How This Woman Turned Her Love of Cosplay Into a Side Gig Making Costumes
While attending any comic book, sci-fi or animation convention, it’s almost impossible to miss the cosplayers, the people who dress up in costumes resembling characters from comics, TV and movies. The quality of their costumes can range from outfits resembling the kind found in party supply stores to something Chris Evans would wear while filming “The Avengers.”
People who wish to look like they walked off the pages of a comic book but have no skills with a sewing machine turn to costume commissioners like Deisha Strater to create their outfits.
“I understand that the person is really excited about who they’re dressing up as, and if I can help them with making that a reality, that’s what drives me to want to make it really great for them,” says Strater, who goes by the cosplay alias Dei CosArt.
Strater, a 26-year-old graphic designer for a medical company in Longwood, Florida, has grown her side business as a commissioner, earning just under $1,000 within the past year creating custom wigs, costumes, props and armor pieces.
A Way to Show Your Passion
When Strater attended her first Japanese animation convention in Orlando, Florida, in 2007, she walked in wearing street clothes and left in costume.
She was in high school at the time, and her mother had given her money for food before she left for the convention. While browsing the merchant hall, she stumbled upon a wearable cloak matching one of the villain characters from the Japanese cartoon show “Naruto.” Strater used her meal money to buy the cloak and then immediately ran to the bathroom to apply some makeup to match the character.
As she walked around the convention halls wearing her new cloak and makeup, fellow convention attendees praised her. They kept stopping her to discuss their mutual love of Japanese cartoons, known more commonly as anime. Following the convention, she asked her grandmother to teach her how to sew. From there, she started crafting original costumes for conventions.
“What I really like about dressing up versus going in normal civilian clothing is it shows the passion and love for the stuff that I’ve fallen in love with or that I enjoy,” she says. “I get to have a chance to express myself, dress up, have fun and not really care [what other people think].”
Rudy Gomez, 40, from Dade City, Florida, has been actively involved with the Japanese anime convention and cosplay community since 2002. Over the years, he’s seen people who have a hard time in social situations use cosplay as an icebreaker.
“When they put on a costume, they feel like a totally different person, so now they keep the characteristics from that character, almost act like someone else for a little bit in order to break the barrier of their social awkwardness in order to connect with someone,” he says. “When they get out of costume after the show, it’s easier to talk now that they know they have something mutual to talk about.”
Can’t Sew? No Problem
As the popularity of cosplay and niche conventions continues to grow, so has the demand for costume commissioners, says Gomez. As someone who admits having no skills using needle and thread, he values the commitment commissioners have for what they do.
“I always appreciate how they go above and beyond to make themselves available, give up their time, lock themselves in their house and finish it to the utmost perfection for you to look good at an event,” he says.
Over the years, Gomez has seen Strater’s reputation as a skilled costume creator grow within the Central Florida cosplay community. He notes that she’s seen as a role model to some people because she’s willing to share her crafting techniques and secrets. That’s something not all cosplayers do. “She wants everyone to look their best,” he says.
Over time, Strater developed a following on Facebook and Instagram of people interested in crafting tips, following the progress of her latest costumes and viewing photo galleries of her costume photo shoots. About two years ago, she started receiving invitations to be a guest panelist at conventions to discuss costume creation. Around the same time, some friends asked her to make specialty wigs for them.
That’s when Strater decided to pursue commission work more actively. She changed her cosplay alias to reflect a more professional-sounding name and made her services available to the public.
A Service Built on Trust and Transparency
Strater knows that some people may be nervous about giving their money to someone they may not know personally to build an intricate costume piece. That’s why she tries to be as open as possible with her clients.
“A lot of commissioners are very transparent with their process because we understand it can be scary,” she says. “You don’t want to be ripped off because sometimes when you’re spending a couple hundred on a costume and you’re just scared that you won’t [ever] see the product.”
When Strater begins working with a new client, she conducts an initial interview to figure out what they want and goes over all the steps of her process. Chelsea Foster, a 26-year-old cosplayer and fellow commissioner known as Kane, has hired Strater in the past to build custom armor pieces.
Foster, who is from Winter Park, Florida, applauds Strater’s attention to detail. She says Strater asks questions when building an armor piece: What type of material is it made out of? Is it old or new? Has it been to battle? “She really makes sure that whatever you’re getting from her is exactly what you imagined it to be,” Foster says.
To put her customer’s minds at ease about cost, Strater works out a quote. It details the price of materials, shipping cost and a per-hour construction fee. She pockets the total cost of the hours spent building the piece. Wig commissions can range from $100 to $300, and costumes can be $300 or more, depending on the specified level of detail. Currently, she’s in talks with a client to build an elaborate costume involving intricately detailed pieces of armor. That commission may cost up to $1,000.
A wig commission can take one to two months to make. Strater stays in contact with the customer every step of the way, sending regular updates, including photos of how the piece is coming along. During this time, the customer can also make requests and changes, so they get what they want when the finished product arrives at their door.
“She does not take ‘good enough’ as an option,” Foster says about Strater’s work. “She always goes for exactly what she had envisioned, never lets anything slow her down and never looks at a project as too big or too complicated. She looks at it as a new challenge and a new learning opportunity to keep her going forward.”
Teaching the Next Generation
As Strater’s side business continues to grow, her primary focus is not on the money. She likes her day job and wants to keep her commission work for the weekends. Instead, she plans to help the community that has given her so much.
Her goal is to use the revenue from future commission work to support her YouTube channel and website. On her pages, she’ll release cosplay crafting tutorials free of charge. Also, she plans to start a Patreon membership program, where supporters who pay a monthly subscription can get exclusive crafting content and request specific tutorials on how to make costumes for particular characters.
She hopes this educational content will help give her more opportunities to appear on costuming panels at conventions and inspire people to start creating their own outfits.
“I want to be able to give back and to teach all of that to newer generations to hopefully see this continue going,” she says. “I think it’s just a wonderful hobby and a wonderful thing.”
Matt Reinstetle is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder.