Cosplay not a hobby but a job for 22-year-old Singaporean who earns up to $4,000 a month

SPH Brightcove Video
Find out how Rea, 22, makes a living as a full-time cosplayer.
Reg, known as Rea Kami in the cosplay community, dressed as Rin from Fate/Grand Order. PHOTO: PETALLUM
Vanessa, known in the cosplay world as Kiyo, dressed as Himiko Toga from Boku no Hero Academia. PHOTO: SIMPLY RANDOM
Reg, known as Rea Kami in the cosplay community, dressed as Ereshkigal from Fate/Grand Order. PHOTO: PETALLUM
Vanessa, 22, known in the cosplay world as Kiyo, dressed as Tracer from Overwatch. PHOTO: PIREZE

SINGAPORE - A petite woman is dressing up inside a bedroom in a HDB flat, getting ready for work.

She puts on contact lenses, dabs pink blush on her cheekbones and sticks on false eyelashes before putting on a black dress.

But Reg, 22, who does not want to give her real name, is no ordinary office worker.

The contact lenses she has put on are red, her black dress comes with a furry coat and she has on her head a brunette wig, which she combs while sitting on the bedroom floor, which is covered with even more blue, brown and blonde wigs.

It is a Monday in August and Reg has just spent two hours transforming herself into goddess Ishtar from mobile game Fate/Grand Order.

She is a full-time cosplayer, who dresses up as fictional characters from anime series or video games and turns her cosplay (costume play) photos into merchandise.

Reg, who goes by Rea Kami in the cosplay community, is one of a rare breed of full-time cosplayers in Singapore. She knows of just one other full-time cosplayer and cosplay event organisers do not have an estimate of how many such full-timers there are here.

She makes around $3,500 to $4,000 on good months, when there are more cosplay and anime conventions which she can attend and sell her merchandise, which can cost up to about $300 each.

The merchandise she sells to cosplay fans are self-branded items bearing her face and name, such as prints, themed photo books, banners and T-shirts. She also chats with her fans on chatting platform Discord, as part of her work.

Reg, who goes by Rea Kami in the cosplay community, is one of a rare breed of full-time cosplayers in Singapore. PHOTO: PETALLUM

"To me, cosplaying is how I pay tribute to my favourite characters and bring them to life," she says.

"Some people may find that monetising their hobby makes it a dread but I love cosplay even more now that I'm doing it as my job."

Reg has an estimated 60 to 80 costumes, mostly kept in a rented storage facility, and typically spends around $1,500 on outfits and wigs each year.

The youngest of three children, she started cosplaying in 2015 but went full time only in March last year, when she took a gap year after graduating with a diploma in Mass Communication from Ngee Ann Polytechnic. She now has 25,900 followers on her Instagram account, ReaKami.

Occasionally, she gets invited to attend overseas conventions. Appearance fee ranges anywhere between $100 and $500, although well-known international cosplayers with a huge fanbase can command a higher amount.

For instance, top Japanese cosplayer Enako reportedly made $130,000 in just one day at last year's Comiket, a comic fair in Tokyo.

In Singapore, cosplay has gone from the fringes to the mainstream, with enterprising cosplayers able to make a living out of their hobby.

There are now at least seven annual cosplay-related events here, including Sakura Matsuri: Anime Garden, which was started just last year.

C3 Anime Festival Asia saw over 105,000 fans and participants last year, up from 25,000 attendees in its first year in 2008. Likewise, Cosfest, which started in 2002 with 200 attendees, attracted over 20,000 people this July.

Mr Shawn Chin, founder of Anime Festival Asia, says: "Cosplay usually starts off as a hobby for many cosplay enthusiasts as a way to express their creativity, step into a different world and to bring a certain character to life.

"For many, it stays a hobby but some are also quite enterprising - partnering with companies as ambassadors or producing their own merchandise."

Vanessa, 22, who declined to give her full name, is the other full-time cosplayer in Singapore that Reg knows of.

The anime fan was introduced to cosplay by a friend in secondary school. After her O levels, she took on a full-time retail job and also started selling cosplay merchandise on US-based crowdfunding members platform Patreon.

Three years ago, she quit her job to go into cosplay full time after realising she could earn more from the hobby.

Vanessa, who is known as Kiyo in the cosplay community, says she now earns about US$2,500 (S$3,470) each month from Patreon.

The youngest of three children says her family is supportive of her job.

While she intends to continue doing cosplay for a few more years, she hopes it will open up avenues for her to take up gaming or music-related roles in the entertainment industry.

Both Vanessa and Reg stress that there is nothing sleazy about what they do.

Says Reg:"When I tell people I'm a full-time cosplayer, the first thing people will think about is all the racy stuff or the lewd, adult work which I totally do not do."

Wearing a bikini outfit at the beach, such as the ones worn by mobile game Fate/Grand Order's summer servants characters, is the furthest she would go.

As for Vanessa, she does the occasional conceptual boudoir shoots in lingerie.

"I don't do anything that I find distasteful, that's the line I don't want to cross," she stresses.

She has over 212,000 followers on her Instagram account Kiyocosplay and is known for cosplaying characters from popular video games such as Overwatch.

But not every cosplayer dreams of turning her hobby into her full-time job.

Zhen Zhen, 19, who declined to give her surname, is happy to just cosplay on weekends as a hobby - even though she admires full-time cosplayers.

The first-year polytechnic student, who goes by the cosplay name of Yukiko, has over 198,000 followers on her Instagram account Xiaoyukiko and earns money through selling her cosplay photos and merchandise on Patreon.

She does mostly cute-looking characters, such as Rem from anime series Re:Zero and does photoshoots mainly on the weekends.

She hopes to take on her family business in future.

"It's a hobby after all, so I don't really feel pressured to keep creating new content. People say maybe I'll grow out of it but who knows what will happen in the future," she says.

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