On Commissioning Cosplay Costumes
INCOMING RANT AHEAD.
I’ve seen a TON of complaints lately about how commissioners “overcharge” or “won’t help their client help themselves with a simple costume.”
Let me unravel a few misconceptions for you.
THE MYTH: That commissioners are just greedy bastards who don’t want to help their fellow cosplayers and are using their clients’ lack of costuming knowledge against the community at large.
THE TRUTH: There’s a MAJOR difference between asking someone for advice and asking them to make something for you. The majority of commissions I’ve gotten have come from cosplayers who DO make their own, simpler costumes - they just realize that what they want to cosplay for an upcoming event is beyond their current skill level. And that’s fine!
What I need people to realize is that commissioners don’t force their clients to buy things from them. People come to us because they want something made that they realize they can’t. Could they attempt to make it themselves? Sure. Could they ask my advice about it? Yes, and I will give it freely. But here’s the catch - skills take time to learn. By entrusting the costume construction to a commissioner who has already mastered those skills, the client unburdens themselves from the worry that they won’t be able to make the costume to their satisfaction.
And here’s the thing: materials aren’t cheap, and neither are skills. The foundation of a well-made garment begins with good materials. The person you’re commissioning spent years studying (and screwing up their own stuff) so they could confidently advertise themselves and produce things that they’re proud of. They’ve invested a lot of time and money into their education and supplies, and it’s not wrong of them to want to turn a profit.
THE MYTH: Commissioners should “teach their clients so they can help themselves.”
THE TRUTH: THAT’S NOT WHAT A COMMISSIONER’S JOB IS. Why would someone want to take away their source of income? See above about advice and labor being different from each other.
Look. The truth of the matter is, I LOVE teaching people stuff about cosplay. How to budget, how to achieve certain looks, whatever. But when someone commissions me, it’s not my job to walk them through the entirety of how I made it. They’re paying me so they don’t have to worry about that aspect of the costume. Teaching someone how to sew is the EXACT OPPOSITE OF MY JOB.
(Also, just plain don’t do the thing where you say “I want to make this!” and then ask your friend or cosplay senpai about every single little detail. Google is there. Use it. Advice from more experienced people is a privilege, not a right.)
If you want to learn how to sew, you don’t ask the person you’re paying to make something for you. You find a teacher who’s willing to take the time to show you all the (extremely complex) ins and outs of garment construction. OR LOOK UP TUTORIALS, which we’ve already determined are A) different from commissioning someone and B) usually free. There, go, educate thyself.
THE MYTH: “You charge too much! I could walk into a GoodWill and make this for $20!”
THE TRUTH: If you say things like this, then I advise you to try it and post your results (and then try to sell it to someone else who doesn’t know you.) The example someone gave for “an overcharged piece” was an Ouran Academy jacket.
…Having worked in a bridal shop for the better part of a year as a tailoress, and having sewn since I was twelve, let me tell you - suit jackets are NOT cheap. Neither is custom embroidery. And tailoring them can be HARD AS SHIT, especially with goofy anime proportions. And making them from scratch is a NIGHTMARE. I’d charge a lot to make one, too!
I understand that people don’t want to break the bank on cosplay. I do. But when you’re commissioning someone, you’re paying them to make you a garment that is professional quality. All those shortcuts you use on your own costume? GONE. You aren’t allowed to have sloppy seams, unfinished hems, a missing lining, any of that. When you pay someone for a piece like an Ouran jacket, they’re expected to turn out what amounts to a real-life suit jacket, which will be, of course, expensive.
Commissioners aren’t allowed to think in terms of “I’m making Tamaki’s jacket.” They’re required to think in terms of “I’m making an extremely well-fitted blazer that happens to be powder blue for a character who attends a very wealthy school and therefore aforementioned blazer won’t be made from cheap broadcloth.”
(Also, there’s some flexibility here - if a client has a smaller budget, there are workarounds by agreeing, in writing, that the commissioner can make the garment in a lower-quality material to reduce the price. It doesn’t always work, but it’s worth a shot. And if you do do this and get a product made with lower-quality materials that YOU AGREED ON, you can’t be surprised by or complain about the fact that you didn’t get a nice gabardine instead.)
THE MYTH: “You’re taking advantage of people!”
THE TRUTH: Setting a price for a commission is a tough thing. Most undercharge because almost no one’s willing to pay the $15/hr for labor it deserves. The Luna dress I made last year went for $200, which included supplies ($120/supplies and $80/labor.) My client came back with “thank you for giving me such a deal but you are undercharging!” which tells me she’s a GREAT client, because she values my work and tells me so.
And yet, I’ve had numerous potential clients balk at stuff priced over $200, even when it’s super tailored or requires YARDS UPON YARDS UPON YARDS of fabric and tricky construction techniques. Let me tell you something - I haven’t had a single commissioned costume piece in the last five years whose supply cost was under $100. Let that sink in. Now let me tell you that I’ve had people who want an entire finished costume for less than the cost of raw supplies. Regardless of how complex the costume is, it’s preposterous to assume that something like that is sustainable for the person making it. We’re not going to volunteer to lose money to make something for someone we don’t even know, especially when the time it takes to create such a piece could be spent on people who will pay us for our work.
If people think we’re charging too much, they’re free to not commission us, but that doesn’t mean they get to blast us when they don’t even have a realistic idea of what supplies and labor cost. Yes, people should do their research and see if something is worth the price - but the onus is on the consumer, not the producer, to determine how much they want to pay. No one’s forcing you to pay $50 for a hair clip.
And when I say “research”, I mean THOROUGH research. Look at the supplies that ebay seller is using. Is it made from fabric suitable for the character and garment? Will it tear itself apart after it’s worn once? What are the conditions under which it’s being made? Can it even be washed? Will it even fit?
When you pay a commissioner, you’re not just paying for supplies. You’re paying for education, years of hard work, and what may be their food or rent for that month. You’re paying for the guarantee that the costume fit properly and hold up with proper care even after multiple conventions. They can’t afford to pay themselves sweatshop wages for that sort of thing. Our work is worth money.
IN CONCLUSION: If you prefer to make your own costumes, fine. But realize that when you make things for yourself, they are only held to your standards. Commissioners are held to a PROFESSIONAL standards, and high standards (and thereby pro construction) cost money. AND THEY SHOULD.
And to the people who complain about that price: nut up or shut up. If you’re going to complain about someone’s prices, first show me that you can do as well or better on a body that’s not your own for the price you’re demanding. Then try turning around and consistently selling complex garments for people who bemoan that your skills “aren’t worth it” even though they BEGGED you to make something for them not two weeks before.