Costume Change

The costume industry is in the midst of transitioning from a historical focus on kids and Halloween to more of a year-round, all-encompassing, and all-ages business. This change is occurring due in part to an increase in adults going all-out to celebrate Halloween and to the rise of massive fandoms tied to pop-culture properties, many members of which enjoy cosplay, among other reasons.

Several recent happenings in the category illustrate some of the key trends:

  • Year-round role-play. Many costume-licensing deals these days mention cosplay and/or role play, in addition to Halloween, as key purposes for their products. In its recent announcement of its license with Marvel for costumes, for example, Jazwares noted that the product line would include “looks that are perfect for Halloween, cosplay, or everyday fun.” Brand Liaison’s deal with Fun World for costumes tied to the book series Ninja Life Hacks, set to debut in May 2022 in conjunction with Mental Health Month, are meant as a healthy way for children to identify and explore their emotions, in keeping with the themes of the books. Rubie’s Costume Company joined World Book Day, a key costume-wearing occasion in countries including the U.K., as a year-round promotional partner to support costumes as a way to encourage children to read. Licenses in international markets tend to focus more on dress-up in addition to, or rather than, Halloween, as is the case with One Animation’s recent deal with Rubie’s for Oddbods costumes in the U.K., EMEA, and Southeast Asia. While Halloween is celebrated in many countries across the globe, traditions differ and costumes are not always part of the holiday celebrations.
  • Collectibility. Last month’s global agreement between Disguise and Funko for oversized Pop! masks, starting with Warner Bros. and Sony Pictures Entertainment characters, positioned the products as displayable for collectors as well as wearable for cosplay, dress-up, and Halloween. As they start to focus on collectability, costume specialists are following in the footsteps of the collectible replica industry, which has increasingly been involved in producing detailed, realistic costumes as well as accessories like swords, scepters, masks, or in-world jewelry. Universal Designs/UD Replicas has the license for KISS costume replicas since 2015; its recently released “Demon Monster” KISS costume, for example, mirrors in every detail one of the get-ups Gene Simmons wore on stage and is made from the original molds in a quantity of 250.
  • Blurred lines. Both toy and apparel companies, as well as collectibles marketers, are increasing their participation in the costume category, formerly dominated by specialists, as the industry repositions toward a year-round opportunity. An investment group led by Joel Weinshanker, head of collectibles company NECA and other ventures, purchased Rubie’s out of Chapter 11 bankruptcy last fall, with Weinshanker taking over the company’s leadership reins. Apparel licensee Jerry Leigh secured the rights last month to the NFL and NFLPA for a line of costumes for the whole family, in a deal brokered by Mix Licensing Group, with the launch set to coincide with the beginning of the NFL season. And Jazwares’ broad deal with Marvel—which will feature film, TV, and comic book characters in all-occasion costumes for adults, kids, and pets—marked that company’s entrance into the category. It plans to announce more licensing acquisitions in the coming months. Costumes have always played a part in the toy industry, of course, with a handful of role-play outfits included in most children’s master toy assortments. In fact, Jakks bought Disguise back in 2008; the parent and its Disguise division increasingly acquire licensing rights jointly for toys and costumes, where rights allow, as recently illustrated in deals for properties including Paw Patrol: The Movie, CoComelon, and Sonic the Hedgehog 2.
  • Selling an experience. Licensing deals have become more likely over time to include not just costumes, masks, and other wearable accessories, but also other items that enhance the total experience of Halloween (or daily use). The new Crayola collection from Rubie’s is positioned for everyday play and includes costumes in children’s and adults’ sizes, as well as party goods, face paint, and makeup. The children’s costumes feature a “candy-catcher pouch” to gather treats. Moose Toys and its agent The Licensing Shop paired with Spirit Halloween last fall for Kindi Kids costumes that come with a plush buddy, as well as a trick-or-treat bucket and makeup kit, and are positioned for Halloween and year-round use.
  • Inclusion. The number of licensed adaptive costumes is starting to rise. In 2020, Disney Shop offered licensed wearable costumes tied to a range of its properties, including Incredibles 2, Cinderella, and Toy Story, as well as wheelchair covers tied to Cinderella and Incredibles 2 (the last two produced by Disguise). Disguise also included adaptive products in its recent deal with Spin Master for costumes, accessories, and trick-or-treat kits for Paw Patrol: The Movie, which, as noted, was part of a broader deal with parent Jakks. In recent years, a growing number of companies such as Target, Spirit Halloween, and have offered adaptive costumes, but licensed versions have been relatively few and far between until this year, with the exception of non-profit group Rolling Buddies, which offers a wide variety of licensed and non-licensed options.

Of course, seasonal opportunities at Halloween remain the industry’s key driver of sales each year. But licensors and licensees are trying to extend that window and create a day-in-and-day-out business by promoting other use cases and occasions and by appealing to all age groups.

See also our story on the rise of Halloween and cosplay makeup kits, ranging from simple sets offered by costume specialists to sophisticated theatrical set-ups from replica and special-effects companies.

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