From obscure and niche to huge meetups at anime conventions, the Final Fantasy XIV cosplay community has exploded alongside its playerbase. The growth of the XIV fandom not only brought together similarly passionate creators, but also allowed many to pursue their art full-time. Malindachan, a cosplayer who has been creating costumes since she was in high school, has witnessed firsthand the evolution of the cosplay community both in and out of the context of XIV. But throughout the evolution of cosplay over the years and the subsequent launch of her own prop business, Malindachan’s interview with Aetherflow Media shows that her focus has never wavered from what she enjoys most: the labor of love in every detail and nuance woven from skills honed over years of experience into each of her cosplays.
Tell us a little about yourself! How did you get your start cosplaying?
Malindachan: I learned about cosplay through my high school anime club, and [we were] encouraged to dress up as our favorite characters while representing our club at Halloween events and the homecoming parade. At the time, there weren’t very many opportunities to cosplay because the nearest conventions were 7+ hours away. I was sewing plush dolls of my favorite characters before I started making costumes. My first costume for anime club was Edward Elric in 2004, though I did make a Jigglypuff costume when I was in 6th grade for Halloween. The first opportunity I had to attend an anime convention was in 2007, and then I was hooked!
You have a long cosplay career, with a breadth of costumes spanning many fandoms outside Final Fantasy XIV (such as other FF games, Legend of Zelda, Kingdom Hearts, and Pokemon, to name just a few). How does your experience cosplaying XIV characters, and interacting with the XIV community and cosplayers, compare to other franchises you have cosplayed from?
Malindachan: I started playing FFXIV in 2014, and even with the internet it was difficult to find other XIV cosplayers at the time. Final Fantasy is a big name, but the MMO cosplay communities were very niche compared to their solo player titles. If you attended a Final Fantasy gathering at a con, you would rarely see a XIV cosplayer (if at all).
I made a few friends at the 2016 FanFest and joined an XIV cosplayers group on Facebook following the event. Then something very special happened in 2018 that made FFXIV a shining star compared to other cosplay communities I had been a part of. The Facebook group moved over to Discord, and people planning costumes for the next FanFest (2018) were sharing progress and encouraging each other every step of the way. By the time that FanFest actually happened, I think over thirty out of the fifty entrants competing in the cosplay contest were part of the Discord. As they were calling up the top twenty to return to the stage, you might have noticed cosplayers congratulating each other and giving hugs on stage during the livestream. It was a big contrast compared to competing at normal anime cons and sometimes getting a stank face from a fellow competitor. It was among a positive, wholesome, and supportive group of people, and they became some of my best friends in the XIV community moving forward.
The Discord gained a lot of popularity after that and I had a hard time keeping up, but if I have the chance to return to FanFest again I look forward to being a part of that once more.
I hear the XIV cosplayers took over the Final Fantasy gathering in Katsucon 2020, and I’m pretty sure the same will happen in 2022 with how much the game’s community has grown.
Looking across your XIV cosplays, many of your chosen outfits (such as blue mage and the storyteller bard set) have intense amounts of detailing, particularly embroidery. Why is it important to you to recreate the minute design details in an outfit, even ones that might be covered by fabric or not shown in photos?
Malindachan: As an artist, I am very detail-attentive. I don’t compete much anymore, but if I think a costume might make a good competition piece, I want to go the extra mile to make it stand out. I don’t make as many costumes as I used to, and if I’m going to dedicate myself to making something that costs a lot of money and time, I want it to be a costume I can be proud of and wear multiple times.
The craftsmanship across your cosplays is stunning, but you have a special focus on wig styling in particular. What is the importance of replicating a character’s hairstyle in your cosplays, and how do you approach translating that hairstyle from sometimes improbable animated proportions to real-life feasibility?
Malindachan: Wigs were not something I expected to be good at, but doing YU-GI-OH costumes forced me to do it a lot! Even though it’s only a single element of a costume, it’s something that stands out because it’s literally on your head. It will probably be in every photo, unlike your shoes.
I used to be more attentive to exact proportions and would go for a more stylized look, but over time I’ve also gained an appreciation for softer, natural interpretations and making choices that would be most flattering for my face and complexion. Part of this is for practicality since I am often packing them for travel or don’t have the storage space.
