- Taking one more (maybe one last) shot at success in the business world, two friends started selling latex Halloween masks online. Then, a team’s victory 8,000 miles away in a sport they don’t follow changed everything
PHILADELPHIA — On a Sunday morning in January, Jason Lee woke up in his home in Dongguan, an industrial city in China’s Guangdong province. Lee, who runs the Amazon retailer CreepyParty, pulled out his laptop to check the previous night’s sales. He was confused by what he saw. On a typical day, they might sell 10 German Shepard masks. The report showed they had sold 230—their entire inventory—in one morning. He raced to the office to find out what had happened.
“I am not happy,” Lee says. “All the inventory sold out is not good news. But when I [found out] why they are sold out, I am happy. I know this is a good accident, not a bad accident.”
The Philadelphia Eagles had just beaten the Atlanta Falcons in the divisional round of the NFL playoffs, which had come as a bit of a surprise. The Eagles, despite earning the top seed in the NFC and owning home-field advantage, had entered the game as three-point underdogs in Vegas. Afterward, two players, Lane Johnson and Chris Long, celebrated by donning German Shepherd masks, their way of embracing (and mocking) their newfound role of underdogs.
The images, CreepyParty’s unnervingly realistic latex German Shepard mask on Johnson’s 300-pound frame, hit the internet and promptly went viral, sending Eagles fans into a frenzy looking for the masks. Johnson later told the media they had purchased them on Amazon for $10.99. Lee says the first mask was purchased at 7:58 p.m., Philadelphia time, about 13 minutes after the game ended. The rest of the supply sold out in less than two hours.
The next day, after the Vikings beat the Saints to set up the NFC title matchup, Vegas established the Eagles as home underdogs again. Soon after, CreepyParty shipped over 300 more German Shepard masks, but they ran out in half a day. Then fans started buying CreepyParty’s other breeds of dog masks—the Husky, the Basset Hound, the Black Poodle—about 1,000 more until most of those ran out, too.
The excitement around the masks grew so much that the the Eagles relaxed their security rules and allowed fans to wear dog masks to the game. As the Eagles walloped the Vikings to earn their spot in Super Bowl LII, Lincoln Financial Field looked like a giant kennel, people in dog masks of all kinds walking the concourse and packing the stands. Even Mike Trout, the two-time American League MVP and diehard Eagles fan, had one on.
“If we [had] more, we [would have] sold 3,000-5,000 [masks],” Lee says.
In the days after the Vikings game, The MMQB reached out to CreepyParty, the maker of these latex Halloween masks, and was put in touch with Lee, who agreed to be interviewed via e-mail because his English is shaky. Over a series of e-mails, Lee described the Eagles’ playoff run as a climactic moment for the company, a fortuitous reward for years of hard work. Lee said that he started the company with his friend Ping Feng about three years ago, after they both experienced setbacks at their previous jobs. According to Lee, Feng was selling electronics on eBay when he suffered a “business failure,” and decided to change gears. Then Feng brought on Lee, who was selling pet supplies on Amazon and was concerned about his future at his company.
After doing some market research, they decided to “find something popular [on] Halloween,” Lee says, and that led them to the latex masks. Then they came up with a name: CreepyParty. “We just [wanted] to do a cool brand,” Lee says. They wanted their customers to wear the masks and “be the star [of] the party, bring more fun to the party,” Lee says. Feng so believed in their mission he borrowed money from the bank to get them started. “He had lost [a lot of] money before,” on past projects, says Lee. “He wanted to try [one] last time.”
CreepyParty started from humble beginnings; it was just three people working out of a rental home, Lee says. The first floor was their warehouse, the second their workspace, and the third their bedroom. Feng handled the production and shipping; Lee, the marketing. Lee points out that they were “just like Jeff” Bezos, who started Amazon in his garage.
“I think we are underdogs too,” Lee says.
