One of the most frequent questions I get is how I turned my hobby into a business and if I planned to become successful as a “professional cosplayer” – which is still a super weird word for me.
So, let me tell you my story.
First things first. I’m not a Cylon. I had no plan. In fact, nothing of what I did followed any other purpose than “to have fun”. I started with cosplay in 2003 when I was still in school and spent my afternoons reading articles about these so called “conventions” in my favorite anime/manga magazines. It was a different time back then. The Internet wasn’t really a thing yet, we had cameras that shot on analog film and phones that just had a black and white screen. Yes, we still even read printed magazines ON PAPER! Gosh, I’m so I’m old! Anyway, those fan gatherings looked like fun and those “cosplayers” seemed like they really enjoyed themselves. I dressed up for the very first time as the great Saiyaman from Dragonball Z and had a great time! This was before there was any Facebook so I only had a few crappy photos of my costume that I scanned in to have them on CD and that was basically it. Still I wanted to keep doing it and the next convention was already planned. I continued for the next couple of years with maybe two super cheap costumes every year. 2003 was also the year I met Benni. We’ve stayed together since then!
Fast forward in time to 2009 when I participated in a silly online costume contest, which only required me to upload a photo of me in costume. There were maybe five other participants but I was lucky enough to win! Well, in fact this was the very first European costume contest held by Blizzard, haha! Now it’s held every year at GamesCom, quite similar to the one in the states at Blizzcon. I was excited, but also a little bit panicked. The first prize was a trip for Benni and me to Blizzcon, but I barely passed my exam in English and did not even have a passport which I needed to be able to travel anywhere outside of the EU. English was totally weird and I wasn’t able to speak a single word and still remember how awkwardly I acted when I tried to communicate with somebody!
Alice and Mario Roy from Arms Armor and Awesome and at my first Blizzcon in 2009
In a panicked act of pure desperation I created an account on cosplay.com one month before my flight and began to upload my finished costumes and progress photos. Internet forums were my only way to at least practice a bit of English writing with somebody. I also created my own crappy WordPress website on which I started to upload my costume progress and wrote about how I made things. I even had a few readers sometimes! I still wasn’t able to speak a word at BlizzCon later, but I made my very first trip to the States and explored a completely new costume community. It was super exciting!
This was one of my first tutorials! Journey’s End from World of Warcraft
When I returned I immediately wanted to make an even bigger and better costume so I searched for a fitting material that would be more durable than the paper mache I used up to this point. Someone online mentioned a material called “Wonderflex” but without being able to find any explanation of what it is or how it works I had to order it pretty much blindly. With only guessing how much I would need, I basically spent my entire savings on shipping (150$ just for shipping to Germany). The material arrived and I worked day and night to finish my first armor costume, which was my Asmodian Gladiator! I uploaded and documented my entire work process and after a while people started to ask me questions about how I made things. It actually became more and more every day. I tried to answer as best as I could since I knew how it felt to not find any tutorials for the thing you wanted to make and it was awesome to finally have found someone to help you out. It’s what I would have wished for as well!
My Asmodian Gladiator was my first full armor costume!
In 2010 I discovered Youtube and uploaded my very first tutorial about Wonderflex. This was a pretty cool thing since I now had a link I could give to people to answer all of their questions. Plus they were able to find it through Google when they searched. So to still have enough time for crafting, I begun uploading new videos and people seemed to really like them! (My Expanding Foam Video just hit one million views a few weeks ago, haha!) Additionally creating tutorials was extremely rewarding. People were thankful for my help and showed my their creations as well. Around that time I also discovered a German material called “Worbla”. It was pretty similar to Wonderflex, though it was more flexible and easier to find in Germany. Avoiding long shipping time from the USI’ve switched then to Worbla and created one of the first tutorials about it. So when people became curious about the material, they easily found my work trough Google. And the number of cosplayers who wanted to get into armor making grew really fast! Today Worbla is a big thing in the cosplay community and it seems I influenced that as well with my tutorials. Plus, helping people is awesome! With barely having any friends at school and constantly being an outsider my whole life, this was a great feeling! It was a great motivation to get better and keep on doing what I did.
One of my Worbla tutorials!
