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Posted Date: 01/11/2016

How Cosplay Bewitches Consumers Year-Round

Dorothy Creamer, Editor

For costume retailers and manufacturers, Halloween has long been the bread and butter of the business. According to the National Retail Federation (, total spending in 2015 was expected to top $6.9 billion, with the average American spending the most on adult costumes ($1.2B).

Ultimately 2015 wound up being flat or slightly better than 2014 for most retailers, with many reporting that it was a slow start for a Saturday holiday. “We were conceed early on based on September and early October sales,” Howard Beige, executive vice president of Rubie’s, admits, explaining that 40% of the season’s business was done on the Thursday, Friday and Saturday of Halloween.

There is possibly nothing more nerve-wracking than the waiting game for sales to come in, when an entire bottom line hinges on a fourth quarter boon. Rather than waiting and wishing for the best during those final weeks of October, costume retailers and suppliers must address other possible revenue streams. Recently, year-round costume sales have seen strong growth with the steady increase in attention for cosplay. Comic-Con is a registered trademark of San Diego Comic-Con Inteational (, a nonprofit educational corporation dedicated to creating awareness of, and appreciation for, comics and related popular art forms, primarily through the presentation of conventions. This culture of appreciation for all things fantasy-related has spawned thousands of other “cons” worldwide.

“Here in Georgia we have DragonCon ( – and we get a good amount of clientele that comes in for those needs,” Jerry Bradley, co-owner of Robins, Ga-based The Costume Shop of Georgia, states. “DragonCon focuses on superhero costumes and those types of accessories, plus we have a large renaissance fair outside of Atlanta. We have done fairly well the last two years dealing with those markets.”

Cosplay is proving to be a growth area that should not be ignored. “One of our retailers attends 110 conventions a year,” Kelli Borel, chief sales optimizer for Elope, reveals. “This retailer has found that ‘Cons’ can be a viable part of his business by hosting events or attending local conventions and selling stuff.” Borel explains that buyers in the market for cosplay items are often more interested in authentic items. “They don’t want knock-offs,” she says, revealing that Elope sees demand for its licensed Dr. Who and Harry Potter items in this vein. “Then you also have the renaissance fairs, where popular costumes can include pirates, steampunk and even sci-fi,” Borel notes.

Supplying for the Demanding
Year-round Costume Wearer

For store owners trying to predict what looks will appeal to cosplayers, R.J. Torbert, licensing director for Fun World, asserts that trends are heavily influenced by the entertainment industry. “You can have a character that’s been in a comic book for years, but put the character in a successful movie or television show and ‘suddenly’ you have the ‘birth’ of a trend,” he says. “[To predict what will be popular], look at what major releases are coming for 2016; look at the top tier shows.”

Ghost Face, Rob Zombie’s Halloween and Popeye are all success stories for Fun World due to their “high recognizable factor” according to Torbert.  “Entertainment successes have made them staples, creating classic and steady sellers,” he says.

Online retailers have previously had a stronger hold in this market, by offering a wide selection at any time of year and being able to quickly react to supply and demand for late-breaking pop culture characters. “Amazon has this right now,” muses Tony Zagone, owner Zagone Studios, who hopes that retailers will “open their eyes to the opportunity” that cosplay events can pose. “With Halloween, you build all year to this one day. With cosplay – there are events every month! Even if it brings in a small amount of revenue, it can at least be a continual flow.”

Chuck Martinez, owner of InCharacter, agrees that Inteet retailers have made costumes available to customers 24/7, requiring brick-and-mortars to find compelling ways to motivate consumers to visit them rather than online sources. “Year-round costuming is slowly growing and the costume industry needs to do more to promote this,” Martinez says. “The HIA (Halloween Industry Association) has this as one of its goals and is exploring partnerships with large consumer marketing companies for promotional opportunities.”

Rubie’s Costume Company, with the licenses for properties including DC, Waer Brothers, Star Wars, Marvel and many more, has seen the growth of these already popular licenses as fans seek out authentic costumes and accessories for events. “We stock items in the U.S. and are ready for reorders,” Beige says. “Comic-Con used to just refer to the San Diego event, but now they are all over and they have become an important part of our culture promoting the year-round costume.”

Lar Hovsepian, director of marketing for Dreamgirl, admits that requests for year-round accessories and costumes have definitely increased. To address this demand, the company has launched a Year-Round Accessories and Costumes Catalog digitally to help retailers focus on key buys throughout the year that are perfect for anything from parties to cosplay.    

Quality, Authenticity &  DIY Drive Cosplay Sales
Beige goes on to note that the serious cosplayers are devoted to authenticity, attention to detail and often DIY. “It’s an important part of their lives and those people tend to make a lot of their own fabric components,” Beige explains. “While they can sew fabric they can’t mold a belt or boot tops, so these people are buying from our mix and match/DIY program. Those who don’t have time to make their own, however, will look to buy better quality, more expensive costumes.”

InCharacter’s Martinez admits that cosplay has created an adult interest in lesser-known, niche licensed characters “which are challenging for both manufacturers and retailers to take advantage of due to the limited volume potential of any one character because of the development and inventory costs.” However, with the willingness of cosplay enthusiasts to create their own looks, retailers can use non-licensed components to create character-driven looks for their customers.

Carole Crist, owner of Goddessey, notes that opportunities are there, especially in wigs and accessories for year-round cosplay. “Our Dragon Princess wig is extremely popular for the medieval look,” she says referring to a wig that would also appeal to Game of Thrones enthusiasts seeking to look like Dragon Queen Daenerys from the popular series. Crist also reveals that Goddessey’s Candy Glams wigs are popular for My Little Pony-inspired outfits.
Dreamgirl’s Hovsepian calls out that consumers increasingly look to online sources for inspiration to create their own looks. “With the speed at which trends hit the marketplace based on current pop cultural events, movies or rising stars, more consumers are looking for unique ways to create their own costumes to stand out,” she says. “Pinterest and YouTube are key outlets of motivation for the DIY generation.”

For Smiffy’s this full calendar year of opportunity is nothing new, having already seen the market change over recent years from one time ordering to regular weekly orders throughout the year.  “Costumes have always been a year-round business within the European markets and it is fantastic to see this happening worldwide,” Grace Hutchinson, marketing executive for Smiffy’s, says. “It’s important for retailers and suppliers to create trends within the market outside of the Halloween season.”

The pros of paying attention to “cons”
Retailers, take note of when Comic Cons, Renaissance Fairs and other
fantasy-related cosplay opportunities will be in your area. Get the word
out to regular and potential customers that you can help create looks for
these events. Also consider setting up small booths at events that are in
your area. Check out the following sources for listings
of upcoming events across the country.

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