She ships out hundreds of jackets every year from Sweden to Japan. Yet, Taran Tarr, unbelievably, has chosen to run an international cosplay clothing company from her home in a remote mining town 80 kilometers west of Johannesburg.
“I live in Carletonville in the middle of nowhere. When my friends come here they say they have gone into the twilight zone. The town looks like it is set 20 years into the past. I had to ask how I could promote my stuff. I had to figure out how to promote myself without having to go to Johannesburg constantly,” says Tarr.
Number 5 Beryl Street is a small house. With a rusty gate and low concrete walls, this is the headquarters of BlakBunni cosplay. When Tarr opens the door you would be shocked. Her living room is more mountains of material and sewing machines than lounge and TV. Here, Tarr, along with three ladies including her mother, make character hoodies and cosplay outfits.
In this front-room factory, everywhere is a busy needle. Tarr’s most popular item is her Toothless hoodie, based on the Dragon from How To Train Your Dragon that sells for $150 on Etsy.com.
“It’s like my bread and butter; I make about five or six a month.”
After school, the 28-year-old Tarr chased a career many in a town of miners and engineers could never dream of – a fashion designer.
“I tried to get a job as a fashion designer, but apparently, I was not contemporary enough for the industry… It had to work. I had to make it work, because I couldn’t find a job anywhere else,” she says.
Tarr tried her hand at modeling before she moved back home to sew Matric dance dresses and the occasional cosplay outfit. She took a risk and asked her friends at a comic book store, based in Johannesburg, if they could put her hoodies on their shelves.
“That’s kind of where it started. It was just me sewing at the time and it was really tough to meet demand. Back then I could only do two hoodies a week.”
Getting the business off the ground in Carletonville took time, says Tarr. She went in with what she calls a bad business partner and struggled to make more than R1,000 ($80) a month. Social media changed everything.
“I struggled to find inspiration for two years, I didn’t want to do anything. So I got rid of the bad people around me and I started learning how to promote my stuff on social media. Things then exploded. I started getting tons of commissions, I started making more hoodies. I could employ the ladies. In two years, I have grown so much. I am now making R10,000 ($800) a month,” says Tarr.
Because 80% of the outfits Tarr makes sell overseas, sizes are a problem.
“It took a long time for me to learn to make things for people you never see. It’s pretty blind. So I usually ask for photos of the people in tight clothes and for the measurements online so that I have an idea of them. I build a 3D image of them in my mind.”
Orders on the BlakBunni book can be stranger than fiction. Tarr once had an order come in from New York for a full body leather suit for the opening of Persona 5.
“I usually don’t do body suits because they are so difficult. It wasn’t even a spandex one, it was leather. And I am never going to see this person.”
The cosplay business also has hard knocks.
“Last year I was in tears most days because the post office was on a solid six-month strike. The amount of people I had to refund because stuff got lost in the post was incredible. I am sure I lost R10,000 ($800) in refunds.”
Tarr has become more than the fashion designer she wanted to be. Her pieces might not be on the runways of Paris, but they will be carried on the backs of geeks from Japan to Mexico. It is stranger than fiction; you couldn’t have made it up.