Anime and Streetwear, what about the Otakus & Cosplayers?

Continuing from this previous examination of Anime’s relationship with Streetwear we’ll talk about the other perspective. Specifically the Cosplayer and Otaku (Anime) communities, it’s important to understand that both communities are not the same, even though at times they can be very closely related. Some very basic concepts of Cosplay, depending how far back you wanna go, can said to have some resemblance to Halloween. It bares a stronger link in early 20th century America with Sci Fi fans, who would make their own costumes, as America’s future seemed full of technological possibilities. As for Otakus, its origins are of course from Japan. However its original meaning, postmodern Japan, has greatly changed. In Japan Otaku can definitely be used in a derogatory way, although it may not be used definitely that way. Now how and where do these two distinct communities fall on the fashion spectrum, and what do they have to do with Streetwear is somewhat speculative. They are non the less important in understanding what Anime and Streetwear are, and what they can be.

Asteroid Blues tee by Hidden Characters. Second Version.

Streetwear’s origins can be found in skating, other athletics, hip hop, among other things. Skating is particularly important as Jeremy Klein, an influential skater, had adopted Anime and Japanese culture as one of his early motifs. While hes known for many things in the skating world, he eventually help create Hook-Ups, a skating company thats distinctively influenced by Anime, in the early 90s. It can be suggested that Jeremy Klein started America’s relationship with Anime and clothing. During this time Anime was still a virtually unknown subculture. More than a decade later, Triumvir decided to introduce Anime to Streetwear in America. The results were very mixed. Not too long after Triumvir ended their Street Fighter collabs other Streetwear brands began to take Triumvir’s work a step further, ultimately creating something different. Ronin, a NY streetwear brand, may well have been the first. Though now there are many others, however they don’t bare a resemblance to Hook-Ups or Triumvir. Many of these newer brands are headed by Asian Americans, and so they have a different perspective on the art form that is inherently Japanese.

Otakus

Theres a lot of people who can and do identify as being an Otaku. For awhile the term was relegated to small venues/places within America, it was a way to understand who was a fan of Japanese Animation. As the word was used in non dubbed Anime. Eventually this changed. As Anime covertly invaded America’s underbelly of disenfranchised youth and adults, something was ultimately cultivated. Overtime this manifested as a way for people to describe themselves, in a positive context. You can think of someone who plays sports as an athlete, they might use that word to describe themselves. This is essentially what Otaku now means to cultures outside Japan. If you’re an Otaku, you’re basically saying you’re a big Anime fan, or you may be using the word to associate your love of it and maybe even Japan. However in Japan, the word is not universally used this way. Originally it was used to describe something, not necessarily someone. It apparently referred to someone’s house, so just otaku not Otaku. After a while it transformed as a way to shame people. Referring to people as Otaku meant that they were obsessed with something, to a severity that it affected their overall wellbeing. You can possibly akin it’s meaning to addiction, which is never a positive thing. With Anime’s growing influence in Japan, as well as its economic benefits, the word Otaku isn’t 100% bad, but you have to understand that its not universally linked to Anime. Its apparently tied to negative obsessions. As foreigners tend to import words from other countries, Japan’s word otaku was also imported, through a misunderstanding, people now have a positive word to describe themselves.

What Otaku brings up on Google.jp

However its important to understand the idea of what Otaku means is somewhat murky. Like who came up with the meaning behind the word? Who’s in charge of its meaning? This lack of definitive meaning, outside Japan, gives the concept of Otaku a somewhat fluid meaning. Some individuals may use it to say they’re hardcore Anime fans. In another context some people may just use it to invoke an association to Anime, think instagram or twitter. However you can’t use one word to describe the Anime community. As with many pastimes, hobbies, lifestyles etc some people may be more into it than others.

Kanye West’s music video for Stronger is overall a great music video. Its also very much a tribute to the 1988 Anime movie Akira. At one point Kanye West even entertained the idea of working on the remake. So its very obvious that hes into Anime, yet hes never actually describe himself as an Otaku. Of course hes one example, of celebrities who love Anime, but aren’t “Otakus.” The late Robin Williams was also a fan of Anime, so is actor Christian Bale (Batman), who worked on an Anime movie. I’ve personally never meet a fan of Anime who described themselves as Otaku. There are people out there who would fit the bill, however they may be a fan of Japanese culture in general. Interestingly enough a designer, possibly an Otaku, for the 2012 Victoria Secret fashion show ripped off Rei Ayanami’s plugsuit design.

