Gregory (baracudaboy) wrote in furrymedia,

How I Make My Furry Costumes: Q+A with Lee Strom (a.k.a. Chairo)

​San Jose hosts Further Confusion 2012, California's largest annual furry convention, starting today (Thursday). Further Confusion 2011's attendance hit 2,801, and more than 3,000 attendees are expected this year. (Glossary Tip: The overall furry scene, fans, fursuiters, and those elsewhere on the spectrum, are collectively referred to as "the fandom.")
Lee Strom co-founded the first Further Confusion in 1999, and he has been actively involved with the fandom since before then as a fursuit maker -- including as the head of Frolic's NeonBunny -- as well as a party organizer and general raccoon-about-town. We spoke with Strom -- whose fandom name is Chairo (\chi'-ro\) -- about the history, art, and business of fursuits.

​What is the origin of fursuiting?
Fan costuming has been around far longer than the fandom. It became "fursuiting" only when the first convention, ConFurence, began in the late 1980s. Furry costuming is an extension of anthropomorphic art.
And "anthropomorphic art" means...?
"Anthropomorphism" is the assignment of human qualities to otherwise nonhuman entities, while animals and fantasy creatures are specific to the fandom. Furries who wear costumes do it for a variety of reasons. Some because they enjoy portraying a character, some because they love performing, others simply for the love of fur, and even others just be part of a rapidly growing expressive artistic subculture.

Who makes the suits? I'm guessing it's not an Amazon 1-Click kinda thing.
The fandom consists of professional as well as amateur costumers, the latter being predominant. Most people wearing costumes at a convention purchase their fursuits from makers in the fandom. The majority of fursuits are custom-made. Many get model sheets made from 2D artists who then supply them to the makers for transformation into costumes.

About how much do they cost?
Depending on quality, detail, and reputation of the maker, costumes vary greatly in price from just a few hundred dollars to well over $5,000. Average prices range from $1,500 to $3,000 for a well-made fursuit.
Do you make fursuits for a living? For that matter, can fursuits be made for living?
Unlike several talented individuals in our community, I do not make a living at making costumes. However, my creations generally fetch between $2,000 and $3000, and they take several months to complete in my spare time. If I were to bear down and work solely on a costume, I could get a full suit done in about a week.

What are the components of an average suit? (Bonus points if you can break it down into percentages.)
Most fursuits consist of a few standard items. Faux fur, foam (similar to what you might find in a couch cushion but a bit more dense), and poly fill (the stuffing found in most plush toys). There are several methods of constructing the heads, the most popular being foam added atop a balaclava (a spandex hood). Other methods include fiberglass, metal frame, plastic sheet, heat-molded plastic (vaccuform), and block foam (carved from a solid block rather than bits being added to a balaclava).

​The makeup of the materials vary. In general, about 80 percent faux fur, 15 percent foam, and 5 percent everything else (poly fill, plastic, glue, thread, zippers, spandex). A few ambitious people have included electronics, animatronics, and lighting elements. I made a head in 2003 with color-changing fiber optic whiskers.
Suits have gotten much more complicated. I have seen tails that wag, eyes that blink, and ears that twitch. Personally, I am working on a computerized lighting program for a costume. Lighting has become popular now that LEDs, EL Wire, and controllers are much cheaper and more available than they have been in the past.

Further Confusion continues Jan. 12-16 at the San Jose Convention Center, San Jose Marriott, and San Jose Hilton. For more details, visit the Further Confusion website.


Sherilyn Connelly is a San Francisco-based writer. She also curates and hosts Bad Movie Night at The Dark Room, every Sunday at 8pm.

Follow us on Twitter at @ExhibitionistSF (follow Sherilyn Connelly on Twitter at @sherilyn) and like us on Facebook.
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