How Star Wars Nostalgia Helps Disney Parks Design Fandom Merch

Holiday gifting season is upon us and if you’ve ever wondered how apparel at Disney Parks goes from idea to execution into a fandom must-buy, designer Tatiana Salaverria is a great place to start. io9 spoke with her about the process behind theme-park merch inspired by Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and Marvel.

The creative minds at Disney always need to be way ahead of the curve. When Salaverria caught up with us on Life Day 2023, she revealed her team was already well into work for releases due in the first quarter of 2026—but the work also includes keeping an eye on fandom’s past. “I started on the licensing side of Disney,” she said, noting that the 35th anniversary of Star Tours at Disneyland was “my first time focusing on accessories, and it was accessories for Lucasfilm. Star Wars was always a love of mine. That was a bonding moment of our family’s with my dad. I remember going on Star Tours and being like, ‘What is this?’ And then watching all the Star Wars movies.”

That love for theme parks informed Salaverria’s path from an early age. “Disney is the number one thing that brings my family together. We’re from California, so we grew up going to Disney. Three times a year—it was the only place we really vacationed to. My dad really got us all into it, but it really turned into this thing that we continue to go to and make memories at,” she said. Because families in Southern California are able to visit so often, they are some of the originators of what’s now called Disney Bounding, the idea of coordinating outfits inspired by characters or iconography from the films and cartoons—and Salaverria’s family was definitely part of that. “My mom loved dressing us up, all three [sisters] to be the same, my dad would also wear the same outfit and my mom. So we really have lots of photos and history of just like wearing matching Disney outfits.”

Tatiana and her sisters Disney Bounding before it was a trend
Image: Disney Parks

“My closet was always Disney apparel. And so as I got older, it starts to feel nostalgic. We started to keep all that is vintage, that’s really cool. And so now I have all these pieces that I have a memory tied to,” she shared. “But it also really made me think like, ‘Okay, who made this? Who was the one designing all those products?’ Disney merch definitely had an impact on my life. I definitely was into apparel and fashion growing up. When I started to decide what my career was going to be, I wanted to start [with] kids’ apparel because [with] kids’ apparel, you could kind of tell a story. It’s much different than adult. But I knew in the back of my mind, I always wanted to work for Disney. I always wanted to be able to put that storytelling and do the IP that I’m so passionate and proud of.”

On her path through various departments in Disney Consumer Products, Salaverria finally landed somewhere she could draw inspiration from the fandom culture she grew up loving. “What’s really fun is when I got to the parks and stores, I got to focus on Star Tours, I got to pick up Indiana Jones—things that really had that nostalgia specifically like, ‘Oh, these are the rides I got to go on [growing up]. I got to work Avengers Campus [and] all the Pixar movies, parks specific—anything that has the Disneyland or Walt Disney World logo on [it].” It was a dream job for a kid who grew up with that fandom and theme park love—made even better as she became an active participant in the way products were changing in-park. She looked to do more than adding logos to things, and rather shifted focus to create memorable articles of clothing that would help visitors remember their special Disney moments.

Take Life Day for instance, a Wookiee holiday that fans of the cult-beloved Star Wars Holiday Special earnestly brought into the park with red-robed meet-ups and DIY orbs every November 17—marking the day the special aired back in 1978. After a couple years of fan-organized gatherings, Disney Parks began to incorporate Life Day into Galaxy’s Edge lore as a holiday celebrated in Batuu. “I’ve been connected to Lucasfilm during my time at Disney for six and a half years. Life Day was a new holiday for us,” Salaverria explained. “Life Day was always this thing that came out of the original holiday special. My team is passionate about Star Wars. We absolutely dived into the Lucasfilm archives, made sure we had stills and made sure we got it right. The most important thing I would say about our job is to make sure we are delivering character, correct story, correct merchandise—especially when you talk about Marvel and Lucasfilm.”

Life Day robe and orb.

Life Day robe and orb.
Image: Disney Parks

That said, tere’s definitely creative license taken with Disney’s Life Day red robes and blue orbs, which look different from the clear ones featured in the special. Salaverria revealed the reasoning for that. “With Star Wars the history is so rich. It’s a franchise that’s been out for 40-plus years and it’s all live-action. So now that we’re designing product, it’s like you’re taking live-action and sort of creating it into a 2D space,” she said. “[Darth] Vader, [Storm] Troopers… you can really design them differently every time because you’re taking a 3D form and creating it into 2D products. So that is also the fun part of working on these franchises: there’s a little bit of creative liberty that we get to have. As long as we are true to the characters there’s some fun that we can have there, for sure.”

As a Star Wars fan, Salaverria also geeked out about getting to help bring more deep-cut characters or story to life in-world. “I definitely love designing the niche characters. So within Star Wars, I always loved when we had the cantina moments or we had anything with the creatures and aliens—that’s sort of like the bread and butter for me.” she said. “Now that I’m working on all franchises, I’m so excited to get into these niche characters because it really resonates with people. There’s tons of stories to be told, so it just kind of expands the creativity through the storytelling versus the product types.”

She continued, “That’s where I really feel like we can start to expand working on the same sort of properties every time. It’s that challenge to every designer—how do you make it new and fun and fresh?—that’s always evolving and always taking different avenues. I think that’s what makes it fun in particular. Indiana Jones and Star Tours, those are really fun products to work on just because my love is tied to the parks. So for Indiana Jones, you know, we had a small collection with kind of fun little nods that we can have depending on what we’re designing. Star Tours was actually sort of a pet project of mine of something I pushed for,” she said; the fan-fave 35th anniversary capsule collection was something she helped spearhead.

Star Tours Product Lines

Image: Disney Parks

Noting that the jacket looked not only like the castmember ride uniform but also authentically in-world for an out-of-Battuu attraction, Salaverria remarked that it was because Star Tours is so special to her. “We really want to have that nod to nostalgia,” she said. “Because it was the 35th anniversary, it’s ‘What did the costumes look like then?’ and really make it true to that time period. So that particular collection I actually pitched to the brand merchants: ‘I see that the 35th anniversary is coming up. Can we do it?’ It started off tiny but everyone really loved it, so it kind of grew into a little collection—and that jacket is one of my favorite pieces that I’ve done to date for sure.”

When it comes to what’s in store for the future of apparel that looks like it fits right into the many universes under the Disney umbrella, Salaverria said that the love for bounding styles and memorable outfits fans embrace really keeps influencing the Disney Parks merch team. “I think that everyone is continuing to try to find ways to really offer product that hasn’t been out before, that continues to be driven from what the fans want,” she said. “We see things and we start maybe small, and we see that there’s a huge reaction to it, and then we find ways to continue to build off of that.” We can’t wait for her team to smuggle in goods inspired by Bea Arthur’s Star Wars Holiday Special character Ackmena and her Chalmun’s Cantina, on a Life Day hopefully not too far in the future.


Want more io9 news? Check out when to expect the latest Marvel, Star Wars, and Star Trek releases, what’s next for the DC Universe on film and TV, and everything you need to know about the future of Doctor Who.

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