Commissions are a bit of a hot topic at the moment with various issues about copyright issues and what not but like it or not they happen. Not long after I started cosplaying I started getting commissions and have had a steady stream of them over the years. A question I get asked a lot by friends is how I started getting commissions and how can they get into it. So I’ve decided to tackle this particular subject today.
For me commissions are a necessary evil, while I do love making some pieces (like a Morrigan’s skirt from Dragon Age Origins) and I do get some extra cash from them they also take a long time, time that I could be working on my own costumes. Doing commissions also allows me to experiment with styles, techniques and make costumes that I have always wanted to make, yet would not usually wear. Although I have a love-hate relationship with commissions nothing makes me happier than seeing someone wearing something I made for them and them getting told they look good.
So that’s a quick over view of why I make costumes for other people, now I’ll give a few helpful pointers on how to get into it.
Practice, practice, practice!
My commissions actually started because of my skill with spandex. I used to spend hours after work and at weekends sewing spandex pieces. It didn’t matter if it was something that I was going to wear or just throw away, I just made things. I can’t tell you the number of gloves and glove patterns I went through before I mastered spandex gloves. I must have made hundreds of superhero booties, dozens of bodysuits and leotards, installed and unpicked dozens of zips. I spent ages sewing different pieces together to see how well I could panel something or how different types of spandex worked with each other.
Because I spent so much time working on spandex pieces my friends began to come to me for suit repairs, installing zips, fixing elastic, making them gloves. I like to think it’s because they were lazy and I was willing to practice on their items but a few of them have said it’s because I would work spandex better than them.
Word of Mouth/helping others
Most of my commissions come from word of mouth or offering to help people with their pieces. When someone was looking for a seamstress to sew up a Spiderman suit a friend, who I fixed a zip for, gave the person my name. Tell your friends that if they know anyone who might be looking for something to recommend you.
I also make a lot of stuff for my friends for free. I used to make suits for friends for free just because I wanted to. I offer help and advice where I can and ask my friends to give me credit on various bits and pieces if I help make them. Fortunately I have a great network of friends who do this. I’ve had cases where I start giving a friend advice and then they just end up commissioning me to make them the item. If you have friends who are popular in the cosplay community ask to help make them a costume, that sort of exposure is essential!
Use social media!
This might sound stupid but you won’t get commissions if you don’t update your social media pages. If you’re looking for commissions to do but have a page that has three year old work or just odd bits and pieces then people won’t come to you. Your friends can help you get all the interest in the world but if a potential customer comes to your page and sees some old photos they won’t be interested. They wont be able to see the quality of your current work. It doesn’t matter if it’s your work or commissioned work, you have to keep your pages updated. Just look at God Save The Queen Fashions or Volpin props. They constantly update their pages with their current commissions and so you can see the quality you will be getting.
Think about what you would look for in a person if you were the one looking for the commission and apply that to your page. You want to make yourself seem accessible, you want to be able to see the skill of the person that you’re about to commission, and you want to have a good reputation for getting things on time so share the pages and pictures of people who commissioned you (especially if they say something nice about you).
Price it right
Pricing is always a tricky one. How much do you charge for something? Do you charge for just your materials? How much do you charge for your time/research? Personally it depends on who it is and what it is. I go from mates rates (materials plus dinner/con meals) to proper charging (£60 per day plus materials and shipping) to skill exchange (I make this for you and you do this for me). The more costumes you have made the better idea you’ll have about how long it will take to make something.
Try not to charge yourself out of the market though. One of the things I have found helps is to look at how much costumes cost online and then price around there. For example I charge about £80-100 for a Deadpool suit, on Ebay suits go for about £200 but aren’t as accurate as mine would be (but that’s another issue entirely).
People are also unwilling to pay loads of money for someone who may not have the right qualifications. If you can rack a few competitions and awards under your belt it will help. If you’re a professional seamstress or prop maker for the film industry (for example) you can charge a lot more and people will be willing to pay it. If not many people have heard of you and you don’t have an up to date catalog of work on your pages then people will be less willing to pay you.
As I said, getting friends to spread the word is great, the more well known they are the better. There are also plenty of groups and forums around where you can post your work and tell people you are looking for work. An example (for the UK) is Cosplay Commissions UK. Post in community forums as well where there is lots of activity and slowly raise your profile that way. There are loads of different ways to get exposure and it will depend on the type of community you are in but at the end of the day you need to get your name out there.
Another very important one. I find that the easier you communicate with someone the better. When a customer questions why something will cost so much I break down the different elements of the price. I usually even do this before they even ask why something will cost so much, listing possible fabrics and methods and then why each different method will cost a lot. For example if someone has a leather element in their costume I give them the option of pleather or real leather then explain why real leather will cost so much more to have (it’s expensive and requires a lot more work). If someone comes to you with a commission you can’t do or don’t have time to do then recommend alternatives or point them in the direction of someone you know who could do it.
Once you have the commission I try and stay in constant contact with the customer. When asking for measurements I send diagrams as well as a breakdown of which measurements I need. I send photos of fabric samples and progress pictures as I make the costume. This not only means that the customer doesn’t have to worry about whether you’ll get it done on time but it has resulted in me getting some pretty good friends. If you come across a problem (you get ill or a family tragedy) you MUST tell the customer so they know if there will be a delay. You might be worried about whether they will take business elsewhere or they’ll get angry but in my experience most of my customers have been wonderfully understanding about everything.
I hope this helps anyone who is looking to start getting commissions. Remember everyone starts making commissions differently and this is only my experience on it. If you have any other pieces of advice feel free to let us know in the comments so others can check it out.