Yaya’s cosplay journey

In Her Own Words

I discovered Cosplay 17 years ago!

The short answer is that I went to a con, saw cosplay in action, and got hooked. But to elaborate - I have been an anime/manga fan since childhood after watching "Saint Seiya". By my teen years, I had read and watched tons of Japanimation and was an avid artist in Arizona. Through the local anime club I learned about Anime Expo and decided to attend the con to sell my artwork. I found the former website "A Fan's View" and photos of the previous AX years, including pictures of people dressed up as these cool anime characters. Before knowing what this phenomenon was, I instantly became attracted to it - what better way to show my childhood love for the anime/manga fandom than to "become" my favorite characters?

Unfortunately I didn't know how to sew back then, so I asked a kind friend to show me the basic use of a sewing machine and patterns. With her help I made my first (Asian inspired) garment and wore it to Anime Expo. Throughout the weekend I kept seeing more people dressed up and learned that this was called COSPLAY! It was all over from that point on.

I continued making costumes, experimenting and learning by hands-on crafting, reading sewing books, following tutorials online, sharing information with friends etc. I think a lot of the fun in costuming lies within problem solving. In 17 years, between costumes for myself and friends, I have over 350 complete costumes, not counting costumes and accessories made for customers.

As you can see from my galleries, I have fairly broad taste - ranging from anime/manga to video games to movies, comics, j-music, and a variety of original designs. I think I just get easily excited about entertainment in general lol. What kept my interest in cosplay all these years and after all these sewing projects is the creative freedom I experience. It's not only sewing but also sculpting, wig-work, props, makeup, photography etc. The possibilities are endless and I am constantly learning something new, which is a lot of fun!

I've gotten some Qs about my cosplay business so here is the story:

When I discovered cosplay 17 years ago, the US community was so small and underground that we had no option of buying costumes, accessories or props. If you wanted to cosplay, you pretty much had to make the costume. I'm glad that I discovered cosplay during such a time, because it forced me to get hands on with creating costumes from scratch, and I fell in love with the craftsmanship process as much as I did with the characters.

Ever wonder where cosplay commissioners came from? All from word of mouth, cosplayers asking each other if someone could make a costume for them. As I made more costumes, I started getting more requests for commissions. I declined full costume commissions for a long time as I had a full-time job and spent my free time working on my own costumes, but I did make accessories for people, such as cat ears, horns, angel wings, jewelry and hairpieces. I was even a part of a costume accessories business called The Faerie Grove, with my good friends Meg and Cat.

Fast forward to 2004, when I did start taking full costume commissions. The demand for costumes was rising, more people were interested in cosplay and wanted costumes made for them and I had a lot of costume requests. I thought I would give it a shot, which ultimately led to the very risky path of quitting my salary job with benefits in order to start my own costume commission business with 2 other craftsmen, one of them being Brian Boling! We called our little commission business "DayDream-Artisans", and we were very prolific at making all kinds of full costumes, props, fantasy accessories, wings and corsets.

Eventually I realized that I enjoyed making the accessories more than the costumes. I could be creative, and design items in different colors and the pieces were affordable to many people, not just luxury items for a few. I also liked the idea of providing items that would complement people's own costumes, and giving them the chance to be more creative on their own. Brian was on board with me, so together, we switched gears to making more cosplay accessories and started going to conventions to offer them to the public, first in artist alleys, then in exhibit halls.
I designed the products, sculpted them such as the horns, cat/fox/elf ears, Brian sanded them smooth and did the molding/casting, and I finished the products and embellished them. Slow;y we built a line of accessories that could be offered in a huge variety of colors and combined with each other.
I also went back to working on my own costumes again, which took the back burner for a couple of years while I did cosplay commissions. From 2005 on, I have been a freelance artist and craftsperson, and now, my store with Brian comprises of many different cosplay products, as well as merchandise such as my calendars, posters, etc. Over the years, there have been all kinds of random gigs and projects that helped me sustain my business. From fashion shows to making life-size angel wings for Las Vegas clubs to making fashion corsets, to designing and making costumes for Indy films and TV pilots, to modeling in costumes in hair shows, I have done it all.

There is never a set path in the creative field. It's not like any of us artists set out to do a certain thing. You have to be flexible and go with the flow, and do a whole bunch of different things to be able to make a living doing something you love. I'm not going to break down for you how exactly I make my living, or give you a step by step tutorial on how to run a cosplay business. Each artist, each craftsman, chooses their own path, their own specialty. Some make costumes. Some make props. Others model for companies and artists. Some make wigs. Others make cute plushies. In the end, we're all cosplayers working in the same creative field, and we should respect and support each other. And YOU should choose your own path and do your own research, to ensure that you are doing exactly what you want to do.

One word of advice to those wanting to start their own business: Be prepared to work every single day, prepare to starve a lot at the beginning, prepare to make mistakes that will haunt you, prepare for a lot of criticism, and prepare to lie awake at night pondering your life choices often. But really, if it allows you to work for yourself and make a living doing something you love, it's completely worth it.

Here are some of the products we offer in my Shop!

Cosplay and conventions go hand in hand for me

I started out going to cons as a regular attendee who cosplayed and entered contests with my outfits. My friends and I were always working on elaborate dramatic skits that combined choreographed dancing and interactions with music (no dialogue). We were very successful with our style of performances and won Best in Show awards and other awards at almost every convention we competed at. But after competing heavily for about 2 years I got tired of spending all of my precious convention time working on the skits and waiting backstage, so I stopped entering contests and just cosplayed in the halls and hung out with my friends. I also started taking an interest in doing photoshoots outside of cons with my costumes, which largely was thanks to my enthusiastic photographer friends. It turned out that I was one of the very first cosplayers to do location and studio photoshoots in costumes, and it makes me happy to know that through my photo contributions and that of my cosplay peers a decade ago, photography is now an intricate part of cosplay. Making your costume is just half of the battle, the ultimate prize is to capture the essence of a character in a really great professional-looking photograph. I love seeing this artform evolve.

In 2001, I became the first cosplayer to be invited to a convention as a Guest of Honor. It was a rare thing for a "fan" to receive the same appearance contract and compensation as voice actors, artists and producers working in the anime industry. Since then I have appeared at over 100 conventions world wide as a guest, panelist, speaker, host and/or judge. It's hard for me to believe that I have been to so many conventions, let alone contributed to the programming and events. I am proud to be able to say that I helped lay the foundation for many other cosplayers to be invited as convention guests today, and I have helped set the standards for cosplay the way it is viewed in the convention circuit today. Even 10 years ago, cosplayers were just another group of fans and attendees at cons. They were never deemed important enough to be judges for costume contests or give panels on cosplay. Most contests were judged by voice actors and artists who didn't know very much about craftsmanship. Now conventions respect cosplayers and understand that a costume contest is best run and judged by cosplayers. There are more prestigious prizes offered up in contests and some cons reserve a panel room for just cosplay panels all weekend long. It truly is a joy for me to see the convention circuit recognize the importance of having cosplayers at events. We are the visual community of the anime fandom. We brighten up the halls of the conventions and help make the atmosphere fun and colorful!

Thanks to cosplay I also got to travel to several countries, all of which have been fascinating. I love visiting cons abroad and talking about the differences between cultures, conventions and communities. We might not all speak the same languages, but we share the same love for anime and cosplay! I have made some great friends and met some absolutely incredible cosplayers.