In time, CreepyParty grew into a 30-person operation that offered more than 40 different types of masks. Animal masks, human masks, scary masks. Masks that make noise. Masks that look funny. Look up CreepyParty’s horse and unicorn masks: They both look like they just drank 10 RedBulls, eyes bugging out and veins bulging.
Once upon a time, the German Shepherd mask was an unremarkable seller. Then, around September 2016, CreepyParty got together, found a picture of a German Shepherd on the internet, and came up with a new design. “We wanted it to look more vivid,” Lee says. “The neck is longer [now]. The expression is more lifelike, and the color [and] the texture on the surface are improved.” After that, the German Shepherd sales started increasing.
Still, CreepyParty couldn’t foresee what would happen this month in Philadelphia. Lee says he doesn’t know much about the Eagles. He notes that the NBA has more pull in China than the NFL. “We know Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, [Stephen] Curry,” Lee says. “But we are not familiar with NFL. We know the Philadelphia 76ers. We know Allen Iverson. LOL.”
Johnson and Long just happened to buy CreepyParty’s dog mask—possibly impressed by the new design?—and now it has become the official symbol of the Eagles’ playoff run. Some fans won’t accept any other breed or brand of mask.
The day after the Falcons win, people started showing up at The Masquerade Costume Superstore in Philly, four miles north of The Linc, asking for German Shepherd masks. Masquerade didn’t have any, though, and they couldn’t get any in time. All they had were Dalmatian masks, and they only had four of them. More people kept calling about the masks, so they ordered about 60 more. Leading up to the NFC championship game, they put up a stand of Dalmatian masks near the front register and posted a sign on the front door telling people that they had dog masks for $29.99, adding in small type: “while supplies last.”
Several Eagles fans have flocked to Masquerade only to leave disappointed—that they couldn’t buy the specific German Shepherd mask. “I try to convince them that a dog’s a dog,” says Paul Johnston, the manager and buyer at Masquerade. “A Dalmatian is still a dog! A Dalmatian can be an underdog! If you wanted an underdog, a German Shepherd would not be an underdog—he’s the king of the dog world!” Masquerade still managed to talk about 40 people into buying their (inferior) masks.
Two miles north, in Old City, Pierre’s Costumes started receiving calls as well. Pierre’s doesn’t carry any kind of latex party masks, though. They specialize in making elaborate theatre costumes and, believe it or not, college sports mascots. They made the costume for Rameses (North Carolina) and Will D. Cat (Villanova). They also make a wide array of Santa Claus costumes, from the Santa at your local mall to the Santas of Hollywood. They made a custom one worn by Billy Bob Thornton for his role in Bad Santa.
At first, when Eagles fans started calling, Pierre’s employees were confused. Once they Googled what was going on, they found it funny. They started keeping a tally on a dry erase board in the backroom. As of noon Tuesday, there had been 39 people who’d called or walked in asking about a dog masks. A representative of The MMQB made six reporters as well.
When some people called, Pierre’s told them that yes, they had dog heads—heavy, papier-mâché, mascot dog heads. Some of those callers actually came in to see the dog heads for themselves, only to leave dejected. “They’re looking for something they can run around in, which a mascot head is not,” says Casie-Lee Miller, a Pierre’s manager.
No, the only proprietor of the “authentic” Philadelphia Eagles underdog mask is the company run by two friends in China. Lee says that they’re currently making more than 1,000 German Shepherds, plus 1,000 each of the other dog masks. Lee hopes that they will be available before January 28 “if everything is going well,” just in time for the Super Bowl on Feb. 4. The Eagles, of course, are currently listed as five-point underdogs against the Patriots.
Twelve days after the Super Bowl, Lee, Feng and CreepyParty will celebrate the Chinese New Year and toast their good fortune. “We have more money to take a New Year holiday [now]!” Lee says. “That's amazing!” It’s fitting, too. They will be ringing in the Year of the Dog.
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