By Hannah Lodge
As the popularity of geek culture and comic book movies surges, retailers have seen a significant increase in the demand for stylish, tailored geek clothing. That demand is responsible for the niche market of cosplay-centric, fandom-inspired fashion retailers, who compete to score the best licensing deals for their customer base.
“When I got into this business, girls fashion was one-size-fits-all baby-doll t-shirts. No one in the industry understood the power of marketing to the female geek,” said Ed Labay, a buyer for Hot Topic who has been in the industry for 17 years. Labay and other panelists at San Diego Comic Con’s The Business of Geek Fashion agreed that the last decade has seen a significant change in the way retailers approach geek clothing.
“15 years ago, it was all unisex,” said Mike Kochis from ThinkGeek. “Now we have a larger ladies assortment than men.”
The panelists also discussed the challenges of obtaining licenses and the slippery slope of running “inspired” clothing items without a licensing deal. Victoria Schmidt from Gold Bubble Clothing (established less than a year ago) said her company found success in going after smaller license deals with cult followings, like The Last Unicorn.
She said they had also launched some items that evoke the imagery of a particular fandom without ever mentioning it or stepping on a trademark, citing her company’s Bloodstripe leggings (which, she didn’t mention but buyers can deduce, bear a strong resemblance to Han Solo from Star Wars).
Schmidt’s fellow panelists disagreed with the approach, indicating the only safe way to handle the products was to obtain a licensing deal.
“It’s a slippery slope from fandom into bootleg,” Kochis said.
Panelists also agreed there had been an increased demand recently for menswear. Cameron Parker, head of marketing for Black Milk Clothing, which came to the scene five years ago and has made a name for itself by popularizing geek leggings, said they have recently been introducing options for men, like NFL-style jerseys and boyfriend-cut tees.
Samantha Terry from WeLoveFine said she’d been seeing men purchasing the women’s clothing due to lack of options.
“At anime expo I saw a lot of guys buying our leggings and tunic tanks,” she said. “There’s not much variety in men’s geek fashion.”
Labay said Hot Topic stocks both – and in some cases the results of buyers’ demands still surprises them.
“We sold almost as much male product for Twilight as we did female,” he said.