Is Batman an Otaku?

As to why this is significant in America, simply put something that was considered on the fringes of society are basically part of it now. Hot Topic is a prime example of this, as they carry many stuff an Anime fan would want to buy. In general theres way more stuff, licensed and unauthorized, that an Anime fan can now buy. Whereas a few years ago people would have to go to import shops. Anime culture itself has expanded overseas, into Europe and even South America, where its fan base is steadily growing. Theres also more expos devoted to Anime, while AX is probably the biggest, in between there are many other expos that pop up.  AX is arguably a cow cash, with many big and independent vendors. A place where many quintessential “starving” artists go to peddle their artwork, or Anime fans/Otakus try to sell stuff in order to survive or make some kind of living.

Cosplayers

The term Cosplay isn’t actually that old, it was coined back in 1983 by a Japanese man named Nov Takahashi. Hes credited with helping give an identity to the then unnamed Cosplay community in Japan, which has ultimately doubled back to America, eliminating what came before it. So does that mean that Cosplay was inherently a Japanese phenomenon? Not exactly, in a way it can be said to be a culmination of Japanese, American and European concepts. To the people that find it odd, cosplay’s roots go far. Depending on where you want to draw the link, in its basic form Cosplay is essentially people dressing up in garments, that wouldn’t be considered normal clothing. Working on this you can say it has some relations to either Sanhaim or even guising in medieval Europe. If you wanna get modern about it, you simply have to look at Halloween. If you wanna get more modern about it, look towards Sci Fi expos in America. Samhain was a Celtic tradition that would mark the end of spring and the beginning of winter, which was associated with death. It was a time where people would honor the dead, and wish to see ghosts of their relatives, yet in the same vein people would dress up, so that ghosts wouldn’t try to possess them. Guising occurred during Hallowmas (All Saint’s Day), people would dress up and go door to door begging for food or money. As compensation they would either sing, dance, or pray for someone’s deceased loved ones. While early 20th century Halloween in America is usually associated with kids dressing up, make no mistake adults were also into it, albeit to be scary instead of cute.

Early 20th century Halloween in America.

If you really wanna gauge when contemporary concepts of Cosplay came into play, you have to look at the Sci Fi community. They’re arguably more or less the precursors to Cosplayers, as they used the term Costuming. Think of early fantasy novels, magazines, or films. Such as Wizard of OZ, HP Lovecraft’s works, or Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. Their worlds were often set in modern day contexts, playing around with the idea that there could be worlds vastly more intriguing than our own. Eventually science began to modernize, and fantasy novelists played with the idea of overtly advanced societies. The 1939 Futurama Pavilion showed how designers were becoming enthusiastic of a futuristic America. This same year the first Worldcon was held, this is where you essentially have the birth of Costuming. People would dress up as some fantasy based creation. By the 1960s America had developed a great interest in space and so came the birth of Star Trek and later Star Wars, along with their devoted fans. This all occurred before the advent of Cosplay in Japan. What sustained Costuming, was people’s desire to be part of an idealized fantasy world, one that could be vastly more exciting than everyday life. By the early 90s there were already Cosplayers at Anime Expo. Anime was instilled into the 90s kids, and so a silent coup was forming. As these kids became adults, Costuming was replaced with Cosplay.

Cosplay today.

What can characterize a Cosplayer is that they’re wearing a costume of a character from a popular show or animated series. While in the beginning Cosplay may have been exclusive to the Anime community, thats not the case today. You can go to other places outside of Anime events or expos, like Comikaze and find “Cosplayers” dressed up as their favorite comic book or video game characters. In some cases people may not even be familiar with the characters they’re Cosplaying as. So the term Cosplayer is somewhat ambiguous.  Most people are just happy to find other people dressed as the same character, so it doesn’t matter whose costume is better. Ergo the classic Cosplay group photo.

However there is another aspect of Cosplayers, one which is basically considered a lifestyle. For these people, Cosplay takes a more serious role in their lives. These type of people may frequently buy/make costumes as well as wigs. Many hours are painstakingly put into the construction of accurate or over the top renditions of any Animated character. Some form relationships with photographers, they frequent conventions year round instead of once a year. Cosplaying another gender isn’t looked down upon. Some times its a sustainable way to live, maybe even profitable. This is due to social media, as the higher the following a Cosplayer has, more endorsements they can get. In some cases they may make money, though not always.

