An Interview with Shana Mostella: Chicago’s Top Black Cosplay Artist

With it being Black History Month, and following up on my last, well-received article, “I Didn’t Know Black Girls Played Video Games!” I introduce to you a legendary lady in the cosplay scene, and a dear friend of mine who I have so much respect for on so many levels. From her success as a cosplayer, to being known especially for her very own clothing line, CandyBats (for which she has even hosted a fashion show for), Chicago cosplayer Shana Mostella breaks every. single. negative. stereotype about black women not liking cosplay, video games, anime, and basically, everything nerdy.

She has cosplayed many characters, with her personal favorites being:

Blue Rose from the anime, Tiger and Bunny: 

Shana blue bunny

She makes a beautiful Tifa:

Shana Tifa

And she’s quite famous for her cosplay of the busty, sword-swinging heroine from High School Of The Dead, Saeko Busujima:

Shana blade

Shana is a huge fan of Skyrim, her favorite animes are Avatar: The Last Air Bender, and the sequel, The Legend Of Korra, and, of course, her favorite way to spend her free time is with pizza and some Skyrim, “Leveling up [her] conjuration spells!” So, now, without further ado, ladies and gentlemen, Miss Shana Mostella.

KS: Shana, as Chicago’s most successful black female cosplayer, how do you balance your celebrity life, interacting with people at conventions, managing CandyBats, and all of your upcoming projects? Does your home life coincide with your work life quite often, or do you keep those two separate?

SM: I manage my busy schedule by knocking out projects as soon as they come my way. This gives me more time to accomplish long term projects that need special care, such as cosplay projects. If I have client commissions, I do those first, and then I have plenty of time to get to my own. I make sure to have at least an hour every night to respond to comments on my fan page or private messages. Every comment, like, or message I get from my followers is important to me.

I try to keep my work life separate from my home life, simply because there are times I need to focus strictly on family stuff. Family always comes first, and there’s never an event or job too important over family.

KS: So, when did you initially get into anime, manga, video games, and the whole otaku lifestyle?

SM:  High school is when I fell in love with anime and manga. I went to an all-black school and was raised by a really religious Baptist family. It wasn’t until high school when I was finally able to break free of the cookie-cutter image my family raised me to be and find my own interests. I fell in love with all things Japanese because it was different to me. It was something new and exciting. I could go on and on about how amazing it was to finally be around people who were also into anime and being able to talk about it with someone. My sketchbooks were filled with anime, and my room was filled with manga. It was probably one of my favorite years of my life. It changed me forever, and I’ll never look back.

I got into video games much earlier than when I found anime. I was an only child. I had to learn to entertain myself and be by myself a lot. Video games came in handy. I was also a tomboy growing up and had two younger boy cousins who taught me about Halo and WWE or WF wrestling games. As I got older, I leaned more towards RPG games. I still catch myself from time to time playing Halo with my cousins to this day

KS: What got you into cosplaying?

SM: It had never occurred to me that I COULD cosplay after studying all the cosplayers out there and watching them do their thing. I always just thought it was forbidden unless you really could pull off the character with the color of your skin and the type of hair you had. It wasn’t until after my first anime convention, ACen of 2008, when I really considered giving it a try. My first debut with cosplay was the following ACen of ’09 when I designed a Decora Lolita dress and wore it during one of the fashion shows called Khaotic Kotour. After being in front of experts and other hardcore fans of the Japanese culture, I started designing more original outfits, and eventually became comfortable in my own skin.

KS:  So what was your very first cosplay?

SM: My first real cosplay was Haku from Naruto. I got the whole J-fashion thing down, but when it came to actual cosplay, I had no idea what to do. I did a femme version of Haku; although it was fun, it wasn’t accurate by any means. I just wanted to feel like I was actually out there doing something. I didn’t make it, I just pieced together what I had and made It look like Haku. It kind of sucked that I was with a really accurate and sexy Kakashi cosplayer, and everything he had was on point. Standing next to him was like torture…LOL. No one wanted to take my picture, or some just felt bad for me and took my picture anyway. But despite the pity people gave me, I still had a blast!

KS: When did you first begin to make your own cosplay?