If a character has a 3D model or figure, that makes things a lot easier to replicate into a wig. But before YU-GI-OH characters had figures, I’d have to mull over many 2D screenshots and try to figure out what would be the most attractive silhouette as a 3D form. Sometimes those styles aren’t the most flattering from every angle, so focus on the ones you’ll be photographed in most!
You take on wig commissions as well as styling your own. Do you approach wig commissions differently than when making one for your own use? Do you have any insight about wig styling you learned from doing commissions that you might not have otherwise?
Malindachan: Sometimes I’ll have multiple quotes depending on the client’s desired features or budget. A spiky wig that uses texturing for volume will have a softer look and will be a lot faster to style, but it’ll need more touch-up work over time from the client. A wig with support structures can take a lot more abuse, but they will be much more expensive due to styling time. If it’s a heavy style, are there ways to make it easier to wear so the client doesn’t get neck pain or headaches? A client might have special color requests, need custom sizing adjustments, etc. I’ve had to do many wigs for a client with a larger head size for example, and they would usually prefer shorter spikes compared to what I’d normally style for myself. Leave room for error and adjustments.
When I interviewed Kyle Mathis (ex_shadow) back in the Winter 2018 issue, you were still laying the groundwork for your prop business, Turtle Smithy. Now, three years later, you’ve made hundreds of sales, many of which I’ve spotted in other cosplayers’ photos! What drove you to open an Etsy shop for cosplayers, XIV cosplayers in particular?
Malindachan: There are many personal reasons for us wanting to step away from our previous employment, and opening an Etsy shop was an option that would give us a lot of freedom we didn’t have before. Kyle’s horns were getting a lot of interest, especially because there weren’t very many people that made them. We added the cat accessories after I had gotten a lot of inquiries about my own, and then folks were asking for rabbit ears too after Viera were released. We try to keep them universal so they’re not exclusive to FFXIV cosplayers, though the FFXIV community has continued to be our biggest support.
Have you faced any challenges balancing time or navigating creative burnout from running a full-time creative business alongside your personal work?
Malindachan: It’s important to designate work hours as well as time off. If you want to work weekdays from 9-5, make sure you leave evenings and weekends open for your own projects or to relax. If you want an extended weekend, distribute the hours into the rest of the week if you can. Sometimes I’m unable to avoid longer workdays if things get extra busy, but usually, that means business is good! I’ll find other ways to reward myself like with a nice dinner or drinks if I’m working overtime. Makes everything feel more worth it.
Even long before I was doing this kind of work full time, I knew that I would burn myself out if I took on too many custom projects. Figuring out a price quote for a custom wig or costume can take a lot of thought and time, and it can be stressful when a client turns it down due to budget, or if the project ends up taking more time than anticipated. For this reason, I usually keep custom wig slots for friends, and the shop has replicable items that we enjoy creating. It can be repetitive work, but I find it therapeutic! I’ll usually put on a podcast or music while I’m cutting out fur or trimming horn casts to make the workday go by faster.
Any future FFXIV cosplay plans?
Malindachan: I’m currently working on Alisaie’s Endwalker costume, and I still need to finish my machinist! I had big plans to make a weapon prop as well as the big Aetherotransformer. I’d like to finish those costumes before making new plans, though how I’m feeling after Endwalker MSQ might determine if I follow through with the Aetherotransformer or move on to something else.
Tell us a bit about your character in-game! What is your main class, and what is your favorite way to spend your time in Eorzea?
Malindachan: M’linda was originally a miqo’te, which is why she still has the not-super-creative play on my name! She’s a bard at heart, but traveling to the First shifted her interest to being a machinist. She especially loves treasure hunting, being fashionable with her friends, and large group raids.
Thank you so much for taking the time to let myself and our Aetherflow readers peek behind the curtain into your workshop! Is there anywhere our readers could find you online if they’d like to see more of your work?
Malindachan: Thanks for having me! I’m most active on Twitter and have a pinned post with my active project. I also tend to fangirl over things and retweet cool stuff. If you want less of my personal life and interests, my Instagram and Facebook are more straightforward with cosplay photos.