Creative Collaboration in Small Business

My teeth were cut in the 80’s as an ad executive in traditional advertising and public relations and opening a costume concierge business in 2010, I embraced social media.    I’ve noted,  working with other new entrepreneurs, especially women, that cash poor and product heavy businesses choose collaboration or cross promotion to market themselves.

However, these collaborations fail or are horribly unsatisfying for the Entrepreneur and this is why.

Entrepreneurs are creative, passionate and energetic … and hopeful.  You feel if you offer a quality product for free, including your time, that the collaborating company will give you something equal in kind.  Right?  Wrong.  How could you not help but be disappointed with yourself or the result?

Here are some tips and case studies about entrepreneurial collaboration that work for different reasons.

Tip 1 – The Six W’s.  Whose going to be there that is important to me?  When am I expected to be at this event?  What do I have to provide for this event?  Where in the event am I situated?  Why am I going to this event?  HoW the hell do I get the most out of this collaboration?

Case Study 1 – Hockey School Fundraiser  – The question Where found me in a private venue for an adult-only event with lots of food, drink and dim lighting.   The challenge was how to feature my product amongst hundreds of others.  With my mannequin dressed in as Elsa [the hottest 2014 costume] beside a rotating photo frame of my product, the event coordinator said it was a total hit, attracting attention to my table while improving the overall quality of her event.

Tip 2 – Value can be measured in many ways. Contradicting myself, sometimes a charitable event meets your company’s mission statement, or free product for a photo shoot gives you lifestyle shots of your product.

Case Study 2 – Photography Collaboration – I invited my co-op students to a participate in a free photo shoot.   The goal for the photographer and myself was to break creative boredom by working in a new genre called Cosplay.  I agreed to let the students pose in their own costumes as long as they were holding/wearing at least one of my products and if I could use the photographs in social media.   I learned a great deal about Cosplay and how I might make money from these young adults and was cool by association.


Photo Shoot with Welcome Aboard Photography

Tip 3 – Ask for what you want out of the deal.  They will either say yes or no.

Case Study 3 – Library Workshop Collaboration –  I’d hoped this event would give me data on how to proceed with the development of additional teaching units for middle schools and private playgrounds.   I asked if the Mississauga Public Library would use their substantial electronic and paper distribution systems to publicize the events.  They said yes, and I thought I was a shoe-in.    After six weeks of marketing, we had only six teens attend the workshop, a total bust.  I’m still not sure why the marketing failed, but the positive outcome was testing the ideas without having to carry the entire cost. #BigGuysCanAlsobeNiceGuys

Emma-Library Sign

Costume Workshop at Local Library

Tip 4 – Don’t just value your products.  Put a value your time.

Case Study 4 – Sponsorship of The Toronto Zombie Walk & Halloween Parade.  Not exactly a “collaborative” event since I am paying for vendor space and banner placement, but with this group IF you are creative the opportunity over and above the sponsorship is substantial.  What did I get?  Sponsorship means that my advertising banner, on TZW web site, is linked to my web store for a full year.   TZW has other events all year long that I can springboard from.  TZW also pimps me in other ways.

I zombify Blindsighted Host Kelly Macdonald for TZW 2014

I zombify Blindsighted Host Kelly Macdonald for TZW 2014

For example, they introduced me to AMI whose one hour filming on site with Blindsighted Host Kelly Macdonald, airs in January 2015, not in October when I am over saturated with “opportunities”.  Finally, the buttons I give away annually at TZW have my website address.  Because the TZW event, like Cosplay, is a highly photographed event,  people with our buttons will show up in photographs until digital kingdom is done.   The bang for my buck of time is amazing value. #ExploitinaNiceway

Cole Arthur, and our 2011 button complete with web address, appears ad infinitum, thanks to photographer Henry Chan

Cole Arthur, and our 2011 button complete with web address, appears ad infinitum, thanks to photographer Henry Chan














Case Study 5 – Through Twitter I met Murder Mystery Maven, Leigh Clements.   Having made custom flapper head bands for many of her guests at a Toronto event she hosted, I impressed photographer Wales Wong.  With Wales and her team, on a rainy day in Toronto, I helped style a photo shoot published in Dark Beauty Magazine.  My credit styling this event, again, appears on the internet in multiple places giving weight to my store’s web metrics in ways I will never understand and making me feel very cool, just by association. #FollowtheThread

IMG_5621DangerousAffairs IMG_5770

Case Study 6 – St Joseph’s Health Centre HallowSuperJohnsoneen fundraising campaign in Bloor West Village.  I created looks and styled five families as super heroes.   The ad campaign would appear on a web site, posters, banners, elevator doors.  I did it because my kids went there for every major crisis, it was a challenge and it was very cool. #CommunityService #Volunteer







Tip 5 – Some people or companies may just be dicks.  If they are really all that and it’s worth riding on their coat tails, just be grateful.  If they think they are all that, you either bought into it or were naive and in either case, you’ve got to just accept it and move on.

