“Swifties have been buying up everything”: Meet the Toronto designer who sourced Taylor Swift’s vintage Chiefs sweatshirt
Ellie Mae Waters talks about dressing the biggest celebrity in the world and fan theories that the now-famous sweater carried a secret message
Toronto designer Ellie Mae Waters got the shock of a lifetime last Sunday, when Taylor Swift stepped out in a vintage Kansas City Chiefs sweatshirt from Waters’s label, Ellie Mae Studios. The biggest celebrity on the planet was in the stands cheering for her NFL beau Travis Kelce. Since then, the company’s website has exploded, the Swifties are snapping up vintage flannels and Waters is harbouring a secret fantasy that the red sweatshirt will become the new red scarf (if you know, you know). Here, she explains why Swift is a celebrity stratosphere unto herself and why she is going to see the Eras Tour—even if she has to stand outside.
Take me back to the moment that you realized that Taylor Swift was wearing your sweatshirt. Are you normally a Sunday-night football kind of gal?
I actually do like to have the football game on in the background on a Sunday. My dad is a big sports fan, so that’s just how I grew up. But last Sunday I was at the nail salon, scrolling through TikTok, so that’s where I first saw Taylor wearing the sweatshirt. At first I wasn’t 100 per cent sure. We work with a PR team in LA that works with Taylor’s stylist. We had sent them some Kansas City vintage pieces a few weeks ago, just because I was aware of the Travis Kelce connection and thought she might be into it. And then her stylist mentioned that was interested in vintage, which was a good sign. But you really never know. In this business, you send things to celebrities all the time, and usually that’s the last you hear of it. So at first, when I saw her in the sweatshirt, it was a double take. And then, a few hours later, I got confirmation.
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How long did it take for the internet to catch on?
At first, the internet was far more concerned about the bracelet that Taylor was wearing, which had Kelce’s number on it. But, within a few hours, the fan fashion accounts started publishing all of the details about her outfit, which is what happens any time she wears anything in public. By Sunday evening, people were tagging us like crazy and I started to get DMs: How can I get this? Is this one of a kind? Do you have other Kansas City stuff? What other vintage do you have? We got almost 1,000 new followers just that day and 12,000 visitors to the website. That particular piece is indeed one of a kind, but I think there’s this idea that, if I can’t get the same sweatshirt, at least I can buy vintage from the same place that she buys her vintage.
And then eventually Taylor will realize that we were meant to be best friends forever and invite me to join her squad…
Ha—right. For the last few days, the Swifties have been buying up anything with a sports logo and all of the flannel button-down shirts that we have on the website.
Where did you find the sweatshirt?
One of our usual dumpster dives in LA. My partner, Jeremy, and I go there several times a year, to very not-glamorous places, and we just comb through racks and boxes. I’m always on the lookout for good vintage sports sweaters or university stuff just because people are really into it. I grabbed the red sweatshirt because it was cool. The Taylor and Travis story wasn’t something I knew about at that point.
What is particularly cool or special about this piece, other than the fact that it has touched the skin of our lord and saviour Taylor Alison Swift?
I think anything vintage is special because it has a totally unique story and history. There is a nostalgia factor, and that comes through in the fabric and how it has gotten thin and the natural pilling. I will often find old sweatshirts where the graphic is really cool, but the material just isn’t right. And then the era—early ’90s—is really good for vintage sports paraphernalia—the graphics and fonts are so much cooler than what’s being produced today.
How much would a sweatshirt like this normally retail for?
If it had gone up on our website, I would say between $150 and $200. Pricing vintage is complicated because you have cheap places where you can pay by the pound, but then it has also become this extremely high-end luxury market based on rarity. We will spend a lot of time doing research after we have the pieces back in our space in order to determine value. With a concert T-shirt for example, it’s important to know how many were made and anything else special about the tour or the album.
Taylor paired the sweatshirt with a Cartier necklace. In your expert opinion, should regular people attempt this kind of pairing?
I love a vintage sweatshirt just with jeans and sneakers. In Taylor’s case, she kept the rest of the outfit relatively simple—a black skirt and loafers. So, no, I don’t feel like the Cartier necklace is a must.
You have had quite a few celebrities wear your pieces: Reese Witherspoon, Kate Hudson, Miley Cyrus. Is Taylor Swift on another level?
Easiest answer—yes. Return on investment can be hard to measure. If a celebrity wears a piece that is part of our original collection, people can come to the site and buy the same thing. That happened with Bella Hadid, where she was photographed in a pair of our trousers and a matching shirt when she was dating The Weeknd, and we sold out of that item in both colours. With vintage, it can be more about the brand association and awareness, which has been huge in this case. It’s exciting any time you get that celebrity placement, but Taylor makes a lot of noise.
Have you seen the fan theory that your sweatshirt was a code to let her fans know that she would be releasing the new “Taylor’s version” of her 1989 album, based on the fact that the piece is from a similar time frame?
I have. And Taylor’s version of 1989 did come out last night at midnight. I’m not sure that the sweatshirt was involved. I am someone who loves to follow all of the Easter eggs that fans talk about on TikTok, but I don’t know enough to come up with my own theories. My publicist and I were joking that wouldn’t it be amazing if the red sweatshirt could be the new red scarf from the “All Too Well” video.
For people who don’t speak Swift, the red scarf is…
When she was dating Jake Gyllenhaal, I guess he wore a red scarf, and then it was in the extended version of the “All Too Well” video and it became this big thing. I don’t want the red sweatshirt to have a bad association, though. Everyone keeps saying that this relationship is her “endgame,” so maybe this can be a happy association. I think she might have been wearing it again when she left Kansas City on Tuesday. There are photos of her getting on the plane wearing a red oversized sweatshirt, but it’s too blurry to be sure.
Do you consider yourself a Swiftie?
Oh, wow—I don’t know how to answer that. The Swifties are wild. But I am definitely a big fan.
Do you have a favourite era?
I’m a Lover-era fan. “Cruel Summer” is my cold-plunge song, or if I really want to belt something out, that’s my song of choice.
Did you manage to defy all odds and get tickets to her Toronto show next year?
I did not. It was all so crazy with the lineup that I didn’t even try. I’m going to be one of those people on StubHub hoping for a last-minute deal.
I mean, she obviously loves your sweatshirt. Can’t you get a hook-up?
I mean, that would be awesome. Either way, I have to go. Maybe I’ll be the person standing outside the SkyDome singing along.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.