In 2014 I traveled around the United States photographing cosplayers in various cities. I spent a week in Nashville checking out the local scene and visiting around seven cosplayers. Pepper was one of them.

Hi Pepper, it’s been a long time since we spoke, why don’t you tell us a bit about yourself ?

I started out just being that shy weird redhead in middle school who loved anime and dressed weird, but as I grew and continued to watch anime and got into other shows one of my friends told me there was an anime convention in town called MTAC and asked if I wanted to go.

We only went for the day, but that was my first time ever seeing cosplay. It was back when you couldn’t find good wigs or patterns, and you just had to make it up as you went, but I absolutely fell in love with it and decided that I would do that too.

I definitely didn’t know that 18 years later I would still be doing it and still love it just as much.

So in 2014, I was in Nashville and you were kind enough to invite me to photograph some behind the scenes at your place. Tell me what you were working on ?

I was working on a Vaporeon dress for MTAC that year. Not for a group, but just because I love Vaporeon and was inspired by all of the Pokemon gijinka cosplays I had started to see pop up.  I believe I had just left college and moved back home to Nashville. I didn’t have any kind of plan for what I wanted to do yet so I was just going with the flow. I remember I had a terrible job that I hated back then so cosplay and sewing was a great outlet for me. MTAC was something that I looked forward to every year. It was my home con, and that’s where I made a lot of new friends and created a new con family.

Well, six years passed and it seems the world has changed. How has your experience in cosplay changed over time and what have you noticed different in the overall cosplay scene between say 2014 and 2019.

I feel like the con scene has exploded in popularity in the last 6 years. What used to be considered dorky and “uncool” is now looked at as amazing and super awesome which I’m definitely okay with. I love that our con culture is getting bigger and more accepted as “normal” society. But with the good also comes the bad. I feel that 6 years ago cosplayers were more open to complimenting each other on their work, and encouraging each other to do costumes. I remember being given tips and tricks openly and freely from cosplayers who had way more experience in sewing and crafting than I did.

Today I feel like some cosplayers don’t want to see others succeed. A lot of people are still very open and encouraging and welcoming to the cosplay scene, but there are a lot of “elitists” out there that think you shouldn’t cosplay a character just because you don’t look like a character, or don’t have the same body type, skin color, or maybe even mobility or because you have a lot of tattoos, and I hate that.

I truly believe cosplay is for EVERYONE who wants to do it. We don’t own the characters, but we love them. Every time you cosplay as someone from your favorite show (be it anime, comics, movies, books etc) it’s because you formed a bond with that character. It drives you to do the best you can with your skills and I think putting a costume that you worked on or bought and walking around a con is brave and should be something that everyone is allowed and welcome to do. Remember at the end of the day we’re all just geeks in costumes having fun!

Photo provided by Pepper

In your time doing cosplay, what would you say is your greatest achievement ?

It would definitely be at DragonCon 2017, when I was chosen to cosplay as Gwen Stacey from Spiderman and ride in the DragonCon parade with Stan Lee as the Grand Marshall. It was the most spectacular moment of my life. I had never been able to meet him before, and I can’t believe how incredibly lucky I was to sit next to him for the whole parade. He was so sweet, and also super hilarious. He talked to me and my contest mate (Ginger Oh Snap as MJ) the whole time like we were people he just hadn’t seen in a while. I’ll never ever forget it. I will definitely never be able to thank everyone who voted for me to win that contest enough

What’s your greatest struggle now (cosplay or life-wise)

Well I guess just right now the struggle is not being able to see my con family because of the pandemic. I probably won’t get to see them until next year and I don’t think I’ve gone a whole year in the last 10 years without seeing them at least once. At the beginning of all of this I was getting very depressed with all the cancellations (though for good reasons) but, life wise I’ve been doing a lot of online stuff with my cosplay between Instagram, Facebook, and creating an Only Fans page with my best friend. It’s been a great way to have a place to show off the costumes we won’t get to wear out this year, and just get my creative juices flowing again. 

Now with so many years of experience, what advice would you give your younger self about cosplay, cosplay scene or convention life ?

I would definitely tell myself not to take it too seriously. You don’t have to make every single thing for your cosplay. People aren’t going to call you out for not being 100% made from scratch. Don’t stress out that you can’t find the right fabric or the right wig. Don’t even think about not doing a costume just because someone else has done it really well and you think yours won’t look as good. And if anyone does call you out for having bought your costume online don’t take it to heart, because at the end of the day it doesn’t matter. As long as you feel great wearing your cosplay and are having fun that is really all that matters.