Case Study 5 – Shall Remain Nameless Collaboration.  I was invited to do something cool, a workshop on prosthetics and make-up and I spent months designing and over $1,000 in products, staff and hotel with a promise of reciprocal social media promotion, being in the paper program, blah blah blah.  I was so excited I said yes, pulled out all the stops, created an amazing event, fizzle, burn, nadda in return.  It was humiliating.  It was embarrassing and … my ego and enthusiasm is definitely to blame.

I’m sure I will make more mistakes in this entrepreneurial journey at FeeFiFoFun Costumes and in my blogging Off the Porch, Black Oaks and In Disguise, but if I enter with my eyes wide open I can enjoy the best and throw away the rest.

Dressing for your Age

My friends from yoga are all over 50.  Yesterday we talked about the rise of wearing people wearing costumes which, over the past 10 years, has been nothing short of meteorological.  The consensus of my friends is that costumes for kids under age 10 is very acceptable, but for young adults that it may be overwhelming and confusing.  Over age  25, the general feeling was that except for the odd party, it-is-not-so-much-accepted.  This got me thinking again about self-expression as we age.  You see those photo-editorials in fashion magazines about dressing in your 20’s, 30’s, 40’s and 50’s.  Should fashion get progressively drabber and boxier as age?  What constitutes “grown-up” behaviour in fashion and costuming?

The term Cosplay is short for costume play.   Like Halloween and other forms of theatrical performance, Cosplay is still the one place where people regardless of age, gender, economy, race, ability or sexual preference are judged for their enthusiasm, not their skill or the size of their weapon. 😛

There is, however, always the thought that one will be judged.  I was no exception to this as I prepared for FanExpo 2013.  I had decided to cosplay a character, Annie Leonhart, as known as the Female Titan in Attack on Titan.  Attack on Titan, it’s Japanese title Shingeki no Kyokyjin, is a manga series written and illustrated by Hajime Isayama.  It also had an April 2013 animated series release.


Annie in her human form from the Japanese manga, Attack on Titan


Annie Leonhart in Titan form.

Before I get into the Annie character and my cosplay, I want to say that cosplay is dominated by the 16-25 age group, both male and female.  However, there is much ballyhoo over young women cosplaying provocative characters from comics, manga, anime, film and television.  Before we get into the whole skanky slutty costume argument, here is a nice piece by Sushi Killer about the CONsent message.  ‘Nuf said.

My worry was still that no amount of padding or make-up would disguise the fact that I am over 50.  Would I be accepted?  Would other attendees think I should be acting/dressing my own age?

Luckily, my desire to cosplay was encouraged by my co-op students who still believe in the Live and Let Live message.  The view at FanExpo is like visiting an unfamiliar country with brightly coloured birds, exotic animals, rare butterflies and the occasional scary spider.  At this point, I was more anxious to see if the character would be recognized.  I had taken the liberty of cannibalizing a Morph Muscle suit by handpainting what I felt the character representation would be – more like fan art than meticulously recreating the character in the manga or in the anime.  On Saturday, as I walked the aisles of art art, t-shirts, new games, autograph sessions and panels I saw a lone Eren Yeager cosplayer in human form on Saturday, but he bit his hand so I ran away.  That’s an inside joke as when the human Eren bites his hand he transforms into a monster Titan like me.


Posing for a Fan at the Nerd Mafia vendor booth.

It was finally gratifying when the few groups of young adults wearing Training and Survey cosplay recognized and wanted a picture with me, their nemesis – even this funny one where the Survey Corp cosplayers are towering over the supposed Titan.

The Colossal Titan [also a small female like me] made a brief appearance on Sunday, however, I think I was the only Female Titan during the entire FanExpo.  This excited me because the series is gaining popularity and you can’t buy the cosplay costume online.  Meaning that my costume was unique and I had to make it all from scratch which other cosplayers really appreciate.

Those who did not recognize the Annie-Female Titan character still complimented on on the hand-painted costume which I had laboured over for two weeks.  The tiny plastic figurines I had created for Armin Arlert and the Spinning Man were also a big hit.  They created conversation and gave me an opportunity to learn how to pose.  I’m sure some cosplayers spend hours in front of a mirror finding poses that are in character and show off the costume.

As the hours went on, I felt more comfortable and started to relate more to the character.  I came home happy and exhausted to a very understanding husband, who made me supper and poured me a glass of wine as I excitedly related my experience.

As for my clients at Fee FiFoFun Costumes & FX4 Costume Concierge, my goal is to find characters that are interesting, enjoyable and can be pulled off confidently.