In the end of 2010 I joined Facebook after people kept bugging me about it. Here I was able to upload my daily progress, but I didn’t really want to spam my entire private profile. Also there were people on my friends list who had no idea about my weird hobby, so I created a separate fan page. Kind of like a hidden superhero alibi. “Fan page” – this had a weird sound, but it did what it was supposed to to. With just a few likes at the beginning I uploaded all my stuff, wrote about my work and chatted with people about different techniques and materials. My page became a great place to share different ideas with others and over the time my following slowly became bigger.
I guess my Barbarian is one of my most well known costumes.
During my “hardcore” crafting time I was a student (first electrical engineering, which I failed, haha – then technical journalism), blessed with lazy professors who often simply cancelled their lectures. I didn’t really learn much during my time at university, but as long as I had free time to create my costumes, I did not really cared that much. University is free in Germany, so I enjoyed being able to push the start of my serious life with a job and stuff back for a few years. I kept crafting and was even able to save some money to fly to the US for a few conventions. I remember that once a girl recognized me out of costume at Dragon*Con in 2011. “You’re that girl from Youtube, right? I watch your videos!” This was super strange and I was so surprised, that it was very difficult for me not to act really weird while she took a photo with me.
2012 and 2013 were great years and my university reached it’s peek of cancelled lectures. Though it was also time to write my final dissertation and pass my last exams. I was super scared since this meant, that I finally had to get a full time job and give up all my free time (which is what you normally do in Germany when you get your degree). I wasn’t ready for the serious life, but I still started writing some applications. While it wasn’t that hard to find a job, I also surprisingly got another opportunity. The companies Intel and Newegg contacted me and asked me to create two costumes for their booth at Blizzcon in 2013. Sadly the event was already so close, that it was impossible to follow my new full time job and finish the costumes in time. Additionally the very first convention overseas, Montreal Comic Con, wanted to invite me as a guest. But with my tight work schedule I wouldn’t be able to go. I had to make a difficult decision. It’s a cultural life goal here in Germany to get a steady job, create a family, maybe build a house and plant a tree. All my previous life my parents, my teachers even some of my friends told me that my dreams are silly, but I never wanted to believe them. Benni, who stayed by my side since my very first costume (Yes, he fell in love with me being dressed as Saiyaman), always believed in me and he still did. Additionally he had a well paying job and promised me his support, no matter what happens.
I was still not sure, was scared and had no idea what would happen, but I wiped away my tears, went to my new boss (after only 8 days of starting the job) and quit my job. I had made my decision, went straight home and started the same day working on both of the commissions for Intel. It was still stressful, but despite of having to work until 6pm, Benni helped me every day to paint every single armor piece for the costumes. Two weeks later – and yes, I finished two full armor sets in two weeks, hohoho! – we both flew to Blizzcon, handed our work to the excited customer and had a great time at the con.
One of two commissioned costumes from Intel/Newegg worn by the amazing Joanne Chiang
Now since the job was still gone, I was unemployed. I didn’t had any other commissions lined up or had any other plans. My future was completely blank and this was scary, especially for a German! Luckily, Los Angles is an amazing place to get new ideas. Over the time I made tons of friends there and one of them was Bill Doran from Punished Props. He liked my tutorials as well, though he was also one of the people who didn’t like the fact that they were spread all over the internet – videos on Youtube, progress on Facebook, tutorials and cosplay.com and a few blog entries on my website. “Why don’t you make a book with all your tutorials inside?” He wasn’t the first one who suggested that, but he was self employed, had a book out already and finally gave me that final push to do it. I didn’t know what to expect from it, but honestly I was just excited to have a new link for everybody who would dare to ask me things again, ha ha!
So, we flew home, Benni went to work again and I started writing. Following my goal I gathered old progress pictures and created a few new tutorials. I was done after only three days and Benni even took a few days off to finish the layout in three additional days as well. After I got it back from proofreaders (sorry about my grammar, guys!) The Book of Armor Making was set up in my store after one week of work. A new project was done, I was happy and still unemployed!
What followed then was just absolutely insane! It seemed that everybody shared my announcement post about the book, and I got 140.000 Tumblr notes!!! People made videos about it on Youtube and my shop went crazy. I was speechless! A few days later I finally realized, what had happened. My book was featured all over the internet and my future was finally not a blank anymore. It wasn’t longer a silly dream to make a living from my weird hobby and there was no reason to write new applications ever again. I still had no idea how my future would look like or what I would do in 10 years, but I didn’t care anymore. I knew it all would work out somehow if I just kept on doing what I do.