Get a 9-5

One of the integral aspects of adulthood is getting a steady job. This is unavoidable. Though theres different ways you can ultimately support yourself, without having to get a conventional career. Ultimately this is where all three communities can find a common ground.

In the years following Shawn Stussy’s creation of Stussy, the brand transformed from a small operation into a multi million dollar business. Thats not to say its origins have been 100% conventional. Moving onto the 2000s, there was an influx of newer streetwear brands, many of which maintained a level of financial success. While the numbers weren’t extraordinary it was sustainable. Eventually in 2008 the recession hit and more or less leveled the playing field. Many of the bigger brands called it quits. While many of the smaller brands used this to their advantage. This was the genesis of the big streetwear brands of today. Such as The Hundreds, Undftd, 10 Deep, Huf, etc. Many of these brands found success because they built relationships with their customers. They threw parties, or sponsored concerts, held skate sessions, and most importantly they maintained a presence on social media.

Funimation CEO.

Concerning Anime, there is money to be made. The bulk of this money is probably made in Japan where Anime possibly has its largest following. Looking at things from a business perspective it’s not too hard to understand. Every year theres a lot of new Anime and Manga series’ being created. If the series is a hit they create tons of products that can be sold or they can simply license out their IP (intellectual property). This is typically how most of these companies make money. Funimation holds the American distribution rights to most of the big Anime shows from Japan. While Funimation does the dubbing for these shows, its more than that. They do probably sell dvds, but its not as profitable as licensing. Funimation can simply license out any show to other companies for a fee. The easiest way to understand this is Hot Topic and Anime. They make and sell clothing or accessories featuring popular Anime characters. As for the why, its extremely inexpensive to make clothing on a commercial scale.

That isn’t to say the little guy can’t get in on this.

The Anime kids

 What these independent Streetwear brands, the Otakus, and Cosplayers have in common, is simply their appreciation for the art form that is Anime. Theres also the dilemma of economics. Ever since the recession hit America, career opportunities have become harder to cultivate. While certain industries have boomed and busted, America’s apparel sector has continued to grow. As Anime’s influence has continued to thrive, it has become its own market within the world of fashion. There isn’t a dominate entity which rules Anime apparel. Theres just a bunch of random companies here and there making money off the backs of many graphic designers. So profits are very centralized with these businesses.

Uniqlo is a player within Anime fashion.

Anime Kids have struck out on their own, hustling in a lot of different ways. The Anime fans who can draw, typically try to sell their art on line, or do commissioned artwork. Some Cosplayers also do this, although they may try to sell prints of their photos more so than their artwork. Conventions are especially important because theres a lot of money to be made, people gotta survive. Interestingly enough some Anime kids decided to go into apparel.

This is ultimately where all three communities are doomed, yes doomed because it’s unavoidable, to collide with one another. As such it’s important this happens sooner rather than later. For a few reasons. No doubt there will probably be people in the greater Anime community who would be against the idea of a union between streetwear and Anime. Either because they want to keep Anime “pure” or possibly because people from the Streetwear camp have mocked them in the past. However its important to understand that Anime and streetwear/fashion have already developed a relationship in Japan. So this concept isn’t a new or foreign idea. As for the streetwear brands that use Anime, it’s important to know that the owners of these brands are fans of Anime. They’re Anime kids who grew up in the 90s. They aren’t just exploiting Anime, they’re familiar with the source material their brand’s are appropriating. Some brands to look into would be Hidden Characters, The Heated Environment (THE), Effulgence, Ronin, etc.

T.H.E.’s take on Anime is very minimalist.

In 2015 here was an incident involving Anime artwork. There were allegations that Ronin had wrongfully used an artist’s work as a tee shirt design. While this is wrong, in the end Ronin did the right thing, and the artist was compensated. While the incident was initially negative, people should take some positives away from this. One of the major problems with running a clothing brand is creating something that people will buy. Graphic tees are essentially the heart of streetwear. If you wanna make some Anime inspired tees you may want to go to Deviantart and commission an artist to make the graphic, you may even want to start a long term business relationship. This way the starving artist won’t stay starving. Just remember not to rip off smaller artists, you should only consider appropriating from businesses that are already making lots of money.

