Business: Orleans Native Turns Costume Design Background Into New Business

By: Jenna Sammartino

Topics: Business

Mariah Fidalgo of Wild Water Collective in Orleans. JENNA SAMMARTINO PHOTO

Mariah Fidalgo, Orleans native and co-owner of Wild Water Collective, is a wizard with a dye pot and a sewing machine.

Based out of New York City, she was at the top of her game in costume design for theater, film, and television. Enter the global pandemic: her livelihood came to a screeching halt and the place she’d called home for seven years went into lockdown.

Like many at that time, Fidalgo and her husband decided it would be best to lie low for a couple weeks with family on Cape Cod. After all, they’d both grown up here, Fidalgo in Orleans and her husband Tom in Brewster.

“We thought we were coming back for two weeks,” she said, recalling the exact date they drove over the bridge. “We’d packed for two weeks. It was March 15, 2020 and we’ve been here ever since.”

Fidalgo’s fascination with costume design began early. She took sewing classes starting in elementary school, and as a student at Nauset High, she took advantage of fashion design courses and did costuming for drama club productions (which is where she met Tom).

“I’m much happier backstage,” she laughed. And while she appreciated what Nauset offered her, as far as the Cape in general, she said, “I wanted out as soon as I could. I didn’t appreciate it as a kid, and I didn’t see a career path for me here.”

After graduating in 2009, Fidalgo went on to Boston University. “I loved sewing, loved making clothing,” she said, and considered both fashion design and costume design as majors. She opted for the latter, explaining, “I really liked the story-telling aspect of costume design…and trying to predict the next fashion trend really didn’t appeal to me.”

Fidalgo worked summers at Theatre Aspen in Colorado. “At the end of that contract, we said we’d move anywhere but New York, and then we ended up in New York,” she said wryly, explaining that for a couple of young Cape Cod kids, they just didn’t think they were “ready” for New York.

But Fidalgo’s career took off. After starting as a fabric dyer with the New York City Ballet, she struck out in more of a freelance vein, working in film and TV and keeping a hand in off-Broadway productions. She explained the various aspects of her work as an ager-dyer and wardrobe supervisor. She aged and distressed clothing to fit characters and scenes and worked on set to make sure the clothing looked right on the actors and looked good on camera. As a wardrobe supervisor, she managed day-to-day aspects of the costuming end of production. If that all sounds pretty star-studded, Fidalgo was quick to add with a smirk, “and then there was the less glamorous side, washing celebrities’ underwear.”

Coming from working on projects like “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” and Melissa McCarthy and Will Smith films to suddenly landing back in one’s childhood bedroom would be a tough adjustment for anyone. “I was sort of at the height of my career,” she admitted, “and for it all to get taken away was a blow.”

Not one to sit on her hands, Fidalgo began working with them back here at home in Orleans. Along with her two-week supply of clothing when they evacuated New York, Fidalgo had brought along a sewing machine. She took an existing side project dying yarn (Dye Pot Fibers) and grew it to include handmade clothing.

“It really came about because I ran out of clothing,” she said frankly. “I was unemployed and I didn’t want to buy all new clothes.” 

Fidalgo’s transition from costume designer to homegrown entrepreneur evolved gradually. She met her future Wild Water business partner, Emily Mandirola, in October 2020 when the two were doing a pop-up show. “She was selling her hats and I was selling my clothes,” Fidalgo said, “and we became pals. We’d both had to pivot super hard, and we sort of jokingly said, ‘What if we started a store together…what would that look like?’”

And so Wild Water Collective grew out of COVID wreckage, opening this past spring. Fidalgo credits the local entrepreneurship program EforAll with guiding her and Mandirola in their new venture.

“We got the confidence from them,” she said. “It was a crash course in how to run a business. We both felt really comfortable with a lot of our strengths, but we wanted to be really confident in our foundation.”

In their cheery Main Street storefront, Fidalgo and Mandirola have fashioned a boutique where they’d both want to shop. Diversity, both in the products and among the artisans they choose to carry, is a cornerstone of the business. In addition to their own creations, everything in the collective is handmade, from apparel to gifts and plants. Said Fidalgo, “Every item tells the story of who made it.”

Business has been brisk and the feedback has been lovely, Fidalgo said. There is, however, one major obstacle that has prevented the completion of a fully graceful pivot to her new life in her old hometown. It’s the only topic that seems to wipe the easy smile off her face.

“It is impossible to find a place to live,” Fidalgo said forcefully. “If the Cape wants locals to return home to grow the economy, something has to be done. I’m 30. I have a career, I have savings. And I can’t buy a home here.” She spoke just after finding out the latest year-round rental they’d hoped to secure had gone to others. In the past 17 months, Fidalgo has managed to grow two businesses and open a brick-and-mortar storefront. And yet she and her husband are still living with their parents.