As Con Season 2k16 kicks off and we look toward Anime Detour in just under a month, it’s doubtless that many cosplayers new and experienced are beginning to feel the pressure when it comes to finishing their costumes. It is usually around this time that cosplayers start looking to outside sources to help alleviate their workloads. While it’s fairly common for a cosplayer to purchase part—or even the entirety—of a costume for various reasons, it is an unfortunate reality that some also end up falling victim to scams or other unsavory merchants.
Cosplay is an ever-growing hobby, and as with all hobbies, it comes with people who seek to gain a profit off of it. While the vast majority of these people are legitimate and trustworthy, there will always be people or companies who are just trying to make a quick buck with little regard to the buyer. The most typical of these scandalous sellers are online “wholesale” merchants who sell popular costumes that have been mass produced; they will either have their own website dedicated to costume or cosplay sales or will sell through other sites, such as eBay or Etsy. The easiest way to tell these sellers apart from their legitimate competitors is to check the photographs posted with their products: in most cases, the pictures used will be generic costume pictures taken on a mannequin or dress form, and the pictures will be stock photos, often used by different sellers with as little as the watermarks changed.
Another key to look out for is manufacturer locations. Generally, these wholesale sites and sellers will list their products as being shipped from Beijing or Hong Kong, as they all get their products mass produced in China and either shipped to their own warehouses to ship again to the buyer or shipped directly from the manufacturer to you.
The risks of using these sellers is usually small. You’ll probably receive the product that was advertised and that you paid for, but there is no guarantee of that, and the sellers bank on this. What you receive may not be what you expect; on very rare occasions, you may not receive the product at all. Horror stories are abundant with cosplay wholesalers and resellers, with the most common complaints being:
• Low-quality material
• Poor manufacturing
• Wrong colors
• Item not matching the seller’s image
• Incorrectly sized/poor fitting
Fortunately, there are some simple steps to keep yourself (relatively) safe when purchasing costumes.
Purchase in Person Whenever Possible
The surest way to prevent a scam is to be involved as much as possible, and usually when you meet someone in person and are able to communicate regularly, the chances that they will try to pull one over on you is reduced significantly. An unfortunate side effect of the anonymity of the Internet is that people who want to scam you are usually harder to track down to get your money back if something is not as it should be. But local vendors who make their products by hand thrive usually off of word of mouth and are more personal about what they make for their business, so they will be more motivated to put their best work forward. Plus, the added benefit of supporting a local artist is icing on the cake.
Use PayPal Whenever You Have to Buy Online
The nice thing about the ever-growing online market is that usually the legitimate and trustworthy merchants have their shops affiliated with PayPal. This added security means more than just protecting your credit card information during the sale, as when you make a purchase and the seller fails to uphold their end, you can actually go through PayPal to get a refund.
Google Knows Everything
Always do your research. Whether you make your own costume or plan on buying one, Google is your friend. When purchasing, however, the search engine becomes a key advisor as to who you should be wary of. Chances are someone before you has had some experience with a merchant, whether it be good or bad. A simple search of the store’s name will probably have some sort of review that can warn you of poor quality or unscrupulous sellers (or assure you that the place is trustworthy). Likewise, a general search for “untrustworthy cosplay sellers” brings up entire lists of stores that people have uncovered as scams.
Try Before You Buy
The more you manage to make yourself, the less you risk by having to buy from someone else. While this may not work for things such as wigs or other items that you wouldn’t be able to make in your home, simple cosplay accessories and sewing jobs can typically done with the most basic of skills. Google can help you with this, too, as there’s a good chance that someone else has tried to make the costume you’re making at one point or another.
If the Price Seems Too Good to Be True…
. . . chances are that it is! Scammers draw their customers in with products that are dirt cheap compared to handmade sellers. If the costume is selling for $30 on one site and then $150 on another, you’re probably seeing a scam and should steer clear. True handmade costumes are not cheap, even when you make them yourself. When it seems like the person is selling the product for less than the fabric would cost at your local fabric store, it probably means that they are selling a product that is going to be poor quality.
As with all things in life, the best thing to keep you safe is your own vigilance. Stay alert, cosplay fans, and avoid feeding the beast that is the network of vile rip-off artists who would bring shame to the glorious art of cosplay. Good luck in your quest for your own cosplays, and I look forward to seeing them all in the coming months!