Some Anime kids have had a slow start in fashion, so there are some things they should consider. Specifically supply and demand in the world of fashion. If a certain shirt sells a lot, the brand will usually restock said item. This will often lead to certain products going to the sales rack, this isn’t bad for bigger companies like Uniqlo, as they make their products very cheaply. You may not want to go this route if you’re doing everything independently. Streetwear’s strategy has almost always depended on exclusivity. Meaning that even if a particular shirt sells very well, they probably will not restock that shirt, it adds more meaning to the design, among other reasons. Such as storage, keeping a stack of tees in your house for long periods of time can be bothersome, likewise you’ll probably want to focus on your next release.

Effulgence freebie.

Although newer brands might initially be at a disadvantage, one thing that can work for them is having people sponsor or cosign their brand. This is where the Cosplayers come into play. Instagram is a place where you’ll find a plethora of models, depending on their amount of followers they might be asked to cosign a brand. This can range from free products to being paid. Usually they’ll just take pics of whatever random shirt or pair of kicks they’ve been given and tag the brands. So theres nothing too fancy about this, however models are a dime a dozen, they almost always accumulate their followers through sex appeal, so much of what they do is purely business. Cosplayers are vastly different, there are some who do modeling and may identify as one. However others do not. Dedicated Cosplayers usually become their own tailors. They have an understanding of fabrics, they can measure, more importantly they know how to cut material and sew it together. This is important in Streetwear as many people that start out, eventually want to branch out into cut n sew, it can be slow process though. Cosplayers cosplay for different reasons. Some are motivated for their love of costume design, and so may cosplay characters they aren’t familiar with, while other do it in order to make a living. These type of Cosplayers may not actually make their own costumes, instead they may just go to a tailor, which is essential in this community. For those that do make their own outfits, they are typically the ones with a deep passion for the characters they watched as a kid. They also tend to go out and take very creative photos, usually with a photographer they love working with. Of course this usually doesn’t add up to an income. Some Cosplayers get sponsored, though no actual money may be made. In the world of Streetwear, newer brands may want to have Cosplayers cosign their brands. Mainly because in a sea of atypical models, Cosplayers stand out more. Seeing that theres already a good amount of Anime fans in the Streetwear community, these types of relationships may work well. Cosplayers stand to grow their fan bases, as well as possibly make some money.

Left: Mostflogged, right: Tattobot

Speaking of Cosplayers two important ones are Tattobot and MostFlogged. Not too long ago these women created an Anime themed fashion brand called Anime Trash Swag. Glamourous, colorful, hentai, macabre, spunky, and of course Anime, sum up what ATS is all about. The brand seems to focus on the Anime community, many of their items are custom made giving everything more of a personal feel. Though their appeal may lean towards women who want to be loud and stylish, they also have some stuff for men. Beyond this they are Cosplayers, they make their own costumes/wigs and go to various cons, and have a great following, so things look good for them and ATS. You may also want to look at Stahli’s Cosplays. The range of her work is pretty dope, you may recognize some characters, while other are a bit obscure. Something to take away from this is being able to stand out. Cosplayers do this by making their costumes a bit different from a characters design or using unique materials, theres also photograph. They may edit their pics or they may have someone else do this. In streetwear when brands go into cut n sew you definitely have to learn to make your products stand out, so keep Cosplayers in mind.

Canadian Cosplayer Stahli.

Most importantly each of these communities needs to have an understanding with one another. Streetwear today is motivated by status, exclusivity, as well as a desire for quality products. They’re not all snobs though. Anime fans will of course buy Anime stuff, but clothing may not be on their wish lists. So don’t hate on their style. Cosplayers can be artistic and stylish, but are mostly looking to have fun. Some even wear Cosplay attire as their “normal” attire. Learn to respect their craft. Streetwear brands should try checking out Ax or other Anime cons to gain inspiration, or possibly sell their merch. Anime fans curious about Streetwear may want to go check out some Streetwear brands that tap into Anime, or possibly Fairfax. Cosplayers may want to start a relationship with brands who will pay them. No one knows how big Anime and Streetwear/fashion will become. Not too long ago the 80s were all the rage, but today is the day of the Anime kids.

*The first part of Anime & Streetwear.

*TattoBot’s Instagram.

*MostFlogged’s Instagram.

*Anime Trash Swag’s website.

*Stahli’s Instagram.

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2 thoughts on “Anime and Streetwear, what about the Otakus & Cosplayers?

  1. Pingback: Anime and Streetwear, its a Homecoming | blakplague

  2. Pingback: Anime Trash Swag – Vibrantly Dark | blakplague

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