Angie Keiser had no idea what she was getting herself into. When the Miami Township mom first suggested making a construction paper dress, her then-3-year-old, Sydney, immediately took the reins. Hands on hips, the wide-eyed, pint-sized ball of fire dictated which colors of construction paper to use as her mother pieced together a rainbow frock with masking tape. “Take a picture, Mom!” Sydney demanded. And Keiser, who is a professional photographer, did. That was May 2013, and a homemade “fashion line” was born. Nearly a year and hundreds of dresses later, this exercise in creativity has become a daily routine.
Not long before the dress experiment, Sydney was diagnosed with a number of life-altering allergies, including peanuts and soy. “Honestly, it’s exhausting to explain her allergies everywhere we go,” Keiser says. “I’m not a fan of asking for special treatment, so we’re simply designing a life based on what she can do with as little discussion as possible.” That meant encouraging an already developed sense of playing dress-up. It didn’t take long for Keiser to recognize that Sydney’s interest in clothes—and serious knack for design—was more than a passing phase. “Each time she dressed up, she was assuming a new ‘character,’ and her imagination went wild.”
The ladies craft their creations from everyday materials they find around the house—tissue paper, bubble wrap, gift bags, wrapping paper. “We use her very favorite thing—packing tape—to put it all together,” says Keiser. The mother-daughter team chronicles their increasingly impressive creations via Instagram and an associated blog. (Search #fashionbyMayhem; Mayhem is Sydney’s online nickname.) This digital presence recently surged in popularity after Mayhem was featured by The Huffington Post, BuzzFeed, and The Cut.
The dresses are inspired by characters, like Disney’s Cruella de Vil and My Little Ponies; outings around town (a Newport Aquarium trip sparked a shark dress); and events like the Grammys or Golden Globes. It’s all driven by Sydney’s whim. “The creativity and ingenuity that poured out of her the more I encouraged her self-expression was pretty amazing to see,” Keiser says. “That’s something I don’t want anyone to stifle, ever.”
Originally published in April 2014 issue.