NEW YORK, N.Y. - Head over to Cody VandeZande's condo in Chicago and you won't find a room without sharks.
He's the proud possessor of shark bookends, figurines and photos of that time he and his boyfriend were lowered 70 feet into the ocean in a cage to commune with Great Whites off the southern tip of Australia. And there's a recent acquisition, a shark-shaped bed for ambassador Chuck, their cat, who has a shark outfit in his vast wardrobe.
"We love Shark Week," VandeZande put it mildly in a telephone interview Wednesday. "We have a mini Christmas tree with a whole bunch of shark ornaments hanging off of it."
It will lend that festive touch to their Shark Week party on Saturday, complete with Hammerhead Highballs in ocean blue, thanks to a touch of Curacao liqueur.
Shark Week, which launched into its 28th year on Discovery Channel on Sunday, has taken on a more serious tone this time around, considering a spate of bites off summer beaches, but that hasn't put a damper on product frenzy, including some that sets proceeds aside for shark education and ocean conservation.
Lush Fresh Handmade Cosmetics is back for a second year of partnering with Discovery on a limited edition Shark Fin Soap (yes, it has a fin) to support United Conservationists and a global effort to end the slaughter of sharks for that very asset.
The soap raised more than $70,000 last year and Discovery doubled its order to 42,000 bars this time around, said Josh Kovolenko, the channel's vice-president of marketing. At $5.95 a pop, 100 per cent of the proceeds are donated, he said.
"Philanthropy is a strong piece for us," Kovolenko said. "Shark Week is a ton of fun, but we look for that commitment as well."
Sunglass maker Knockaround also loves sharks, already selling out of a limited edition style of shades, the Shark Week Premiums. Sale of the glasses with Great White graphics earned $5 of every $35 purchase for Oceana, a non-profit focused on protecting the world's oceans. The company sold 3,500 by the middle of Shark Week and raised close to $20,000.
Shark Week-themed products began taking off about four years ago.
"We said what better way to leverage that buzz but to give consumers the opportunity to contribute. There's a lot of, 'What can I do help?' among our fans online. Now it's really become an iconic part of the week itself," Kovolenko said.
Not all of the channel's partners, or the makers of lesser shark schlock, are philanthropists, but VandeZande is.
He's using Kickstarter to help with a picture book he wrote and illustrated about a Great White named Oli who saves Christmas and plans to donate a portion of proceeds over his $5,000 goal to shark awareness.
The flow of shark product includes everything from themed cupcakes and ice cream to undies and the Sharkini, a one-piece swimsuit with a huge, toothy bite out of one side that retails for $120 at Badabydesigns.com. British designers Wool and the Gang and Christopher Raeburn have turned their chunky, shark mittens into a knitting kit they're selling for $68 at Woolandthegang.com, and Pinterest is piled high with T-shirts, wacky head gear and beer can holders.
While his boyfriend has been a shark fan since he was a kid, the 28-year-old VandeZande, a hair stylist, is a more recent recruit all things shark due to their diving trip two years ago to commune with the creatures up close and personal.
"It was so scary but so amazing," he said. "I remember this huge shadow swimming across the cage. At that moment, it was like, 'Holy cow, this is crazy.'"
About two weeks ago, VandeZande was perusing Instagram, where Chuck — @chuck.the.duck — has his own feed, when he ran across the shark bed from Thecatball.com, based in Bellevue, Washington.
The hexagonal, all-cotton Great White Shark Cat Ball Kitty Bed goes for $99. The small company founded by Jennifer Schmidt, with help from hubby Chris Boaro, decided in 2013 to extend their pod-like line of cat beds to a shark design.
Now, there's a slight Shark Week bump every year. The shark thing was Boaro's idea and the couple plans to turn over 5 per cent of proceeds from all shark beds sold during Shark Week to United Conservationists, likely amounting to about $500.
"Like all intelligent people, I love Shark Week," Boaro said by phone. "But Jennifer wasn't a fan until I indoctrinated her. Eventually I convinced her that a few other people might be as taken with the idea of seeing their kitties eaten by a Great White."
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