Please visit my facebook page and my web store !

This article has been adapted and originally August 2013 in my In Disguise blog on all things costuming.

In Disguise with LARP and Cosplay

As a young person I was in love with fantasy and science fiction literature and film.  As a young adult I couldn’t wait for people to throw costume parties so I could get into disguise.   At age 54, however, it’s impossible to carry off  the characters I used to enjoy at twenty, thirty and even forty.   Black eyeliner just doesn’t look the same over crow’s-feet, nor does a body suit have the same impact when gravity has taken effect.  Not to be deterred, I bought spanks for my Attack on Titan cosplay, but that’s another story.

Owning a costume business does legitimize my presence in civies while watching the eddies of costume groups gathering at Con-G, Anime North and FanExpo ~ without looking like a stalker.

I  couldn’t wait to bring it to Con-G this February when I was asked by Underworld LARP to design and run a couple of how-to make-up sessions.

LARP has pretty specific rules for it’s members.   Conspiring with Remi [a former co-op student and LARPer] and Underworld PR dude, Darcy, as well as visiting their website, helped guide the design of four characters complete with make-up, costuming and props.


Model, Cosplayer and LARPer Remi as a NPC Banshee. Make-up done by Angela. Design and Styling by Alison. Rubies White and Black Smudge Proof Make-up, Forum Novelties Haunted Cape, Ghostly Gal costume and Crystal Ball and Gothika Cataract Contacts all from FeeFiFoFun Costumes. LARPer and make-up artist Angela also provided the blood 😛

LARP is a game, like Monopoly, except instead of gathering money and property, you gather points for spells that will help avoid your character’s death.  Participants create a name, a back story and physically dress and act out their characters’ actions.  These players pursue goals in a fictional setting placed within our real world, like a farm or a community centre, all the while interacting with other characters.  The organization, in this case Underworld, has very rules for character attributes [Human, Orc, Feline, Elf and their ilk], also for clothing and for spells to make mischief and get you out of mischief.

Underworld is for 19+ and also very specific in the use of weapons ~ in that they are structurally designed not to cause harm [are foam] and are suitable for the character [i.e. no fake AK-47’s for Orcs].

Events are staged with specific themes, for example at Underworld High Winter the theme was Jack Frost.  Non-Player Characters [NPC] are also essential in LARPing.  They are usually players volunteering as the event’s boogeymen in exchange for points that they can then use in the future.  Like I said, it’s a game and Underworld keeps score.  Count on it.

NPC’s are sworn to secrecy about plot points and dressed to scare or beat the bushes for players.  Well, Underworld’s motto is Run. Fight.  Hide.  At any event, the Game Keepers mediate the player actions based on these rules and drive the play, including clarification for newbies and decision-making for squabblers, all in an event that fosters creativity, promotes team work and social engagement, gets your heart pumping, has humour and scares the bee-jez.   Perfect!

The costumes, props, wigs and make-up are from Fee Fi Fo Fun Costumes and the make-up, styling and sessions were suitably enhanced by LARP-Cosplayer-Artists Angela and Michelle.


Model Rebecca as Faun with Snazaroo Make-Up by Angela. Creature Design by Alison. All products from FeeFiFoFun Costumes. Beast Legs and Hoof Feet by Zagone Studio, Faun Ears by Aradani Studio, Halter by Dreamgirls, custom leather Quiver/Belt by Remi/Alison, Bow by SKS Novelty. Floral Ivy and Autumn Sprig from Dollarama.


Model Maddie as a Drow, Dark Elf all using FeeFiFoFun products. Rubies Smudgeproof white and black blend for full body paint, overlay of Tval Skincare Gaffer Gold Cream [go Newfoundland] and Manic Panic Glitter Blue make-up. Black Tomoyo wig from Purple Plum. Faux Fur from FabricLand with faux fur over Hip Hugger Clip. Chest Plate using Worbla and paint created by Alison. Clive Barker Cresent Moon staff by Disguise. Gold Metal Cuffs by ELOPE. All from FeeFiFoFun Costumes.


Model and Cosplayer Graeme does NPC Jack Frost or Winter Elf with make-up application by Angela and Michelle using Rubies Silver Face Paint and Ice Effect Kit. Wig by Purple Plum. Ice staffs my secret lol. Custom Assassin’s Creed white tunic and brown pants. All from FeeFiFoFun Costumes.

The Faun

I spend sleepless nights dreaming of creatures that I can bring to life with my products and imagination. I am so lucky to find people to work with to help me execute my vision. Here student Rebecca models The Faun with Make-up by Angela using Snazaroo pucks applied with paint brushes. Creature Design and Costumes by Fee Fi Fo Fun Costumes