Dress for success
Cosplay enthusiast turns hobby into business

This dress, one of Natalie Lam’s favorites, took her a few hours to make. Proudly displayed in front of her shop, it is selling at $850. (Noel Tang)

By Florence Wong

Natalie Lam, 19, opened a shop in Mongkok with her sister 6 months ago. Named “Spider”, the shop sells hand-made “cosplay” costumes. Cosplay is short for “costume play”, which originated in Japan. It involves dressing up as cartoon characters, movie characters or rock singers. People who take part in cosplay are called “cosplayers”. Ms. Lam is a cosplay enthusiast. Ever since she became a cosplayer, she has been wearing cosplay costumes whenever she goes out. She has now turned her interest into a career and wants more people to know about cosplay.

Question: Why did you start “Spider”?

Answer: I started wearing cosplay costumes 2 years ago. I learnt how to make costumes and was able to make most of my cosplay costumes by hand. But some cosplayers don’t know how to make costumes, and there are very few shops selling these kinds of costumes as well. I thought it was a golden opportunity to use my strengths to develop my own career.

Q: What inspires your designs?

A: Mainly Japanese magazines. In Japan, cosplay is popular, and there are many magazines on cosplay costumes. These magazines are expensive, each costing about $100, but they are really useful for my work. I read and learn from them. Cosplay costumes are rarely shown in Hong Kong magazines. You know, not a lot of people accept cosplay in Hong Kong.

Q: Tell me more about the design procedure.

A: Before I start designing, I ask the customers if they have any requirements or ideas, for example, in the use of colors, patterns and textures of materials. Sometimes their ideas are unfeasible and impossible to do. I then offer my opinions and suggest alternative designs. If their ideas are good, I just follow them. Also, to avoid misunderstandings, I sketch the design in front of the customers and choose the materials, such as cloth and lace, with them. After confirming materials, customers have to wait for 2 weeks to get their costumes. It is worth the wait because all costumes are handmade and unique. Customers can make changes to their costumes, until they are satisfied with them.

Q: How can you design cosplay costumes that suit different customers?

A: Communication is important. It is easier to design suitable cosplay costumes for customers after knowing their character and style. Age is also a cue. For younger customers, we suggest cute and colorful cosplay costumes. Older customers are advised to wear more elegant and grand costumes.

Q: Who are your target customers?

A: The age range is wide. Once, a mother asked me to design cosplay costumes for her daughter, who was only about 15 years old. Many of my customers are office women. Some of them are even over 30 years old. They are usually looking for evening dresses for parties because they feel that traditional evening dresses are boring. Actually, everyone can wear cosplay costumes as long as the designs are appropriate.

Q: How much are your cosplay costumes?

A: The price depends on the materials used for the costumes. If the costumes are very difficult to make, I charge more. Most of my costumes are between $200 and $600. The most expensive costume costs $850. The prices of my costumes are very reasonable when compared to Japanese brand name ones.

Q: Can you tell me which design you are most satisfied with?

A: A red dress with tartan pattern. It has many layers of lace and the cut is special. It was difficult to make. I like this dress very much and that’s why I display it in the window. Many customers appreciate it, too.

Q: What are the differences between making ordinary clothes and cosplay costumes?

A: Cosplay costume making is more complicated because they are more detailed. Cosplay costumes usually have layers and use more lace. The scale of cosplay costumes is also different. Take a one-piece dress as an example. As a cosplay dress, the part below the waistline has to be extremely wide in order to be eye-catching. So making cosplay costumes is totally different from making ordinary clothes.

Q: Do you have any costume design qualifications?

A: Yes. I studied art in secondary school. After I left school, I took a diploma course in costume making in Lai King. The course was really useful, though it was not focused on cosplay costumes. I learnt basic costume making techniques and discovered my passion. I am lucky that I can apply what I’ve learnt to my business.

Q: Do you think academic qualification is important?

A: Sure. I left school after the Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examination. Very often, there are foreign visitors, such as Japanese and Thais, who are interested in my designs. However, because my English is not good, I can’t communicate well with them. So, it is difficult for me to design costumes for them. As a result, they can only buy the ready-made costumes in the shop. I lose out on opportunities because of my poor academic qualifications. But even if I had a chance to further my education, I would not study English. I am simply not suitable for academic study. Instead, I prefer to study more design skills like designing cosplay hairpieces. It is more applicable to my line of work.

Q: How do you feel about your business now?

A: I love my business because of the satisfaction. I feel a sense of accomplishment when I see my ideas turned into costumes. It is amazing. When I see people wearing my designs, I feel proud and excited. Customers’ praise is the incentive for me to work harder. I have also made friends with many customers. They support me a lot. We all love cosplay and often exchange ideas. This cannot be measured in monetary terms.

Q: Do you have any future plans for your business?

A: I want to move to a bigger shop when I earn enough money. This shop is too small to accommodate all my customers. And I am going to build a website for my shop. By doing so, I can receive orders on the Internet and save time. The website can also introduce my designs to more people. It is a good way to expand my business.

Q: If cosplay should suddenly not be popular anymore, what would you do?

A: I haven’t thought of it, but the most important point is that I enjoy the moment. That’s enough.