At this year’s New York Comic Con, I had an opportunity to sit down with one of my favorite cosplayers, Yaya Han, and speak with her about something that has never been done before as the hobby expands–a line of fabric designed with cosplayers as the intended demographic. Yaya Han has been cosplaying for over fifteen years and has made hundreds of different costumes. She began her hobby before cosplay was even considered a hobby, and paved the road for so many of us by masterfully tackling designs many of us would be intimidated to attempt. One of the most difficult aspects of being a cosplayer is finding the right materials–both in terms of character accuracy and quality. Yaya Han, in conjunction with CosplayFabrics.com and Jo-Ann Fabric and Craft Stores have collaborated to bring us the best of both worlds. With her experience in costume making, paired with her own pattern development and line of accessories, there is no one better equipped for this kind of endeavor.
VB: Firstly, I just wanted to thank you for bringing attention to this hobby. As a cosplayer myself, I always felt like we were outsiders whenever we’d go and shop for materials, and it feels nicely to finally have some representation in a mainstream fabric store.
YH: You’re welcome! I’ve always felt the selection in most stores was geared toward other demographics, so it’s a great testament to how far cosplay has come along, and developed as an art form. It’s also amazing that Jo-Ann would listen to us; as consumers. I’ve been a fabric nerd basically my entire adult life! I always save all my fabric scraps from finished costumes as well, and that came in tremendously handy, because I had a lot of examples of things I liked already.
VB: So how do you begin your design process for this? How does all of this get off the ground?
YH: I usually start by thinking about what I wish I could find. So much of it is looking at what’s available and what isn’t. I’m always looking for gaps in the fabric market that I know cosplayers would like to have. I also think about durability; and how important that is to us. We also discuss other attributes, such as finishes. Let’s say we begin with a rubberized finish, but decide a pearlescent or matte might work better for a particular material. I try to share a lot of my information with them, and hope they don’t tell me to go away! Haha. But in all seriousness, it’s a lot of back and forth idea sharing. I send them samples, which they send out overseas to the factories, then they’ll create samples and send them back to me. It’s definitely a lengthier process. To give you an idea, CosplayFabrics.com approached me about one year before the collection launched at Jo-Ann. So it took one whole year to go from envisioning the idea, to designing the fabrics, then producing them and then ultimately distributing them to Jo-Ann. There are all these steps, and ultimately only some of the ideas can fully come to fruition, as Jo-Ann will select the pieces they feel are the strongest as well. By the time it reaches stores, it’s gone through quite an approval process, with the goal being what we’re left with by the time it reaches the stores is the best of the best!
VB: So what were the first pieces you KNEW you had to make–or immediately gravitated to for this collection? The pieces you knew every cosplayer would be looking for?
YH: My unicorn fabric–that’s what I call it, and it is actually the Ultrapreme! Since this was the fabric I absolutely had to have in this collection. It was super important to me because of its versatility. They really liked the idea. The reason for that is because nothing like the Ultrapreme really exists in the fabric market with those specific attributes. You can maybe find something similar that’s geared toward automotive use or upholstery. The color selection was also very limited, and it’s usually not stretchy. I wanted it to be thin enough that we could actually make bodysuits out of it, but durable enough to handle the four way stretch, with a rubberized finish. The bar was definitely set very high.
VB: I’m very happy it was, as I know what it’s like to go into the fabric store and have to settle for something that’s not quite as close to what you’d hope for your project. And you’re asking yourself, “Can I make this work? Am I going to be able to run around an event all day in this?”
YH: Absolutely. There was a lot of thought put into it. Ultrapreme is one of our most popular fabrics, I see a lot of people using it. I feel like my goal has been accomplished when I see cosplayers using it for the outfits I always envisioned, from superhero, to sci-fi, to fantasy. The range for this kind of material is very broad.
VB: Do you have any particular fabrics that are your favorite to work with?
