfortunate workplace realities. Snapchat, the ephemeral unicorn, made $2 billion disappear in the first quarter. Other unicorns—startups valued at $1 billion or more—have cut perks and laid off staff to stay solvent.
All in all, the tech unicorns are not a healthy bunch. But 3,000 miles away, in New York’s Brooklyn borough, the state of the unicorn is strong.
It’s here that Annie and Cory Bruce earlier this month opened what they call the world’s first unicorn-horn store. Brooklyn Owl is located on Flatbush Avenue in Park Slope, a neighborhood known for its abundance of strollers. The Bruces and their nine-year-old daughter, Bee, live a few blocks away.
Inside, Brooklyn Owl is a throwback to the era of Lisa Frank. Its shelves are stacked with “unicorn horns” shaped like soft-serve ice cream cones and made from what Annie calls a “hologram dot” material. There are pink ones and gold ones and candy-colored spiraled ones. They come in four sizes (“mini,” “tween,” “original,” and “giant”) and can be purchased with or without ears.
Behind the rainbows and glitter, unicorn horns are a serious business. The Brooklyn shop is the first actual storefront the Bruces have opened for the wholesale crafts line that Annie started in 2011. Her first product was a felt owl, inspired by Bee’s first word (after “mommy” and “daddy”). That owl gave Brooklyn Owl its name, but it wasn’t until the following year, when Bee wanted a unicorn party for her fourth birthday, that the Bruces hit upon their signature item.
“[Annie] dropped everything to spend two weeks making a unicorn horn,” Cory told me when I stopped by the shop last weekend. “I was like ‘Dude, you’ve got to get these orders out, these stores are waiting for them!’ And she was like, ‘I’ve got to do this thing.’”
The first unicorn horn was an “original” (5 inches tall) made from white felt. Today the Bruces have enough color, size, and fabric options to make about 300 different combinations. Prices rang from $14 for the “mini” (1.5 inches) to $30 for a “giant” (8 inches). Ears cost extra.
“They’ve gotten more glamorous,” Cory says. I point out a shimmery one with two small ears. “Annie, what is the original rainbow sparkle with ears?” he calls to his wife. “Normally $36,” she replies.
The Bruces are both wearing horns around the shop, and say they’ve sold 40,000 of them over the past five years. Many of their customers are kids, but they’ve also filled orders for several corporate clients. Last year, Etsy purchased “a few dozen” horns for its team photo, Annie tells me. (Brooklyn Owl also sells its horns on Etsy.) The year before that, Google bought some for a company retreat. Another startup recently ordered one of the 18-inch unicorn horns on display in Brooklyn Owl’s store to rotate around its office as a trophy. The Bruces also supply horns to The New School in Manhattan, whose mascot is a narwhal.
Making a unicorn horn is surprisingly labor-intensive. For each one, Annie cuts a piece of fabric and stuffs it with recycled polyester. She sews the length of the horn using a machine and then stitches on the base, which is attached to an elastic strap, by hand. Her workshop, in the back of Brooklyn Owl, has plastic bins filled with fabrics and a pegboard bearing dozens of spools of brightly colored thread. A single horn takes her about half an hour to make.
“Is a unicorn horn profitable?” I ask. “A little bit,” Annie says. “Not much.”
“But we also want to do it,” Cory adds. “It’s a fun product that makes people happy. You get to see kids walk in and be happy.”
“And encourage people,” Annie says, “which is why I’m interested in working with startups.” After another several minutes looking around, I thank the Bruces for their time. “Thank you for being magical and wonderful!” she calls after me as I exit the shop.