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9. Asian Dress in Pop Culture: Raya and the Last Dragon with Nam & Duy – The Asian Sewist Collective Podcast
This Week’s Guests: Nam of @nammai and @evermorewigs & Duy of @cafededuy
On this week’s podcast, we’re talking to Nam and Duy about their viral Raya and the Last Dragon costume. You can check out the costume:
Patterns & Designers mentioned
Polo Shirt by Jalie
Multi-Sport Skort by Jalie
Dear Asian Youth post on Raya & Representation
Thai Sbai, Wikipedia
Nam: Especially doing like you know more like fantasy costumes and stuff especially like princess puffy sleeves, that kind of stuff. My brain doesn’t always just, it does not wrap around a concept. It’s so hard.
Ada: I was gonna say puffy sleeves, Duy’s shirt right now.
Duy: Oh yeah, my 18th century shirt!
Ada: Welcome to the Asian Sewist Collective podcast. The Asian Sewist Collective is a group of Asian people from around the world brought together by our shared appreciation for fiber and textile arts, and our desire to see more Asian representation in the sewing community. In this podcast, we explore the intersection of our identities and our shared sewing practice, as we create a space for Asian sewists and our allies. I’m your co-host, Ada Chen, and I’m recording from Denver, Colorado. Denver is the traditional territory of the Ute, Cheyenne and Arapaho peoples. I’m a Taiwanese American marketer turned entrepreneur and these days you’ll find me running my own all natural skincare business called Chuan Skincare. That’s C-H-U-A-N, and sharing my marketing tips on my blog, The Cultivate Method. Most importantly for this podcast, you can find my sewing at @i.hope.sew on Instagram.
Nicole: And I’m your co host, Nicole. I’m based outside of Chicago, the original homelands of the council of the three fires, the Ojibwe, the Potawatomi, and the Odawa people. I’m a Filipinx American woman and a lawyer by day and a sewing enthusiast the rest of the time. You can find me on Instagram at @NicoleAngelineSews.
Ada: So before we dive into this week’s episode, Nicole, can you tell us about your current sewing project?
Nicole: I can tell you some of it. I am currently working on testing swimwear. I don’t know how much I can say about what I’m testing. This is the first time I am sewing swim. And it’s kind of scary, because negative ease is a new thing for me. But I think it’s totally doable. I just need to make sure that I’m using the right fabric, which I think I am and I have the right notions. I’m excited to make more swim. I don’t know if I can tell you what I’m testing. But I do have plans to make the Friday Pattern Company Seabright Swim to take with me on vacation later this year. So I’m going to do a vacation for my birthday in September. So when we talk about podcast scheduling Ada, for that, but I will have custom swim. I’m excited. What about you Ada? What are you working on?
Ada: I just bought some active wear patterns from Jalie. So kind of along the same lines of thinking I recently got back into golf. I learned as a kid from my dad and now I have his clubs in his gear. So I signed myself up for some group clinics, and I realized that there are dress codes that they enforce and so I needed some polos and collared shirts. It’s a bunch of outdated patriarchy nonsense that I really just don’t like but you kind of need to do it in order to say F the patriarchy.
Ada: I’m trying to figure that one out. And I wanted to figure out… I was like, I have all this fabric that would be great for polos, they just don’t have any patterns. So I bought some Jalie patterns for not only a polo, but also a skort. Haven’t worn a skort in a long time. But going to attempt to both of those patterns to make a cute golfing outfit. And if it fails, at least I can take some cute pictures.
Nicole: Welcome to our first Asian Dress in Pop Culture episode. This is a series where we talk about a popular movie or TV show that highlights Asian culture, especially clothing, and talk about what they got right, if anything. So today, we’re going to be talking about the most recent Disney movie Raya and the Last Dragon. This is Disney’s first ever movie to feature a Southeast Asian princess. Other Asian princesses were Mulan who is Chinese and Moana, who is Polynesian, not Asian, but would fall under the AAPI umbrella that the US Census ascribes.