YH: Of course, I really love brocades! It’s also interesting to note how there is so much information available now as to how to work with specific fabrics, and what steps you need to take to ensure you’re stitching and hemming them correctly. None of this was available when I first started cosplaying, and it was all a matter of trial and error. It’s very refreshing to see so much information being shared between everyone.
VB: What steps do you take to ensure the quality of textiles? Through my own purchases, I noticed the collection is on a much higher level of quality for this category, than previously available.
YH: We have daily e-mail exchanges to touch base on how production is going, and we have weekly Skype meetings that usually last up to three hours, or longer. We extensively discuss the fabric, the colors, the prints, every little detail, and it can be very time consuming. But that’s what it takes to ensure everything is up to par. You can’t just say, “Hey, make this!” After we’ve decided on things such as the colors and attributes, we’ll have a formal meeting either in New York, or after a convention [Cosplay Fabrics has been attending conventions more recently] where we can actually see and touch the fabric. I do quite a bit of physical experimentation with the material during these meetings, which can be over five hours long. It takes quite a bit of man handling material, haha! But anything I think won’t work for a finalized piece, I will note to them. Sometimes, we’ll send back a sample quite a few times, and I feel so bad! But as a team collectively, we all want to ensure everything is outstanding at launch.
VB: I think that’s an integral part of any creative process though, that constructive criticism, and that’s great. It means you care about your work.
YH: Definitely. Honestly, it all comes from years and years of experience of working with fabric and knowing what it’s like to work with materials that weren’t ideal. I know what it’s like to make something, and after wearing it a few times, the finish starts to rub off. That’s why the quality is so important to me—–so you’re not putting all this effort into an costume only to have the fabric not hold up. I wanted to create a baseline, so people would know the fabric they’re buying will last, and they won’t have to worry about durability issues. They can focus on their creativity, and other aspects of costume making.
VB: How do you bring a textile design into reality from how you envision it?
YH: It’s a combination of things. I start with making an inspirational board, along with doing preliminary sketches. I also work closely with a design team, and we collaborate on the texturizing of the designs for each piece. For example, Ricardo Venancio at CosplayFabrics.com is a talented fabric designer, so he and I will come together and brain-storm, and I’ll show him my inspiration behind something. Sometimes, he’ll make some mock ups, and I’ll send him my sketches, and we’ll compare, then narrow it down from there. It definitely starts with paper, then digital, then actual samples.
VB: So what are some of the biggest challenges in regards to this process?
YH: The time commitment has been very hard, especially with the fact that we don’t all live in the same city. When a sample comes in, they have to ship it out to me with urgency in time for our Skype meetings, so we can all discuss it’sits development. A lot of the time, the samples are not very big, so it’s challenging to determine how a fabric will function in every context. And we’re always hoping the factories can maintain the quality throughout development and various revisions. I would say beyond the creative aspect though, is that I have absolutely no control over the pricing. This has been a huge misconception for a lot of people. A lot of people seem to think that I dictate the pricing, but that process is on a very different level of corporate.
VB: Having worked in the fashion industry previously, yeah, the creative teams have virtually nothing to do with pricing of a product, so I’m not surprised it’s any different in regards to fabric by the bolt either. You’re apart of technical design, and pricing is a whole ‘nother department.
YH: Yes, exactly. I do believe as a whole though, Jo-Ann is offering a very competitive pricing for material on this level of quality. Jo-Ann is constantly offering promotions and coupons, and I think their goal is ultimately value for their customers. An excellent product with a range of promotions you can customize depending on what you’re buying. I’ve been shopping there throughout my entire cosplay career, and I don’t think I’ve ever gone in without a coupon available.
VB: Definitely, I get coupons on a weekly basis–and I make very good use of them! Especially when I have a wider variety of materials I need for my own work. Could you tell me what aspects of your own cosplay impacted this collection the most?
