On Thursday, Stella Chuu spent well over an hour applying makeup and dressing up like a Japanese comic book character. Then, she posted photos of herself in costume for her 315,000 Instagram followers, many of whom she hung out with later that day at New York Comic Con in Manhattan.
Chuu, 29, is a former graphic designer turned professional cosplayer, a term for people who dress up as their favorite characters from movies, video games and comic books. While most cosplayers do this as a hobby — including at conventions like New York Comic Con (which draws 200,000 attendees a year) — Chuu is one of a select few performers who cosplay for a living.
She estimated that she'll bring in a six-figure income this year from paid gigs at events like Comic Con and other appearances. There's also money she brings in from selling photos and merchandise on crowdfunding sites like Patreon, and from live-streaming herself on sites like Twitch and Caffeine.
Chuu wasn't comfortable sharing her exact annual income. But she tells CNBC Make It that, while it adds up to six figures on a yearly basis, she typically spends about half of her earnings on "material costs," which includes the clothing, wigs and other materials she uses to create her elaborate costumes.
And after those costs are considered, she says, she still ends up putting most of what money is left toward more cosplay costumes.
For instance, Chuu says the materials for one of her costumes can cost as much as $1,000 and includes everything from wigs and makeup to leather, fabric and other raw materials. That doesn't even include the amount of time she has to spend designing, stitching and assembling everything — which can make the time she spent getting ready on Thursday look like nothing.