Ada: So we finally have a third Disney Princess to welcome into the fold. The story of Raya and the Last Dragon takes place in, and I’m going to try to do it the Disney way, Kumandra, a land that was once a unified region where humans and dragons lived peacefully. That is, until purple smoke monsters called Druuns showed up and after some conflict–sorry, I should have said spoiler alert if you haven’t seen the movie yet–after some conflict Kumandra has been split into five tribes and the world no longer has any dragons. And so throughout the movie, we follow Raya’s quest to unite the kingdoms again. And today we have a ton to talk about with this movie so we have brought in two guests to talk about the movie, Asian representation in the film, as well as their own viral recreation of Raya. So we have Nam, who you can find on Instagram at @nammai, who is also the owner of Evermore Wigs, which is at @evermorewigs on Instagram. Welcome, Nam.
Nam: Hi. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Nicole: And we have Duy, who you can find on Instagram at @cafededuy C-A-F-E-D-E-D-U-Y. And welcome.
Ada: So, let’s start off learning a little bit about both of you. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? Maybe Nam you can go first and then hand it off to Duy.
Nam: My name is Nam. I’m 24 years old. I am, I guess, not a first generation Vietnamese because I was born in Vietnam and immigrated here when I was around 12. I lived in Southern California when I immigrated here, and I worked at Disneyland for a good while doing entertainment and other things in there. And around 2017 I started my own business Evermore Wigs. And then I moved to Orlando. And, that’s about it.
Ada: That is so interesting. Duy, what about you?
Duy: Hi, my name is Duy. And I’m a first generation Vietnamese-American. I’m based in Orlando, but I’ve grown up in Florida my entire life. And I started cosplaying around 10 years ago 2010, 2011. And it just grew to a level of designing costumes or just making things. I enjoy painting and all that. I think my creative outlet is now just making costumes.
Nicole: Very cool. We’re happy to have both of you here. I highly recommend listeners check out their Instagram. There’s some really amazing work and you may have already seen some on our feed, but go check theirs out. Support their work, for sure. So, Nam, can you tell us how and why you got into costuming? Is there anything else that you sew for yourself or other people besides costumes?
Nam: Yeah, my history of costuming is a little long. My mom in Vietnam growing up, she was a fashion designer, especially, specializing in ao dai. Or the proper way is “áo dài”. That’s a traditional Vietnamese dress. It’s unisex, and it’s been there since around 1700s. It’s the most popular traditional outfit in Vietnam. My mom is the designer of that. And growing up, I was always there in the store with her, especially in the back with all of her seamstresses. That’s kind of where I started picking up little things. They showed me how to, you know, sew piping for their garments and dresses, and sewing basic things like collars and stuff too. I learned beading from them, I learned adding appliques, all sorts of stuff like that. So it’s pretty traditional, my knowledge of sewing, up until around like 2014 or so. That’s when I started using that knowledge and learning more to do cosplay kind of stuff, especially started with Halloween, making Jedi Knight costumes and stuff like that. Then, it kind of snowballed into doing a lot of Disney costumes like Li Shang from Mulan, and Aladdin, and a lot of animation stuff. I also started doing Zootopia cosplays. For now, it’s just kind of slowed down a little bit, since the pandemic started. I guess I had a little bit of burnout with like, I don’t know if you guys feel it too, but with making masks and stuff at the beginning of the pandemic.
Nam: So it’s definitely slowed down. I want to get back to it. I’m getting a lot more inspiration recently. It’s so nice seeing other sewists and people like you guys, who are enthusiasts, and it’s really great seeing that.
Ada: We briefly mentioned that your business is as a wig artist. Can you tell us a little bit more about that? I stalked your Instagram a little bit and there does seem to be a little bit of an overlap between the cosplay costuming world and the fantastic wigs that you design. Listeners, you really need to check it out. Ugh, good hair, such good hair.
Nam: Thank you. That started, around 2017 is when I opened my business but I picked all of that hairstyling knowledge up just from YouTube videos and like self-taught basically. I learned a lot of that too from a lot of free classes on online and that sort of stuff. And it began really as just styling wigs for myself for my own cosplays for the Mulan cosplays, for local stuff like that. Then it it became styling for other people locally who approached me, and doing small commissions. Once I kind of started finding my niche of what I’d liked to do, which was a lot of Disney Princesses, that sort of hair, it just grew. There’s definitely a big overlap between my love of cosplay and the hair.
Nicole: It really completes the look.