A few months later Benni also quit his job as well. Since we first met in 2003 he was always by my side, always supported me in any way he could. He carried my stuff at conventions, took photos of me in costume, brushed my wigs, calmed me down in tearful nights and always helped me to finish my costumes in time with his stunning paint jobs. He already spent all his free time to support me and my work (basically working two jobs), so it was the right decision for him. We made enough money to support both of us and it made more sense to focus all of his time on our cosplay projects. Aside of still doing most of the paint jobs of my costumes and props now, he is also in charge of the layout, editing and shipping of my books, answering emails and messages, handling my website, my shop, taxes and much more. All just so that I can keep on crafting. I honestly have no idea how to manage all that without him!
Just a few days ago we released our sixth book about Advanced Prop Making and I already have several new titles planned for the next few years. My super awesome friend Bill is a busy writer as well, so check out this amazing Foamsmith Trilogy! While Benni and I now make our main income from books, I also still like to accept a few commissions for fun like Symmetra, who I built for Blizzard this year for GamesCom.
Benni and I now don’t worry about the future anymore and instead enjoy the amazing time we have now. With countless running projects at the same time we often work for over 15 hours a day with barely any sleep at night. Though we also travel together all over the world (this year we’ve been to Switzerland, England, Ireland, Canada, the US, New Zealand and Barbados already!) and enjoy to share every day with each other. We do what we want, wake up when we want and go where we want. We’re working now far more than we would do at a normal day job, but we love every single second of it and never regret our decision!
So… never stop dreaming and believe in yourself, guys!
Benni’s a lucky man to have such a beautiful, talented, and creative woman as you. And Benni has great tallent and skills as an artist as well. Wish you both a happy and joyful life. Cheers. ~Brad
Just have to say, you are both so inspirational!!!
And in sooo many ways.
Your dedication is incredible,
Your skills are second to none,
Your videos are a joy to watch, so professional, fun and helpful.
The books are stunning, and are sure to become every cosplayers bibles.
A couple who are so good at what you do, from intensely incredible planning and foresight to illustrator skills that are nothing short of mega-pro, to attention to detail that makes me speechless, to a relationship that appears to be fresh and vibrant…
You two totally rock!!!!!!
Thank you for giving so much to the cosplay and prop world ????❤❤
Such a beautiful story. Benni sounds like such a wonderful person!
Thank you for sharing your story, this is truly inspiring. I have followed your work for a couple of years and I’ve learned so much from you ! I am happy to have met you at New Zealand comic con, hope you can come back here anytime soon !
This story was amazing, I wish that i can make this goal also. I love studying to be an animator in my school but at the same time I want to put my name out there, go to more cons…. Have more money to buy the stuff i need to make the costumes i want to make. I have made 2 costumes so far but never went to cons in them because when I’m not in school I’m in new york but when i am I’m in georgia. I never get to go because they are usually happening at either location when I’m not there. Either way I’m going to hit for my goal that you, jessica nigri, and yayahan have made me believe in. And when i do i hope to see you in the future, proud of who i became.
This was so nice to read. Beyond seeing your talents being recognized, its nice that you explain that the biggest thing is to believe, have a good support system, and take risks. So many people settle in their lives out of fear. You are inspirational no matter how humble you feel inside. Thanks so much for sharing.
Kamui, thank you for sharing thie – your cosplays give me such joy to look at, and I hope that I’ll be able to make a costume a quarter as good as one of yours!
Ich muss sagen, ich wünsche mir fast, dass es bei mir zumindest ähnlich läuft wie bei dir und ich irgendwann von dem Leben kann, was mir Spaß macht. (Zwar nicht als Cosplayer sondern als Maskenbildsner, aber bei mir kam das ja alles erst durch Cosplay und so.)
Es ist fast ein bisschen beruhigend zu sehen, dass andre Leute, wie du zum Beispiel es auch schon geschafft haben, und ein großer Ansporn sich einfach zu trauen.