YH: Well, originally, I never even thought this would be a possibility when I started cosplaying; and I surmised I would always have to hunt and source my own fabric for my costumes. Whenever I travel to different countries for conventions, I take an extra day to visit the local fabric mart. I’m always especially on the lookout for something very unique, so I feel like in a way, given the experience and knowledge I’ve gained over time, it gave me the ability to take on this kind of project. It’s also a lot of responsibility because if I make a mistake, it could affect a lot of people. It’s also the kind of experience I feel like I’ve been training for, for years–—except I didn’t know I was training for it, haha. But when the question was posed to me by Cosplay Fabrics, it was like a whole new world opened up to me. I had so many ideas, and so many possibilities presented themselves. This train, figuratively speaking, has really taken off, and I can’t wait for 2017!
VB: It definitely has, the hobby has grown so much, and has developed even stronger industry ties now than ever before.
YH: Yes, and ultimately, it comes down to the consumer–namely cosplayers. If this fabric is actually useful and meets their creative needs. If this collection is well received, really, cosplayers have the power in that regard. Cosplayers and seamstresses in general will dictate the success of the market.
VB: Absolutely. I know as a cosplayer, I’ve already picked up pieces for myself–and I am super impressed with everything so far. To follow up on your own experiences though, what countries have the best fabric districts?
YH: Paris has a pretty amazing fabric district! China also, when I went to Beijing. Their fabric mart—which is actually more like four fabric marts, would really require at least two or three days to really go through. I went back twice just to be able to see everything, –and I still didn’t see everything. I just went to Spain, and while they didn’t have the largest fabric mart, they did have a little bit of everything, which I really enjoyed. Singapore also, has a really beautiful silk fabric mart, with a lot of Indian- inspired pieces. Interestingly enough, they also have an entire section for LEDs and mechanical pieces. I was very surprised, and impressed because a lot of cosplayers are utilizing those materials now.
VB: I can definitely see the reason for that, especially with the rising popularity of games like Overwatch right now. Speaking of popularity though, what are some of the best sellers in the collection so far?
YH: The metallic four-way-stretch is definitely a best seller. The various range of black fabric is also very popular, like the quilted pleather. Lately, everyone has also been responding very positively to the oil slick and the oil slick mermaid scales. It’s also made me tremendously happy, in that it appeals not just to cosplayers, but people in the world of fashion as well.
VB: I think that’s definitely something to strive for, meeting cosplayers needs, and the needs of anyone with creative passion for any project as well.
YH: Of course! The Ultrapreme again, is very popular with experienced cosplayers especially, which makes me very happy!
VB: How do you see your collection evolving further?
YH: When we started out, the collection primarily consisted of spandex based fabrics, and nylons and such. So this time, we’d like to concentrate more on wovens. We want to expand the range of materials, with more prints and with a wider selection of three dimensional fabrics—–like the super hex. We plan to bring in different patterned fabric with different sizing, to bring more to people with utilitarian designs and needs. But we’re also going to make sure we don’t neglect the steampunk, fantasy and ren faire/historical costuming. The possibilities just seem endless.
VB: With this kind of hobby, it seems like they genuinely are–which feels like it could be overwhelming at times. Someone could see a random townsperson in an RPG, and be like, “I wanna cosplay that!”
YH: Haha, yes, trying to decide what was going into the first collection was very daunting at times. We had so many things we wanted, and still want to include.
VB: Is there anything else you’d like to share with us today?
YH: Yes, I hope that this will inspire people to channel their creative energy. I also hope that this combination of materials and patterns will make newcomers to the cosplay community less intimidated–make their projects come together more easily. Because that’s really my goal–to take away the stress and hassle of having to go to so many different places to hunt for things. You can go to one place, and find everything you need. And the only thing you have to worry about is actually making your costume or project.
We’d like to thank Yaya Han for taking the time out of her busy day to share with us her inspirations. Be sure to check out YayaHan.com to see her costuming throughout the years and joann.com to shop the fabric collection.
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