Nam: I think so. I think the hair definitely helps you a lot with your confidence in cosplay.
Nicole: Duy, can you let us know how and why you got into costuming? Do you make other things besides costumes for yourself or other folks?.
Duy: So as of now, I am working on commissions or like bigger projects. It’s all sewing based. I’m not a wig master like Nam, like he’s great. That’s a level I can’t ever reach in terms of other outlets in the cosplay world. It’s mainly just costuming and making things with craftsmanship. When I started to pursue more of the costuming side, it’s all because I was entering a costume contest at a con. Then from there, I kind of learned to better myself or attempt to better myself. Then along the way, it also included my love for history and other cultures, and just learning how to incorporate those into your costuming.
Nicole: Very cool. It’s a great place to put your sewing energy and skills into like I said, both of you, the work speaks for itself. So you two know each other. Did you meet through costuming or how did you meet?
Duy: How did we meet?
Nam: I would say yeah, like through costuming is a part of it. But it’s a lot more conventions and very close circles that ended up like merging together. Being Orlando, Disney, this age group of people who are basically all nerds, you’re gonna find each other.
Duy: Yeah, it’s a lot of circles, like because we both work for Disney. Well, I’m still working for Disney. So there’s that circle and then there’s the mutual friend circle. And then there’s the whole Disney cosplayers around the world knowing each other and then US cosplayers. So like Nam said, it just overlaps.
Nam: Yeah, I no longer work at Disney.
Ada: Congrats, I think? I don’t know, I’ve watched a lot of Disney cast member Tik Tock sometimes. And it’s some of them make it sound great. And some of them make it sound terrible.
Nam: It’s definitely what you make of it is a big part of it, for sure, and your attitude going into the job. Truly, I think I’ve just outgrown that. I had such a great time when I was there in entertainment for a while. So that was like character hosting, you know, being an attendant with the characters for meet and greets. And then, this information will come back later in other answers, but then also later on, I started teaching animation in the Animation Academy in Disney’s California Adventure. That was a really great and super fun job and fun show to do.
Ada: That’s definitely cooler than any job I’ve had.
Nicole: I worked at the Illinois State Fair one summer.
Nam: What did you do?
Nicole: I scooped ice cream.
Duy: Honestly a real hero though.
Nam: Oh, yes.
Nicole: It’s hot. It was a hot Midwest summer. It’s the one building at the Illinois State Fair that has air conditioning. I was like that’s the building I want to be in. And this is so hokey. Like, the reason why there’s air conditioning is because they serve ice cream but the “Butter Cow” is there, which is exactly what it sounds like: a sculpture made out of butter of a cow. So that’s those are my fun summer jobs in college. Learning how to do the perfect soft serve pour it if I’m in the dairy building at the Illinois State Fair. You guys all did not need to do any of that but
Duy: But it’s good information know, just in case.
Nam: No, I loved it.
Nicole: It’s all good information. For everybody on the podcast and, I don’t know.
Ada: Tomorrow morning, Nicole is getting a DM that’s just butter emoji and a cow emoji.
Nam: Hey, whenever you write an autobiography, it can be you know, “From Softserve to Sewing”.
Nicole: From Softserve to Sewing, that’s so great.
Nam: It’s a great subtitle.
Duy: That’s really good.
Ada: Okay, so aside from Nicole’s interesting jobs in the past, we are here today to talk about Raya and the Last Dragon. Before we dive into your guys’ viral Raya costume and photoshoot, let’s talk about the movie. So I think like I recap in the beginning Kumandra, the land that Raya lives in and explores throughout the movie, was split into different tribes. In each tribe, we see different elements borrowed from different Southeast Asian countries and cultures. So I’m curious, is there anything specific in the movie that really resonated with you either culturally or otherwise? Maybe we can start with Duy this time.
Duy: One of the big things is the floating market. So for me, I didn’t know it was Vietnamese, because I just assumed every single market in Southeast Asia looks like that. Until a lot of my friends who are not Vietnamese told me, hey, that’s, that’s Vietnam. I was like, what? It is? Oh ok! The rest of the film, I was looking for more Vietnamese things and I caught on to like certain words. They took all the accents out but they’re the Vietnamese words. Then there’s also little details like on one of the dragons I noticed, it goes to Vietnamese mythology. Just a few things, like little words and stuff.
