This Q&A feature article is part of the Gals For Gals series where Geek Gals interviews a variety of women from different backgrounds and fields.
Cosplay is a unique form of creative expression for geeks who wants to bring their favorite characters to life. It’s an eclectic clash of creativity, community, and catering to one’s love for the fictional world. It’s also a chance for individuals to explore their own means and motivations behind cosplaying.
In today’s society where representation is important, marginalized groups and people of color (POC) are exploring different avenues to express their voice and artistic outlet. The cosplay community is no different. My goal is to bring those voices to light and share their process and experience.
Meet Cosplayer Fadhili
Fadhili, a cosplayer hailing from Ottawa, Canada, shares her take on the art style, and how she has used her platform to explore many avenues that cosplaying opened up for her.
Read Our Interview
What has started it all in the first place? What does cosplaying mean to you?
It started off as an invitation to attend a local con. As someone who loves to look up events before attending, I learned about cosplaying through their picture galleries. And [I] decided to try it out for myself. The rest is history!
To me, cosplay is whatever I make of it. For me, cosplaying is much more about the ‘play’ part than the ‘costume’ part.
It’s about me packing my suitcase, meeting up with my friends, and going on a road trip to an out-of-city convention. It’s going on social media and exchanging tips and tricks with other people. It’s me finally finding the reference pictures, because somebody else has struggled before me and had taken the time to make the information accessible.
Cosplaying is everything the day-to-day life fails to provide for me: true inner peace. The same peace people feel when they go on vacation, I feel that whenever I work on a cosplay or find myself on the convention floor.
That’s so deep! I love that you talk about your design process on Instagram and engage the audience to try inexpensive/viable materials. What are some of your favorite piece(s) to make? Maybe a quick tip?
“A good skirt”
I’m a sucker for a good skirt. Although circle skirts have been my favorite, I’ve also made some pleated skirts. The trick is to make them with a waistband that is elastic. It’s more comfortable and low-key if you’re like me and love to eat during the day. The stretch will follow your stomach’s capacity.
Expensive does not always mean better
My biggest tip would be to remember that expensive does not always equate to better. Time and time again I hear stories of cosplayers who win competitions with cosplays entirely from thrift store and dollar store materials. Not too long ago, I stumbled upon a twitter Thread where cosplayers were encouraged to share their CHEAPEST cosplays. And most cosplayers kept the price-tag around $30 (yes, including the wig in some cases) and some cosplays came at a whopping $0 by re-using already owned material.
You can be frugal and still meet your goals
Keep in mind that yes, having basic tools is important, but you don’t always need to break the bank. Re-purpose, ask around, use the coupons! The main goal is to have fun. Are you really going to have fun if you worry about how you’re going to be paying your next bills?
You hosted two cosplay panels so far. One in G-Anime with a group last summer, and the other at Ottawa Comiccon with your first solo panel this May. What are some of the subjects you talked about and how do you engage your audience in live settings?
G-Anime was a tutorial on how to write diverse characters. And the second one, Ottawa Comiccon, was a panel about what parents should expect when their child is cosplaying. I’ve applied to host two other panels this August: the first one is a funeral service for Voltron Legendary Defender and the second is a panel to maximize your cosplay-making even if you have a very small space.
When I do my panels, I keep it informative but I also try to have fun. Most of my favorite high school teachers have that aspect in common: they were great communicators and they knew how to keep the attention of the classroom and that’s essentially what I try to do when I host a panel.
Something I keep in mind for the future is that I want to keep a healthy ratio of social issues vs knowledge and entertainment when I apply for panels. As someone who is a black woman, it’s something that I’ve already noticed is expected out of black women and POC [people of color] in general within the community. I don’t want my diversity to be used simply to talk about diversity-related issues: it gets really exhausting. I also have great craftsmanship, fandom knowledge, and entertainment to share!
You have such eclectic and fun information to provide to the fans. What has been your top three favorite characters to cosplay? And why?
- Ochako from Boku No Hero Academia
She is a relatively new character that I started cosplaying. But she is quickly growing into my heart. I already love her character so damn much. She’s kind, just as strong as anyone in her class, and in my mind is the most relatable of the 1-A class (she becomes a hero just to have money to provide for her family??? A WHOLE MOOD!). Using curly hair with my cosplay was an idea I took from Shellanin Cosplay who’s made her mark in the community by making her cosplay wigs look like the natural hair curls of a black person.
