Photograph by Courtesy TLC
Katie Laibstain originally wanted to be an actor. She was performing regularly at a dinner theater in Richmond when she took a part-time job working for a local balloon artist. “It was really just something to support my acting,” she says. Her boss was preparing for a balloon convention when he gave her an ultimatum: Come with or quit. She had a show opening that weekend and it wasn’t an easy decision, but the convention proved to be a transformative experience. “My boss had only been showing me simple balloon animals,” she says. “And then I saw these amazing balloon sculptures and I knew I would be able to do them even better. I knew it was a business that I would be able to conquer within a few years.” Four years later she has a thriving balloon business, Katie Balloons, and a show on TLC. With her friends and fellow balloon artists Addi Somekh and Brian Asman, she stars in The Unpoppables
, which follows the trio as it creates expansive balloon installations for special events. Laibstain is billed as the fashion expert of the group, but for her own business she does everything from creating giant dragon sculptures and toothbrush centerpieces to performing balloon burlesque. She’s in the process of de-emphasizing that last aspect of her repertoire: “I’m closer to being a mother than a young girl who wants to take off her clothes,” says the 26-year-old.