Nam: I think this movie is so important, not just because of its representation on a surface level. It’s wonderful to get representation. But it’s so much more about knowing hat this is such huge opportunity for a large company like Disney, to show off all of the amazing aspects of your culture to the rest of the world. You know, it’s a great door into that. I just felt so proud, like watching it and knowing that no matter, what this would be received well, because it’s Disney,
Nicole: It brought Southeast Asian cultures to the masses in a way that was, at least this is my opinion, that was friendly and introductory. Like, “Oh”, you know, “we didn’t know that Asia isn’t just East Asians”, which is usually what the default conception is. As a Filipino person, you know, this representation was important for me as well. But it wasn’t perfect, right? All of the South Asian, Southeast Asian representation, you know, was there. But there were some pitfalls. The cultures were sort of blended right. So Duy, you said you could pick out in some words, like maybe that they removed the Vietnamese accent from? And, most of the voice actors were pan-Asian rather than Southeast Asian. So I’ll start with Duy, you know, what are your thoughts on that? You know, do you think there were other voice actors that Disney could have chosen or other, you know, things that you would do differently?
Duy: Yeah, starting with the voice cast. While I’m glad they’re all Asian, but there are so many Southeast Asian actors out there. You know, there’s Michelle Yeoh, there’s Dante Basco. For the singer, they could have picked Lea Salonga to sing the song. Starting from the cast, and then going to certain designs in a film, where I’m just thinking, I know what you’re aiming for. You’re aiming for a pre-colonized Southeast Asia, which most of it is Thai, but some of the designs are original to the film. They could have picked current and designs for aesthetics in our cultures to use instead of just blending it all in and trying to be original.
Nicole: What are your thoughts Nam?
Nam: It does feel like a little bit of a cop out sometimes, when you think about it that way, for sure. But I also feel like we can be a little more harsh on this film. And of course, I have the gripes about the pan-Asian cast of voice actors. But it doesn’t always help to pick on an Asian project harder than you would pick on a white-created or a white led project involving Asian people. I think there was a quote from Chloe Zhao, she’s the director of Nomadland, and she got critiques about her film, not casting the accurate ethnicity or nationality of the actor in the story. She made a really great point saying that, like, you know, no one else would pick on white-led films this way, for that tiny little detail. But when it comes to a film by an Asian woman, they can be a little more harsh.
Nicole: That’s an interesting observation.
Ada: The costume designer Neysa Bové for Raya and the Last Dragon which, in researching for this episode, I learned that there are costume designers for animated films as well. She is a white woman of Spanish descent. We talked about blending the cultures together and kind of the issues with that which we’ve seen happening and some of the clothing kind of starting to look similar because of trade. Duy, I think some of your posts actually mentioned that you’d previously studied Thai warrior women and their clothing. How do you think Bové did on representing all of the Southeast Asian cultures?
Duy: When I looked up the costumes, it was mainly for Raya because our project was trying to focus on the Raya and we were working on promotional pictures. I was studying the Thai sabai, think that’s how it’s pronounced, sabai. I think for Raya, when they change it for the sake of being conservative for being a Disney character, it works fine. I don’t find anything wrong with it, it works well as a costume designer. I think they did a great job. For other characters, like Raya’s ba or other surrounding characters, I think the designs are great in what they’re trying to achieve. There are certain characters, I would say, like Namaari’s mother, where the dress is nowhere to be found. I do know that the design is based on the palace that Fang was in, which I appreciate a lot as a designer or someone who would create things to be more consistent with designs. In general, I think the blending of certain cultures works out well for Raya because it’s trying to achieve a certain aesthetic that the world has. Kumada isn’t a real existing place. So I think it’s fine for a certain blending because it’s done respectfully. You know what I mean?
Ada: Nam, would you agree?
