Think of your favorite movie, or tv show, or video game, or comic. How do you share your love for it with the people around you? You might recommend it to your friends, or hang a poster on your wall, or wear it on a t-shirt. While you don’t have to prove that you’re a fan of your favorite media, many people feel a dedication to honoring popular culture that inspires them. For makers with a creative sensibility, one of the fastest-growing ways to pay tribute to pop culture and media is through cosplay.
While cosplay is still its own counterculture of sorts, its popularity and visibility in the US has been rising for years alongside the growth of the Maker Movement. For brands that sell products cosplay makers may use, this is a market segment that shouldn't be ignored. Why? For one thing, the market size huge and continuing to grow ($25B USD worldwide projected for 2019). But perhaps the more important reason with a more lasting impact is the passion that cosplayers have for their craft. This passion is not only evident in the quality and creativity of the things they make and the amount they're willing to spend on each costume, but also in the dynamics of the community where they share their creations, their ideas, their views and reviews on various products, and so much more.
Cosplay is no passing fancy or fad — this is a burgeoning opportunity that is ripe for engagement. Please scroll down to see some additional insights about cosplay makers that may be helpful to your marketing efforts. And if cosplay makers are among your target audiences, let's chat about how we may be able to help your brand reach and engage with them — please don’t hesitate to reach out.
The first recorded instance of cosplay took place at the first Worldcon (World Science Fiction Convention) in 1939.
While science fiction fan Forrest J. Ackerman is often credited as the wearer of the first cosplay (the word for which didn’t even exist yet), his “futuristicostume” was actually designed and created by Myrtle Douglas, or Morojo, a science fiction zine writer at a time when women weren’t at all welcome in the sci-fi fan community. She also made herself a convertible ballgown for the convention, where their outfits received much attention and launched the convention costume trend in the U.S.
Only a year later, Worldcon added a masquerade ball to its official lineup of events, complete with music, dancing, and costume prizes. In the decades that followed before conventions began to evolve into the huge events we know today, many more costume-makers attended dressed as creatures, aliens, and monsters inspired by their favorite sci-fi and fantasy stories. But even by this point, fans were reportedly already spending weeks or even months to create their costumes.
Through the 1970s, the Worldcon masquerade continued to grow, and the new San Diego Comic-Con added its own masquerade element.
By 1975, sci-fi conventions were known worldwide as having to costumed dances.
During the 1980s, the surge in popularity of manga and anime is one of the largest factors in truly launching cosplay into the spotlight. SDCC encouraged costumes as the main attraction of the convention, and the word “cosplay” is coined by reporter Takahashi Nobuyuki.
The 90s saw further penetration of anime cosplay in the U.S. and Japan when the popular show Sailor Moon premiered. From there, cosplay continued to grow as more conventions popped up across the country and the cornerstone events got larger and larger. Cosplay turned into a true main event of fan conventions in all niches, and the costumes became more and more impressive, enough to turn some creators into full-fledged celebrities in the community.
Today, cosplay continues to grow and develop with the help of increased awareness through social media, innovative crafting techniques and products, and the adoption of cosplay as entertainment at other types of events, such as movie premiers and game launches.
Today, cosplay makers constitute a diverse maker (and market) segment with a lot of influence and some serious buying power. While the cosplay community has made strides to become more inclusive of makers with all different backgrounds, abilities, and circumstances, there are some trends that your brand should be aware of when it comes to making cosplayers your target audience. Just remember, these demographics show only the trends in the segment, but a more accurate picture of the cosplay community is diverse and well-rounded.
Over half of today’s cosplayers identify as female, and the largest age group is made up of those between the ages of 22-39. These makers spend their time preparing for their favorite conventions and fan events — of which most attend three or more each year.
In terms of spending, most makers are willing to invest not only time but also money in their cosplay. On average, makers spend up to $200 on each costume, but more advanced cosplayers might even spend $600-$1000. When you consider that most makers create multiple costumes each year, you can see how significant their spending habits are in the market.
Most cosplay makers are hobbyists — passionate ones, for sure — while some are actually able to turn cosplay into a professional career or side job by selling costumes, patterns, or photos, or by appearing at live events.
Cosplay makers are creative and curious folks who are dedicated to expanding their skills and knowledge in order to improve the quality of their future costumes and props. In order to educate themselves on new craft techniques, products, and trends in the cosplay community, they devote a lot of free time to researching their craft in several different ways.
Almost all cosplay makers use social media to not only make friends in the cosplay community, but also to learn from other makers like themselves, ask questions and get advice, and pick up tips, tricks, and product recommendations from others. They also read blogs and watch tutorial videos in order to master new cosplay skills and solve their specific project challenges. While they might use a variety of social media platforms, Instagram and YouTube are their favorites for learning more about making better cosplay.
Get to know the people behind the cosplay makers market segment with our original interview series — Makers 1-on-1 — where we dig deep into what they do, how and why they do it, their purchasing habits, and what they need from the brands that support them. Check out video snippets of the interviews and download full interview transcripts.
Elyse has been making cosplay costumes for more than ten years to pay tribute to her favorite pop culture characters. She knows more about the different types of glue, foam, and other craft supplies than she ever imagined.
Ryan and Cody started their cosplay club to develop their costuming skills while spreading the positivity of cosplay around their community. They use household items and plenty of craft supplies (especially hot glue!) to make their pop-culture costumes.
While anyone can become a cosplay maker, that doesn’t mean there aren’t challenges that most makers face in the craft at one point or another. Making each costume and prop from start to finish will come with its own unique design challenges, and juggling event deadlines, unexpected costs, and unwelcome mistakes can slow down and even halt the creative process.
Some of the most common challenges all cosplay makers face include making costumes that fit perfectly, getting projects finished, and protecting their finished pieces from damage. However, with a little practice and research, makers can certainly overcome these challenges. Cosplay is fun and rewarding not only despite these challenges, but also because of the problem-solving it takes to overcome them.