Pinning the Pixie Dust: Discover Jes Willis’ Pin-spiring Disney Journey

Pin trading has become a beloved family tradition at Disney Parks globally, and behind the shiny pin boards, there is a team of talented designers who bring that magic to life. One of those designers is Jes Willis, product design manager for the Disney Pin Trading Center of Excellence. With a passion for storytelling and a love for Disney that stems from childhood, Jes has had a remarkable journey to her current role leading her team in creating pins that captivate Disney fans around the world.

“I grew up always wanting to work for the Walt Disney Company, I just didn’t know in what capacity. While my start may have been unique, I believe each of us has our own stories that lead and inspire others.”

–Jes Willis
Jes with Disney pin board

Originally from Long Island, NY, Jes grew up visiting Walt Disney World Resort with her family and developed a deep love for the Company. Her dream of working for Disney never wavered, and she pursued it relentlessly while gaining valuable experience working for agencies and design firms in the Northeast.

Nearly nine years into her career, Jes took a leap of faith and moved to Florida. “Disney was always the end goal,” she shared. “I moved without a job but armed myself with the mentality of ‘I have to try everything to make this dream a reality.’” Her persistence paid off, and she was given the opportunity to start freelancing for Disney, which quickly led to a full-time contractor role. Ironically, her first-ever project was a Disney Trading pin!

After seven years designing for all types of merchandise, Jes was asked to help create and lead the first Center of Excellence for Disney Pin Trading in July of 2021. Today, as the Product Design Manager, Jes’ day-to-day responsibilities revolve around leading the design of a talented (“rockstar” as she calls them) team of pin designers. They are responsible for creating pins that tell compelling stories and captivate guests’ imaginations. Her role, however, remains fluid. “Some days I can be jumping in to work on some late pin designs,” she explained. “Others, I am building a story and narrative for an event…wherever my team needs me, I find myself.”

Jes designing

For Jes, planning pin-trading events is an opportunity to tell an unforgettable story. “We typically have a grand idea – or maybe a few – and we whittle away at it like Geppetto in his workshop, constantly refining, shaping, and sometimes, when we break away a piece, we find a whole new story from a whole new idea and pivot. It is my favorite part of my job.”

From guiding the storytelling of assortments to driving and pushing the designs, Jes is constantly working to ensure that her team’s creations are of the highest quality. However, as someone who puts so much into each design, she finds it difficult to pick favorites among her own creations.

“I like to say we pin designers have ‘phenomenal artistic power, on an itty-bitty art space,’” she shared. “We put so much heart into each of our designs, it’s really hard to pick favorites.” If she had to choose, she mentioned the following three: a Baymax open edition pin (her first ever pin), the Figment GenEaration D event capsule pin and the Titanic Heart of the Ocean-inspired pin.

Jes is not only an amazing designer, but a Walt Disney Legacy Award winner! This prestigious recognition is given to a select few Disney Cast Members who uphold the ideals of Walt himself, and it is clearly well-deserved. Jes’ passion for storytelling and Disney are evident in her work. Thanks to an unwavering pursuit of her dream, Jes has been able to bring a unique perspective to the world of pin design, infusing each pin with a sense of wonder. She leads her team with creativity, innovation, and a commitment to outperforming herself.

Jes with pin lanyard

As she shared the best advice she received in her career, I couldn’t help but see the parallels in her own journey: “Give 100% of whatever that day’s 100% is, and as long as you are 1% better than the day before, at the end of a year you are at least a 365% better person.”