Nam: Yeah, I definitely agree with that. We all have little gripes with it, and exactly what you were saying about the chief, Namaari’s mother. Her dress is basically the Asian version of what they did with Black Panther, which was Afro-futurism. So you get different styles like that. But it’s so awesome to see the influences from the Thai design of clothing and from Cambodian clothing. I think for the most part, they did a great job. And Neysa Bové, I follow her on Instagram. I also follow Britney Lee, their titles are “visual developers” for these animated films, so they do so much research on the culture, the background, all the little details, materials, patterns. They come up with just hard drives and hard drives of files of these designs to draw inspiration from. If you have time, definitely check out the Disney “Art of” books that they release for each animated film. It’s got so much background on the development of these costumes, of hair, of everything. I think they did a great job. In the Raya behind the scenes videos, too, they also have a video documenting the entire animation team’s trip to Southeast Asia. They visited Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, and they learned a lot from it. So I think overall, they did a pretty good job.
Duy: Yeah, the art they release on Instagram, every now and then, is just amazing. Like, I’m like, “Wow, how much research have you placed into this?” And it’s all done so respectfully.
Ada: I love how you mentioned Namaari’s mom, the badass chief. You know, I’m not Southeast Asian, so I didn’t come into this movie having a particular affinity to any of the cultural dress or interpretations shown. So I was more looking at it like. I love all these outfits. And I know Namaari was a villain–spoiler alert again–but watching her and her movement and kind of the sporty yet chic two piece outfit plus her mom. Duy, what you said about withdrawing and the visual cues of the chief’s outfit mirrors the actual palace and the land. That definitely kind of brought it all together for me. And I was like, “Oh, Namaari is practically how I dress. And then her mom is like where I visually would like to aspire to be.” I’m curious, You know, that’s kind of how I interpreted the costumes. Were there any costumes in particular that either of you really loved?
Duy: Costumes that I love. I would say Raya’s ba, Chief Benja. His formal outfit when he was trying to unite all the nations in Kumandra. The mint green, not mint green, it’s blue-ish green with the naga going around the neck at the collar area. That one just fits so well. And I really loved applique of the dragon. And most of the outfit is Thai, but bits of it are reminiscent of other cultures. And I’m just I’m all about that. And I want to own it. Like I just I want that outfit. It looks so good on him. It’ll look good on anyone. Yep, that one. Oh, and besides Chief Benja’s outfit with the dragon applique that I like, another costume I really like is Raya herself with the with the hat and the cape. And the whole silhouette is just, just hits differently and I don’t know what it is. Especially when you see Raya walking up to the Grand Palace in Fang with that whole look. It just hits differently and I don’t know how to explain it yet. Like wow for Chief Benja I can explain that it sits on his body well, and appliques and textures and details are amazing. With Raya, itt’s something about that silhouette that I really like. So those two costumes are my favorite.
Nam: That one is actually my favorite as well. Out of all the costumes in the movie. I feel like Raya’s travel costume. The one you see for the majority of the movie is a big combination of cultures. But Chief Benja’s outfit as simple as it was that tunic and the shoulder lapel, you can really clearly see the influences, the combination of Vietnamese and Cambodian styles. And it really reminds me of you know, the ao dais that my mom made when I grew up, seeing those those silks and seeing those appliques and seeing the intricate embroideries. I just thought that was really great. And I also love the asymmetry of the costume, too, which is a big thing in this film. You get asymmetry and a lot of the hair designs, a lot of the other costumes and even architecture throughout the film. I think that’s pretty cool, versus a lot of other Disney movies, especially recent ones like Frozen and Tangled, that kind of stuff, their designs are more simple European, traditional costumes. That’s a lot of symmetrical designs. So I thought that was so special seeing something a little different.
Nicole: I love that perspective. I think, so I am Southeast Asian, but I didn’t watch Raya with the same critical eye and not necessarily negative just, you are you are seeing things differently than I did. And I think there’s a lot of beauty in the observation that asymmetry is considered beautiful and aesthetically pleasing and gorgeous in this movie. It’s something that I think everyone is like, well, symmetry is beauty, like perfection, you know, like there’s no variance. And that’s what’s held to be what is beautiful. So I just would have never seen that. So I’m so grateful that you’re here and giving us both of your perspectives on this movie.
Nam: I think it also I think it also boils down back to Eurocentric beauty standards and how everywhere now, you know, perfect symmetry is what’s called considered beautiful. So I think this this sort of goes against that. And I think that’s so special and different.
