The hobby is growing in popularity, but finding necessary supplies can be a challenge
Costuming is becoming a year-round thing for more and more people in the U.S. You’ve heard of them, they’re called Cosplayers.
The once-niche subculture, which originally was based on Japanese amine, isn’t so niche anymore. There are hundreds of Cosplay-related conventions, often called comic cons, in the U.S. and new ones are popping up each year. Three of the largest — New York Comic Con, San Diego Comic-Con and Dragon Con in Atlanta — now draw more than 100,000 people apiece every year.
Candy Shannon, aka Sweets4aSweet, has been active in Cosplay for eight years. Shannon has built quite a following, as her Facebook page has more than 12,000 followers. Manager of a veterinary clinic is her day job, but Shannon is often paid to appear at conventions and asked to judge contests. She was on the cover of Cosplay+ magazine in 2014.
Shannon’s biggest challenge isn’t deciding what she’s going to become next, it’s finding the products she needs to make it happen.
A resident of Jackson County in southern Michigan, a county of about 160,000 people that is well within driving distance of the more-populated cities of Ann Arbor and Lansing, Shannon still has to buy the large majority of her materials online.
“I buy almost everything online because of the availability here,” she said. “I have to make a lot of things as well because I can’t find them.”
Shannon describes herself as a “crafter” and doesn’t mind making props or altering materials. Even getting the desired base products, such as fabrics and high-quality makeup, is problematic, however.
“If it’s fabric, when we’re buying it online, it has to be way in advance where you can get swatches of things to make sure it’s going to match what you need, or else you’re taking a risk,” Shannon said. “In the bigger cities, there is more availability. I know in L.A. there is a whole fabric district and there are huge warehouses where they can get most anything.
“We just don’t have that here. We’ve got like a Joann’s and even that product selection is limited.”
James Elmer has been a Cosplayer for three years. A resident of Muskegon, Michigan, which is near Grand Rapids, Elmer also purchases the large majority of his supplies online because they aren’t available within a reasonable distance.
Elmer, a former Army Ranger and current physical trainer, creates most of his own props, wearable or otherwise. He often utilizes craft foam, resin, fabrics, body paint, makeup and Worbla, an expensive brand of thermoplastic, to transform his well-developed physique into comic book and movie characters.
“I’ve been on (the local) Joann’s and Hobby Lobby to carry some of this stuff,” Elmer said. “They’re already carrying fabrics. Why not carry the plastics and foam Cosplayers use?”
Barring a significant cost difference, both Elmer and Shannon would rather buy from a brick-and-mortar retailer over online, noting how garments, clothing and wigs can vary in size and even the color and texture of a product can be easily misjudged from only seeing it online.
“I always prefer to go to a store because you know exactly what you’re getting,” said Elmer, who goes by the moniker of Gym Elmer. “I’ve bought clothing that comes from overseas and their sizes run totally different than ours.”
In addition to buying online, many Cosplayers use conventions, most of which allow vendors to offer cash-and-carry, to stock up on supplies.
“Wigs are a big thing (in Cosplay), and there are always a lot of wig vendors at shows,” Shannon said. “I deal with a wig company out of Chicago and their wigs are so popular, a lot of them you have to wait on backorder, so I have to get them at shows. Again, it does come back to availability.”
Both Shannon and Elmer strive for accuracy and detail and put a lot of time and effort into their ensembles, but not all Cosplayers go to the same lengths. Shannon, for example, strives for screen accuracy with a personal twist, but added many Cosplayers opt for officially licensed items. There also are some that enjoy the hobby but want to keep their costs down.
“You’re going to get your budget Cosplayers who are going to go for what they can, like buying wet n wild for 99 cents at the drugstore,” she said. “Then you’re getting people who want a $75 makeup palette.
“That’s what makes it difficult (for brick-and-mortar retailers) and probably why there aren’t a lot of stores that cater to it. There is no one way to do it.”
(Photos: Candy Shannon as Ursula by Neitling Photography; Shannon as Warrior Fiona by JustGeraldMedia and edited by SGH PhotoArt; Gym Elmer as Guts from Berserk by Anthony Camastro)
The Cosplayer’s Want List
Fabrics (including Leather)
Full or Nearby Complete Costumes
Makeup & Body Paint
Sewing Materials and Tools
Prosthetics (Ears, Fangs, etc.)