- Sailor Muezi
This was my first time cosplaying an original character. And it was also the first time my parents started understanding what cosplaying can be. It bridged the gap between my reality and theirs. I have some new accessories added to this cosplay but haven’t had the chance to get a photo shoot done for her yet.
- Princess Allura from Voltron Legendary Defender
The funny thing about this cosplay is that it almost didn’t happen. I first wanted to cosplay a Sailor Moon version of Princess Allura but my sister convinced me to do the dress that the character wears in the show. I’m so happy that I took her advice because to this day it is one of my most recognized cosplays and it’s the cosplay that is closest to my heart. It has brought into my life so many incredible people that I can now call my friends and has led me to some of the greatest experiences I’ve ever lived so far (including meeting Kimberly Brooks, the voice of Allura, herself and being her impromptu pre-panel show entertainment. But that’s a story for another day).
Wow! Those are some great memories to have and so worth it! Now how do your family and non-cosplay friends feel about your passion for cosplaying? Do you find ways to engage them as well?
See this has been the most challenging part of cosplaying. At first, my family thought it was a fun project. But the more I got into it, the more their opinion changed. The fact that it isn’t a “braggable hobby” (something that I define as having an established reputation and which parents usually use as bragging chips i.e. playing an instrument, doing sports, or drawing) made it more complicated because everything had to be explained from the ground up several times. Even to this day I get snarky comments because I’ve refused to monetize my sewing skills. After five years, they’ve come to terms with it all. They accompanied me to a con for the first time this past May and that’s as far as they’ll go. At least for now.
Understandable! It’s a challenge worth fighting for. Even when it comes to the cosplay community itself. It’s a great space to make long-lasting friendships and other relationships, but people still face bad takes. What are some things you personally feel this community can improve on?
True inclusiveness. One of my favourite quotes of all time comes from the novel, Animal Farm by George Orwell. He says, “all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others” and I feel like this is the main issue with the current cosplay community. So in one hand, you have the community saying, “the cosplay community is so diverse!” and in the other you have the community going, “only a particular group of individuals with certain characteristics can fully participate in all aspects of this community.”
People talk about diversity and inclusiveness but still struggle to translate those into tangible, visible actions. There are those that create a feeling of elitism and lead a huge group of individuals to believe that they’re not-quite-a-cosplayer. Things like photographers and videographers not including dark-skinned cosplayers in their projects, judges with no craftsmanship experience judging craftsmanship competitions because they have big followings, cosplay guests all conforming to eurocentric standards of beauty are all examples of situations that contribute to the issue.
The solution is easy: Inclusion. The holy trinity of inclusion is race, sex (in the larger sense of the word) and disability. You have to make sure you include a balance of these three things : Racial/ethnical background, sexuality (whether it’s identity or orientation), and the most important but often overlooked one – disabilities. The cosplay community has a LOT of cosplayers with different levels of abilities that are not just the standard criteria, and putting them in the forefront of the community is the only way we can ensure that everyone TRULY feels included.
I couldn’t have said it better! Ever since I did my Indian Princess Allura cosplay from Voltron Legendary Defender two years ago, I’ve been told by South Asian women that they felt more inspired to cosplay after seeing my pictures, especially when before they would feel too shy/hesitant/unmotivated to do so.
As a WOC cosplayer yourself, what is a piece of advice you would give others who want to cosplay but feel that they are not good enough?
Think of all the great experiences you already missed out on. Think of all the times your own fears got the best of you and you decided to not do the thing you really wanted to do. And think of all the times other voices got into your head and put a stop to your projects, your challenges, and your visions.
Now ask yourself this: How many more incredible adventures are you going to miss out on because your own fears and doubts are holding you back? How many MORE exterior voices are you going to let dictate your choices? Voices that, for the most part, don’t even matter in the first place?
The answer should be zero.
The greatest of journeys always begin with the first step. So you better tie your shoes!
I definitely want more enthusiasts out there to take those chances! Is there anything else you want to share about yourself and your work?
One of my big goals for this year was to make a Princess Tiana cosplay. [I want to] use her to give back to my community with charity events. I haven’t had a chance to get started on her yet. But I definitely want to complete this project by the time the holiday season kicks in. It’s usually a high-traffic time for charities.
Read more Gals For Gals articles here.
If you are a POC / WOC cosplayer or creator of other forms (artist, writer, musician, filmographer, actor, etc.) and would like to bring your voice to the table, please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter at @jules_ba5ak. I would love to interview you!
Featured image credit: Fadhili