Nicole: Yeah, totally. And you know, with that, let’s dive into the Raya cosplay that you both worked on as part of a collaboration. And I want to just give a little bit of background on who the the model for this was. Her name is Monica Joelle Ortiz of @MonicaJoelleO, and that’s M-O-N-I-C-A-J-O-E-L-L-E-O. There’s also going to be a link in our show notes. Monica is a Filipino American writer, actor and content creator, whose videos ranged from fun transitional videos to videos on cultural appreciation, representation and inclusivity. So definitely check out her work and her videos on the interwebs as well. And she is also like I said the Raya cosplayer who modeled the costume that Nam and Duy created, which is based off the main outfit that Raya wears throughout the movie.
So you all may be familiar with it. Certainly everyone on the pod knows and loves this costume. And in this outfit, Raya is wearing a dome shaped hat, a red cape, a brown vest, a yellow top and green embellished pants, now we’ll talk more about details in a bit. You can definitely Google it and see the original costume yourself or go to IG and see Monica and the costume.
I did want to do a little shout out for the hat itself because it was actually loaned to Monica from Shilyn’s own collection. Shilyn is a member of our Collective who we have shouted out multiple times. And she’s producing this episode. Yeah, she’s got fans. So the hat is called a salakot, which is a handwoven Philippine hat that is more dome shaped than the conical style hats found in other Southeast Asian countries. So Duy, how did the idea of recreating Raya costume come about? Did one of you come up with the idea or…?
Duy: It was Nam’s. So earlier in the year, I was trying to create the costume officially with Disney. I was working my way towards it. And then the pandemic happened. So everything just ceased, and I just kind of let it go. And then sometime before the movie came out, Nam texted me and said hey, let’s do this project with Monica. And then I said yeah, let’s do it. So it’s all his idea. And we just split up who would make what and then I just picked the vest or the jacket and the yellow top.
Nicole: Is this true Nam? Was it all your doing? All your idea?
Duy: That’s an accusation.
Nam: Yes, trying to be helpful here. So the whole thing happened really slow and then really fast all of a sudden, the whole process, but the movie has definitely been on my radar since it was first announced. Yeah, it was first announced back in 2017, at D23, the convention, and I was there for that. And, man, I felt so excited for that just everyone in the room was just dying, and so ecstatic. And you could feel the, the joy from all the Southeast Asian and Asian people who looked like me in the room, you know, when they first announced this.
And so through the movie’s production, it was a pretty, pretty slow, nothing really happened with that. But I had briefly spoken to Monica about that, about possibly modeling mostly just the weak part of it, because I knew that that was something I’d have to offer in my store pretty soon once the movie came out. And then just through snowballing, I asked you to join the project, and then we divvied up the work for that. And then even Monica was so awesome with keeping the crew Southeast Asian. So she brought in Nic, who’s our videographer and photographer for the shoot as well.
Ada: So this project, like you said, was kind of a long time in the making. And then it just all happened. And pretty quickly, but you guys were working on the costume off of screenshots, right? Like by the time you actually released the photos, and did this shoot, Raya was just coming out on Disney plus as I guess, like a premiere access movie. So what was it like trying to research and recreate the costume with just a few screenshots and clips and like the trailer? Did you recognize anything specifically? And we just did an episode on textiles. So I’m curious, how did you figure out from just screenshots like what fabrics to actually use.
Nam: So at the time, when we were basically reverse engineering, all of these costume pieces and hair, I think it was just two trailers, like one teaser, and then one full length trailer. And it was pretty difficult. But thankfully, the promotional images that were out were the fully like fully rendered, especially that one shot of her, you know, with the hat down to her lips, and she’s got so much detailing on all of her cape and vests and all that stuff that made that very simple costuming wise to break down.
And I feel like Duy has this knowledge too from doing cosplay for so long, and especially breaking down animated costumes. You kind of get a feel. And you get this, you know, sixth sense of reading exactly what fabrics would work, how it moves, the weight of it, and you can see what would work exactly for that piece. But reverse engineering, the hair was the probably the worst part of that, because almost all the shots was, you know, she had her hat on. And then there was one back shot behind her head. And it was like pitch black, I had to screenshot it, I had to raise the brightness and contrast to like figure it out. And for the most part, I got pretty close to it.
Ada: Duy, would you say the same went for the fabric at least on the pieces that you did?