Mach weiter so. <3
As a long time supporter of you and your husband’s efforts, it is truly inspiring to see how much you have achieved together :) Keep up the fantastic work guys!
This is so beautiful ;.; is awesome that he followed your dreams and hopes, and i wish your love lasts forever <) that you can come sometime so i can tell you all of this in person *-*
Awesome, ever since I was introduce to you I been a fan and will continue to be fan for a long time. I appreciate your hard work and commitment. Thank you!
Woah, you make it sounds so… feasable :) it’s wonderful how you got to have your dream job and a good example that we should do something we like for a living (as long as it is possible).
And you have the best boyfriend ever ! :) I’m still a noob at cosplay but my boyfriend helps me a lot too (I make him wear some clothes that I need to sew, ask him his advice, he takes pictures of me etc).
I think it’s amazing you made something from nothing – I can only imagine the hours upon hours of work you did trying to figure out materials to work with when the market for them was so small. Your decision to quit working must have been incredibly tough, like jumping off a plane with a parachute that may or may not be in your backpack! I’m very glad you did! Your books are an incredible help for people who want to learn to craft as well as you do. Granted that Moogle costume from your early works is still fantastic <3 It was a delight to see you at Unplugged Expo, in Toronto, Canada this past summer – please come back so I can buy your new books!
Since I´m from germany I know the fear of getting self-emplyoed haha…
For me this would be a dream to turn my hobby into a career but I would be afraid to be stressed out one day by all the crafting and traveling.
Nonetheless it is amazing that someone can do this :)
For me it would be perfect with a part time job and donig commissions haha.
At the moment I can do commissions since I´m a student and just like you I don´t have much lectures!
Super zu lesen, daß du die Erfahrung machen durftest, daß sich Wünsche erfüllen – oder auch, daß sich harte Arbeit auszahlt. Was nützt einem ein Job, der keinen Spaß macht und den man auch noch sein ganzen Leben lang machen soll? Es war eine mutige Entscheidung von dir damals! Jetzt kannst du das machen, woran du Spaß hast und auch noch Geld damit verdienen. Und das alles mit einem super lieben Unterstützer an deiner Seite. Für euch beide alles Gute!
Du hast mir übrigens auch mit ein bis zwei Videos weitergeholfen, als ich mein erstes (und vorerst letztes Projekt) gemacht habe: Frostgram. ;) Du hast mich inspiriert es auch mal zu versuchen, als ich das Video zu Schattengram sah. Weiter so!
Nice to read you’ve made the experience wishes do come true – or work pays off. What would you want from a job you don’t enjoy and need to do your whole life? It was a brave decision you made back then. Now you can do what you enjoy and also make money with it! All that with a super lovely supporter by your side. For the both of you best wishes.
By the way – you’ve helped me with one or two videos on you tube when I made my first and last (for the time being) project: Frostmourne ;) You’ve inspired my having a go while watching the video of Shadowmourne. Keep it up!
Wow! Thank you so much for sharing your experience, it actually made me feel quite emotional once I got to the end as your journey is so inspiring; its wonderful to see someone achieve their dreams! <3
This was so inspiring to read! It’s wonderful to see how much you have grown as an artist and I hope you will continue to be successful for many more years to come!
Wooow, thanks for writing this!
I had been wondering how you and other famous/professional cosplayers got to that point and reading your story was really interesting, inspiring and plain awesome!
Actually, I’ve been planning to buy your books as soon as I get the money because I very recently bought my first worbla and I’m both excited and scared to start working with it! I hope it will go alright though because I’ve been dreaming of doing armor cosplays for so long. ♥
You’re such an inspiration Kamui, keep doing what you love to do!
Psst, and I need to mention that Benni sounds like an amazing person. You’re so lucky to have a guy like him around!
Benni is the best man in the world! You’re such a lucky girl :) i hope you always live this happy!!!
From someone who is probably nearly twice your age (I’m 45) but still a big geek and WoW raider, I have to say you’re an inspiration!! Thanks for sharing your story. I have been following you for about half the journey you describe here, and it’s been great to see your creations and the way you and your hobby-business have evolved. I am useless at crafting myself so I live viariously through you, haha! Keep the costumes coming and never, ever stop believing in YOUR dreams – the best way of making money is to make it doing what you love :-)