SM: I started getting really into making cosplay in 2010 after making Rachel from Ninja Gaiden Sigma. After my pitiful Haku attempt, I made sure to design the hell out of my Rachel cosplay. I picked out her leathers and constructed her suit, boots, and weapon. I didn’t have the breasts for Rachel, but I had the attitude, and I portrayed her as best as I could. I played on my tomboy side to give her the badass appeal and a little of my sass to pull off that extra punch.

KS: As someone who has personally commissioned you once before [Note: Shana was the one who created my Kan-u Unchou cosplay], and given the amount of business and commissions you receive, how long does it take you, on average, to finish a commission?

SM: However long it takes me to finish a commission depends on the project. I find it takes me longer to make something simple such as a plain shirt or jacket than it does for me to make a complete full of detail cosplay. It may just be the artist in me, but doing something harder makes the experience more exciting. Thus, I get carried away with all the detail that I end up finishing it quicker.

KS: Aside from your reputation as a cosplayer, you have also done what few cosplayers often do: start your own clothing and design line. What more can you tell me, and the readers, about your company, CandyBats?

SM: CandyBats is my fashion line and cosplay commission brand. I would describe my fashion line as Lolita and visual kei that is public friendly and for all ages. Lolita is geared more towards younger people and someone who’s an older adult might be discouraged to wear it. CandyBats aims towards fashion that everyone can rock. I also feel like Lolita and visual kei clothing is really expensive these days, but you can’t really enjoy it. You can only hope that you’ll have somewhere to rock your outfit such as a convention or cosplay meetup. What I want to achieve with CandyBats is making all fashion possible for everyday of the week.

KS: And what a goal that is! To be so accomplished is incredibly impressive. Especially in regards to holding your very own, first fashion show for CandyBats. Tell me more about your experience with your fashion show, along with your experiences as a runway model.

SM: Oh my gosh, my very first runway experience was at ACen 2011 for one of my very favorite Japanese fashion designers, h.Naoto. It was incredible! I got to meet him in person and I got styled by him. He is a true professional and artist. His runway was heart-stopping with the eerie music and dark Lolita and gothic designs. He stuck to the traditional Japanese runway style where everyone had to walk really slow. I got coached by one of his elite models who told me, “If you think you’re walking slow, walk slower.” It definitely wasn’t an ordinary fashion show. Everyone looked like little creepy gothic dolls. It was by far my favorite runway experience. No other fashion show I’ve been in has topped it. I will never forget it!

My first fashion show for CB was for Ramencon’s 2012 masqurade half time show. After hand-making all the outfits, scouting all my models, going through hundreds of possible runway music tracks and finalizing my production, it all came together, and I couldn’t have asked for a better show. There were about two hundred people in the room, and all my models worked that catwalk. Everyone was on point, I was so overwhelmingly happy and excited. After the show, I had people come up to me with résumés in hand asking to be a part of the next show, and other people who just enjoyed everything. I am currently planning another show really soon.

KS: Shana, you’ve been great so far. Now, it’s time to delve just a little deeper into some more personal questions. I’ll start off lightly by asking this: as a black cosplayer, and especially as a woman, have you encountered any discrimination in the world of cosplay? (IE: “You can’t cosplay because you’re black/Not the right body type/etc.”)

SM: I have never been one to care about my race personally. I don’t consider myself a “black” cosplayer, just a cosplayer. Once you start labeling yourself, it’s hard to not see the world in black and white. By labeling yourself, you start to set limits on the things you can do. That’s why cosplaying whatever character I wanted has never been a problem for me. I love cosplay, and that’s all I need to worry about. I do what I feel like doing without caring what other people think. If you live by this way of life, then fewer people will judge you. You shouldn’t worry about the things you can’t control, like the color of your skin.

KS: How do you respond to the negativity you recieve via so-called “fans”, critics, online, etc.?

SM: Anytime I have to deal with negativity I always just kill it with kindness. People can pass judgment all day long, but how long can they insult someone who replies with “please,” and “thank you?” I know I’m not perfect, and there’s always room for improvement. I won’t argue with that!

KS: Regarding your fame and notoriety, what has been the most hurtful thing anyone has ever said to you?

