Today’s pop culture inspires fans to showcase their passion for fictional characters in creative ways. From video games to comics to movies, shows and more, what was once considered a niche hobby has skyrocketed into mainstream media. Cosplay or “costume-play” is the art of dressing up as one’s favorite fictional characters, but its definition slightly modifies with each person. While some simply dress as their favorite character, others will behave as the character they’ve recreated. The best part? You can be anyone you’d like. Batman? Sure. Jon Snow? Of course. But, how does one turn a love for comics into an actual career? We spoke to two cosplayers who’ve mastered the art and have successfully turned this craft into cash.
Is Cosplay for You?
Ely Renae, founder of cosplay Etsy business Kangaroomis, sees the freedom cosplay offers as its most appealing aspect. “It’s as casual or immersive as you want it to be,” she says. If you’re looking to become your favorite hero, meet friends with common interests, flaunt your modeling skills, or just hone your craft of costume making, cosplay is for you.
Cos-fans are incredibly passionate, and entire conventions (think New York Comic-Con, or Anime Expo) are dedicated to showcasing their most creative designs. Many conventions are even organized by fans to make them possible! So, how do you turn this hobby into something more lucrative?
From Hobby to Profession
For some, it’s a matter of luck. For others, it’s perseverance. But for all who succeed, it’s hard work to maintain. Not only are cosplay professionals working diverse hours, but they’re also organizing and managing their businesses entirely on their own! So, how do they do it?
Kay Victoria C, cosplay and beauty guru, maintains a Patreon account—think Kickstarter and Lootbox combined, but for creators—with sellable prints and rewards for her fans to remain up-to-date with her latest costumes. Because this online platform allows content creators to present exclusive content to fans or “patrons” in exchange for currency, it has become one of the most common ways for professional cosplayers to earn income. Other ways Kay earns cash is by presenting at conventions and occasionally reviewing products on social media for independent companies.
While she never worked in hopes of transforming her love for cosplay into a career, she’s happy she did. “I get to do what I love as a job and have more opportunities to make costumes,” she says. But, the key is to not waste time. “I do little at a time every day and always do props and painting first because those usually take the longest,” she says. “I sew my garments last or as things are painting, so I don’t waste any time.”
Renae also started cosplay as a hobby but created her own business from costume commissions and prize money she won from participating in a cosplay contest at ReplayFX in Pittsburg. After friends within the community helped advertise her newly found business, it didn’t take long for her designs to take off—and it’s no wonder! From Toothless to any Pokemon you can imagine, her custom costumes are professional-level quality. “I immediately had to create a waiting list with how many people were interested in my products,” she says. “I’ve been working hard and expanding my business since.”
Working 7-8 hours a day, Renae has crafted more than 200 pieces, mostly for customers. To keep orders organized, she expresses her love for spreadsheets. “I have information on each costume, measurements, payments and deadlines,” she says. “I color code the spreadsheets so I know how to prioritize my orders that way I don’t miss a deadline!”
Social Media’s Impact
Social media has enabled cosplay professionals to market their content to larger audiences, offering the world access to their work. In addition to Patreon, most professionals utilize Instagram and Twitter to update their fan base on their latest works and convention schedules, while some even post tutorials or other videos on Youtube—though with the rise of Patreon, this has become less common. Others stream video games or chat sessions on Twitch, a platform that also offers the ability to collect donations. Additionally, websites like BigCartel, Storenvy, and Etsy all allow those who earn money from commissions, like Renae, to sell their products.
When utilizing social media, one thing to remember is that you’re not only marketing the content you’re creating, but you’re advertising yourself as a persona. To gain a fanbase, you must engage and appeal to would-be-fans. This requires you to take the cosplay community into consideration when posting.
Why is the community such an important part of transforming cosplay from craft to cash, you may wonder? According to Renae, without it, she wouldn’t have half of her closest friends, her job and most of her customers. “More than half of my customers come to me because one of their friends told them about my business,” she says. “They are the reason that I am so successful today.”
Just make sure you’re “finding a very supportive group of people to surround yourself with,” adds Kay. “The community I’m in promotes motivation and positivity.”
Challenges and Rewards
As exciting as it may be to manage your own career, with its benefits come challenges. “I have a very debilitating chronic illness, which often makes it difficult for me to work on costumes for my job, as well as personal projects,” says Renae. “It’s been a major hurdle for me over the years because I can’t keep a regular 9-5.” Cosplay as a career allows Renae to make a living in a manageable and comfortable environment, where she’s able to work at her own pace—something that has helped expand her business. One of the only downsides, she notes, is that she works alone. “I’m naturally a very extroverted person, so it’s easy to grow restless.”
Kay also loves the ability to set her own schedule but doesn’t always have a project in mind. “What I dislike is when I get into ruts where I don’t know what to work on next,” she says. “Make sure you really push yourself to be motivated because you don’t have a higher-up to tell you to get to work. You have to do it for yourself.” And it’s important not to be afraid of criticism, she adds. “You will always have someone who won’t like your work or just always has something negative to say, but you have to ignore that and keep doing what you love.”
The Bottom Line
There’s not just one way to turn cosplay from a hobby into a career. The rise of Youtube, Twitter and other social media platforms offer endless ways to turn this craft into cash. You can make and sell cosplay tutorials, costumes, props, prints, videos, and more. You can run a table with your own merchandise at a convention or get hired by a company to represent their brand. You can photograph, film, sew, network, apply makeup, and combine all these skills and more to transform this dream into reality. Just remember that like any job, cosplay as a profession means you need to maintain consistency in all your efforts, especially when you have fans who support you and are eager to see what you’re going to create next. If you’re skilled at time-management, schedule-making, maintaining social media and staying current with the newest pop-culture movies and games, you’ll be able to transform this hobby into a profession in no time!
So, whether you’re looking to pursue a career out of cosplay or do it for the love of the character you’re portraying, the most important thing to remember is to have fun and don’t be too critical of yourself. “I still sometimes go through two or three pieces before I make something that is up to my standards, and I’ve been sewing for five years now,” says Kay. You are going to make mistakes creating things, but that is how you will learn. Don’t worry about what anyone else will think or say, because in the end, you’re following your dream.”