Spotlight: Cosplay Workshops

Sewing machines, dress forms and bags of foam are set against the walls of the Creat’R Lab in the Orbach Library. Students sit at rectangular tables that fill in the rest of the space and focus their attention on Kari Hathaitham, workshop coordinator of Cosplay Brigade, as she gives a presentation on how to build armor for cosplay. “I let it barge for minutes because I took a nap,” she says with a laugh referring to one of her costume pieces, “I forgot I was doing this.” Afterward, she encourages the students to touch and try on the costume she brought for the presentation.

Cosplay is a hobby that involves dressing up like a character from a book, movie, video game, manga or anime and acting as the character, portraying their mannerisms and poses. Cosplay’s history dates back to science fiction conventions in 1939 where fans would dress up in costumes they put together themselves. Cosplay has seen a growth in participants over the years. While cosplay is seen as expensive, time consuming and geeky, the cosplay workshops hosted by Cosplay Brigade, a cosplay club at UCR and the oldest cosplay club in the UC system, seek to end some of those assumptions about cosplay and in the process help students get involved in cosplay. Cosplay Brigade’s third workshop on Nov. 8th focused on creating armor. Workshops are held Wednesdays from 8-10 p.m. in the Creat’R Lab.

Yan Lai, president of Cosplay Brigade and fourth-year history major, began cosplaying while she was in high school. Lai learned how to sew by using her mother’s sewing machine and undergoing a long process of trial-and-error when creating costumes. Now, with years of experience in cosplay, she offers her advice to students who are entering the world of cosplay for the first time.

Lai’s hometown in Northern California did not have as many resources for cosplayers like Southern California does, such as the variety of wig and fabric stores. While the fabrics and materials were obtained at the stores, there weren’t a lot of places for cosplayers to work on their costumes. Before the creation of the Creat’R Lab, Cosplay Brigade didn’t have the equipment on campus to show its members how to cosplay. Lai even recalls bringing her sewing machine along with bundles of fabric to one of the workshops back when they were held in classrooms. All of that changed once the Creat’R Lab inside Orbach Library opened its doors in April of 2017 and provided a space for Cosplay Brigade to hold their workshops.

Since the club’s founding in 2011, its membership has grown to include students from all three UCR colleges: CHASS, CNAS and BCOE. Its diversity of students has not been overlooked by the school as the Cosplay Brigade was approached by campus planners for suggestions on equipment for what would become the Creat’R Lab, a gesture that made the club feel acknowledged and supported.

“People want the lab not just for academic reasons,” says Josh Kiyama, the event coordinator of Cosplay Brigade and third-year bioengineering major, “(The school) told us we see the other side to it.”

Among the equipment suggested by Cosplay Brigade were sewing machines, sergers and dress forms, all equipment that was ordered for the lab. For Kiyama, this has represented the school’s “support for a space for people to be creative, so people get to explore options that they didn’t get to before.”

During her time in high school, she had also attempted to run a cosplay club for two years. According to Kiyama, the short meeting times and lack of resources and support from their school made meetings unproductive for the members as no cosplay costumes were able to be made.

Kiyama was ready to quit cosplay after graduating high school to focus on her college schoolwork. That was until she met the then-president of the Cosplay Brigade during a tabling event her first year, whom she would go on to became great friends with. The community within the club has not only encouraged Kiyama to keep cosplaying but also improved Lai’s social life. “That big jump from having three or four people to talk about something I really enjoyed to having potentially having 20-plus people that I can interact (with) on a regular basis was an improvement in my social life,” Lai explains.

Since attending the first workshop on Nov. 1st, Genevieve Chacon, a first-year public policy major, has a new friend in the Cosplay Brigade with whom she studies and does homework. Attending the workshops has also taught her valuable information about cosplay. “This is really advanced for me,” Chacon says regarding the workshops. “I’m just a beginner but it is good to know all the materials that go into cosplay.” Even though the process sounds overwhelming to her, she knows she can turn to the community at the Cosplay Brigade for help.

“It’s good support,” she describes. “I don’t feel like a weirdo. We’re all a bunch of weirdos doing this together.”

Lai explains it is easier for people to begin cosplaying now than before. “There is an increase in popularity, so you’re not seen as this weirdo who walks around the streets in a costume. There’s less ostracization.” Lai’s cosplay community back in her hometown felt insular compared to the friendliness she experienced from the cosplay community in Riverside.

The friendliness of the cosplay community at UCR has also helped members of the club to improve in their cosplay. Bernard Baylosis, a fourth-year biology and math major and vice president of Cosplay Brigade, used to only use hot glue to put his costumes together. Ever since joining the club, he has found new and better methods to enhance his costumes.

But enhancing a costume does not have to be a pricey process.  While cosplay is viewed as an expensive hobby due to the amount of fabrics and materials needed, the cosplay workshops aim to provide economical alternatives for the materials used in the costume making process.

“The amount of money you decide to put into it is up to you,” Kiyama says. “I have seen great costumes come out of a 10 dollar budget. It doesn’t change the quality if you know what to do with it.”

As more people become interested in cosplay and curious about how to begin, Kiyama encourages them to attend the workshops. “People coming in (to the workshops) might feel like there is a wall because you kind of don’t know what you’re doing compared to all these people,” Kiyama says. “But there are a very small amount of professionals, and it’s just because they got good over the span of 13-plus years.”

Cosplay Brigade will be holding a work day workshop on Wednesday, Nov. 29 from 7-10 p.m. Additionally, the Cosplay Brigade is hosting the second annual GeekCon on May 6 in HUB 353.

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