SM: When it comes to fame in the cosplay world, I feel like people don’t understand what it really means. One doesn’t just simply become famous for cosplaying alone. There’s more to it, such as craftsmanship, detail, good quality pictures/locations, and how you sell your character. Anyone can just put on a costume and take pictures all day, but how do you keep it all up? You have to stay in the game. Make new cosplay, debut it at a con, pose for pictures all day, and keep up with your followers on a regular basis. Sometimes you have to go to events or meet ups that you don’t want to just for the sake of keeping your face out there. You have to keep it all up once you build your momentum. It’s a full time job, but a lot of people don’t understand that it’s a lot of hard work. That’s one of the biggest insults I get regarding my fame, because I really take it seriously.

KS: How about the most positive thing?

SM: The positive thing about fame in the cosplay scene are the fans. I love and adore each and every one of my followers, because they’re the ones who want me here and keep me here. I love giving them what they want to see and interacting with them. I’m so blessed and happy for the followers I have, and I can’t wait to do my first giveaway. They’re so deserving, and I appreciate their support.

KS: Do you have any influences in the fashion world who inspire you to create? What inspires you? What drives you to be the best?

SM: My fashion inspiration comes from designers all over the world. I get my inspiration from Vivienne Westwood, h.Naoto, Alexander McQueen, The Blondes, Gwen Steffani, and Roberto Cavali. My biggest flow of inspiration comes from music as well. I love it when I’m listening to something and then fashion ideas just pop in my head. A lot of Bassnectar songs will charge my creativity. I’m driven to be the very best that I can be, because I do all this for my family. I will be the wings that take us higher in life. I will pave the way for my future children.

KS: That has to be the most inspiring response I’ve ever heard. There’s no doubt you’ll go on to do more and more amazing things. AND! Speaking of such, have you won any awards? What was it like winning said awards, and what were the awards for?

SM: I have won quite a few awards for cosplay. I entered and won first place for best original design at Colossalcon 2010, best duo cosplay for my Rachel from Ninja Gaiden with my Ryu Hayabusa at Ohayocon 2011, and a gold medal for best original character at Anime Midwest 2011. It felt really good to win awards for the cosplay I made and even more for the original designs.

KS: Let’s shift gears for a second. You’ve made it clear that your professional life will sometimes often overlap with your personal life as well. This tends to be the case for a lot of famous cosplayers who are in relationships as well. How about you, Shana? What advice would you give the boyfriend/girlfriend/significant other of a famous cosplayer who isn’t quite sure how to handle their loved one’s fame?

SM: I would say to those who are dating someone famous, you have to be okay with what they do. If you can’t stand to see your significant other in skimpy costumes or sexy attire, don’t clip their wings. NEVER make your other choose between you and their career. It’s not fair to either of you. Doesn’t matter what you want from your other half, they aren’t going to completely change. There’s a reason they’re famous. They have the talent and potential. Don’t ruin that for them. At the end of a busy day from photoshoots, meetings, and work, they’re going to want to come home to you. Have faith; being with someone famous has its perks. They always have the most love to give because they are the most greatful for love. Fanboys and girls are cool for the moment, but when we come home to our other half, we know it’s love that will last forever. And if you ask me, forever seems like a better deal. Fans come and go, and sometimes famous people are the most lonely.

KS: Too true. Well, how about yourself, Shana? As far as relationships in general go, are you single or looking? If so, what do you generally look for in a boyfriend? 

SM:  As for relationships of my own, I have about a thousand long-term relationships I need to focus on: my fans! I’m perfectly happy where I am right now, and I’m most definitely NOT looking.

KS: Hahaha, you just broke a lot of fanboys’ (and fangirls’) hearts! But, let’s keep going. On a more serious note, let’s talk about the double-standard of sexism when it comes to cosplaying. From experience, I know a male cosplayer who is shirtless or wearing little receives less negative attention than say, a female cosplayer who chooses to wear a revealing cosplay. As a woman, has there been anyone to see you or identify you merely as a sexual object, or a fantasy? Has anyone ever approached you being lewd, vulgar, or outright disgusting when at a convention?

