A-Kon is the longest running American anime convention. Since 1990, A-kon has been one of the largest conventions in the South and has drawn attention from international guests.
This year, Yaya Han came to lead a panel about her 20 years of cosplay. She talked about how the community has changed and how she made a career out of her hobby.
Who is Yaya Han?
Han is well-known for her appearance on Heroes of Cosplay, a television show produced by Syfy in 2014. She’s also an entrepreneur who sells fabrics — and more recently, EVA foam– in Joann’s Fabrics stores. Her cosplay is internationally famous and she’s been a judge of cosplay contests in several countries.
She didn’t start out as a globally famous cosplayer. In fact, Han grew up like most of us; a lonely kid with a fascination with Japanese cartoons.
Han, born in 1980 in China, grew up in Germany with her mother. Han said she identifies strongly as both German and Chinese. Her favorite anime series growing up were the original Saint Seiya and Doraimon. Han said she was a quiet child that found her niche in drawing. She still sells her artwork today alongside her accessories and prints.
Han didn’t start cosplaying until 1999 after she immigrated to America. Her first convention was Anime Expo that year, and she was instantly in love. Han’s first cosplay was Yu Yu Hakusho from Kuruma. She participated in her first cosplay contest at Otakon in 2000. She won her first Best In Show award at Katsucon in 2001.
Han: “Cosplaying back then was like the wild west…”
Han talked about cosplaying in the early 2000s with a mix of horror and reverence. She said that the early days were a struggle to learn how to build cosplays and how to connect with other cosplayers. The advent of internet chat rooms and forums was crucial to the emerging cosplay community. Han was able to connect to other cosplayers online and use the internet to learn more about building and creating cosplays.
At this time, conventions were also starting to acknowledge cosplayers more. By 2000, conventions were starting to invite cosplayers to judge the cosplay contest and host panels, two roles previously reserved for members of the industry. Han was invited as a cosplay guest to her first con at Animagic in 2001.
Han continued to do panels and host the cosplay contests all throughout the 2000s, but she also had bigger plans.
Starting her Brand
By the mid-2000s Han was hosting cosplay contests, taking commissions and working on cosplay on top of working a full-time job. Something had to give. In 2005, Han decided to quit her job and open a commission business with then-boyfriend Brian Boling.
“And it failed pretty much immediately,” Han said at a panel talking about her 20 years of cosplay. She sited doing full commissions and arguments over payment for the business hitting a stumbling point. So Han went back to the drawing board. They decided to go at it a different way. Instead of doing full costumes, Han made cosplay accessories, mostly wings and cat ears.
Because Han was in the business throughout the chaotic 2000s, she became incredibly well-known. By the time Heroes of Cosplay started filming, she was one of the most well-known American cosplayers.
“Because I stayed in the cosplay community,” Han said, “when pop culture took cosplay along, my name was one of the first that popped up.”
The show was a bit of a sore spot in the panel. Han said she appreciated the show for what it was, though she admitted that it didn’t meet all her expectations. Han said looking back, it was a fun project and she was happy she got to help propel the cosplay community.
Han is now a staple of the cosplay community. Her work to propel the community resulted in a partnership with McCall’s sewing patterns and Joann’s Fabrics. Han plans to continue cosplaying and developing her brand. She’s an international icon in cosplay and she says she’s excited to see where her career will take her next.
Do you have a favorite Yaya Han cosplay? Let us know by tweeting @geekgalsco!
You can also check out our other A-Kon 30 coverage here.
Featured image credit: Syfy.com