SM: Some girls who cosplay a sexy character and wear revealing costumes need to realize that, YES, people are going to stare at you and want to take you home. So if you’re just going to complain about it, don’t wear that particular cosplay. Sexy, revealing cosplay isn’t for everyone. It  takes a strong person to walk out in broad daylight in next to nothing. If I get stared at I keep walking. If I get lewd comments yelled at me, I simply tell them not to be rude. Nine times out of ten, its usually enough for some of them to back off. But again, if you’re gonna wear it, own it!

KS: Has anyone (male or female) ever called you “slutty,” “a whore,” “easy,” or any other disgusting, pejorative term based on any cosplay you have ever worn that they felt was “too revealing”? How do you deal with the haters who say things to your face, and even those who say things under the anonymity of the internet?

SM: My golden rule for wearing sexy cosplay is be a sassy as you wanna be, but don’t give the crowd too much to see. Give them what you already have and sell the character, but don’t over do it. Too much sex appeal is dangerous, especially for girls who go to conventions alone. I have been fortunate to not be called slutty because I don’t carry myself that way. I don’t open myself up to it, nor do I ever come off as being easy. I never touch or provoke. I’ll pose for pictures, but I’m not trying to sell porn. I know too many girls personally who set themselves up for disaster in those ways, and it’s become a huge problem.

KS: I can see how it it has been, yes. Well, let’s get ready to end the hard questions with just a couple of more. Regarding your fame once more, what do your friends think of your success? Have you lost or gained friends, and what do you have to say to the friends you have gained, and to those you have lost?

SM: I have gained a lot of friends and I have lost some too. The ones I’ve lost have just drifted away. Going in separate directions is hard, but it’s also a part of life. You can’t always keep everyone you’ve ever met. Your good friends will always be there for you, but the ones who are stuck in the past are always the first to leave. You may grow up and move on, but there are a lot of people in my life who I had to just leave behind. I have been blessed to have the few BFFs that I still have. They don’t quite fully understand what I do, but they’re still there for me.

KS: Well, while we’re on the subject of the future, and this is just a question for fun: many cosplayers, well-known or not, usually pass on cosplaying to their children. If you choose to have kids, will they be cosplayers as well?

SM: I’m not sure where cosplay will be by the time I have children. But one thing is for sure: they will have my model gene and fashion gene. I want my children to grace my runway or other runways, and I want fashion to be a part of their lives. I want to be able to pass on my legacy.

KS: Shana, this has been an amazing interview! Let’s get ready to wrap things up with a bit more talk about the future. As CandyBats continues to grow in popularity, where do you see yourself with your company, and your cosplay, in say, about five or even ten years from now? Do you intend for CandyBats to go global?

SM: I intend CandyBats to go very far in terms of what all I have to offer. I want CB to keep giving and keep renovating itself. I want CB to trend nationwide.

KS: Any future plans, projects, or shows you want to let us in on?

SM: I am currently planning fashion shows for anime conventions and as public events for people who don’t get to go to conventions. As always, I never reveal too much about my upcoming cosplay. I have a few that I’m just itching to debut in the very near future.

KS: And  as a black woman, what advice would you want to give to other black cosplayers, be they male or female, in regards to cosplaying, who are afraid that the color of their skin limits them?

SM: Don’t give yourself limits. To refer to yourself as a color, be who you want to be and be carefree. And whatever you do…work it, own it, and live it. You don’t have to answer to anyone, this is your world too.

KS: Is there anyone special you’d like to thank personally for your success, helping you through hardships, and always pushing you to be your best?

SM: I would really LOVE to thank my best friend, Oscar, who recently passed away. You saved my life, you made me who I am today, and I am forever grateful. You are the light of my life and the center of my whole world. You are my angel, and I will never forget all that you were and still are. I love you so much, and I promise I’ll continue to make you proud.

For more information on Shana, please check out (and like!) her Facebook page, as well as her personal website, where you’ll be able to see much more of her work and some of her finest cosplay, such as the ones featured below:

Shana pocahonas

Shana jasmine

3 thoughts on “An Interview with Shana Mostella: Chicago’s Top Black Cosplay Artist

  1. That was a really beautiful and empowering interview. Thank you for sharing this amazing woman with the world! Not sure how I found your blog, but this was the best read of my whole day. Great questions!

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