Duy: So for fabrics, that was like the easiest thing just thinking oh, maybe I’ll put her in this outfit, because this kind of fabric, it just flows better, works better. I think the hardest part for me was the yellow top. Because like I said before, I was studying Thai warrior women and what they wear. And I know that often it’s easy to figure out because it’s literally just tighter on the body. But because Disney has redesigned that outfit to be more conservative, I was trying to figure out how it works. And recently, Disney just released a short digital clip of how her top works. And I was thinking, wow, you know, if only they would’ve released this earlier. But I was thinking of more like the engineering, like how to make this function more as a costume because we can easily make things wrap around the body and just pass it off as the look. But I want to make it more easier just to function, like function wise. And I was studying every single two millisecond clip of Raya as much as I can remember from certain angles. And I was thinking, how does this work? What culture is this from? And I was asking all my Southeast Asian friends like hey, do you recognize this? Like, is this a blend of your culture with someone else’s and it was just a lot of figuring out like how that yellow top works. Until you know recently when Disney released a clip.
Nicole: So just honing in on the specific pieces, Duy since you’re talking about this yellow top, can you describe it any way for our listeners and then also the other pieces that you worked on and then I’ll ask Nam to do the same.
Duy: So the top. Let’s start with the brown motorcycle jacket. I was trying to figure out if it was Thai or Cambodian and turns out it’s a blend of both. Both cultures are somewhat similar in design due to history and trade. But the design itself is very modern, it’s very easy. It’s just a jacket with short sleeves and sort of like padding. And we just added interfacing and using, instead of I wanted to use fake leather, but since it was inaccessible due to budget, I just used basic printed cotton just to give off that look. And for the yellow top. For anyone who wants to save money, thrift stores are great if you want to go buy curtains and use that as fabric. And just manipulating how it works.
Nicole: It’s a great tip.
Nam: It helps too that her costume has a big old cape covering most of it. So you know, there’s a lot of room for error there as well.
Nicole: So Nam, the big cape covering everything, that was you.
Nam: Yes. So I contributed the hair, the cape, the belt, and pants. They’re kind of harem style pants with the extra lapel layers on top. And then I also contributed the gauntlets that she wears. So the cape itself, that was the one piece that I entirely sewed from scratch, I have a lot of experience with patterning and stuff. So I just patterned that out myself. Basically, it’s just a half circle skirt that just runs really long from the neck down. And then I also added the high collar to that, and the lining. So I took some liberties with that design for sure, because it’s not, of course, this costume is not entirely screen accurate. This wasn’t what we were going for. And definitely we did not have the budget to make it entirely screen accurate. But an aspect of that cape that I really latched on to and liked was the lining of it. It’s this yellow kind of gold fabric and it’s got this beautiful pattern on it. And since I couldn’t find a fabric that worked really well for that, I just ended up buying some lining fabric and then I cut it out of course to fit for the lining of the half circle skirt. And then it’s all hand stamped with fabric paint after cutting that out. And then for the countless pieces, the belt and the pants. Those other pieces I purchased the basis for them, and then added a lot on top of it. So I just did the gauntlet pieces. I added this macrame trim to the belt to add a little bit more depth to it. And then I stitched on this trim the green trim to give that illusion of the extra layers on the pants since we did not have the time to make the full style.
Ada: So I’m hearing hand stamping, lots of different trims. Hit up a thrift shop for some curtains, possibly with beading and or, you know details on them already. I don’t know, you also mentioned like drafting your own half circle skirt pattern for the cape. Were there any other specialized techniques that either of you used when creating this costume?
Duy: Yeah, I did. So for the top for the yellow and for the motorcycle jacket. First I researched everything that I need to do, including Thai and Cambodian cultures. And then I patterned, I made my own patterns for both the yellow top and for the jacket. Usually I just make my own patterns for everything. I just gathered the measurements I needed and then figured out how certain things work. And then for the yellow top, I draped all the pleats on it and figured out where does the embroidery go. And how to satin stitch the end so it looks more rugged. And I think that satin stitch works very well for a lot of things, especially for something from Kumandra where Raya is in a very, very worn down world after Druun took over. And just figuring out how to make it clean but also not.
Nam: My sewing experience is of course you know starting in in the seamstress, at the store with my mom and learning really traditional clothing sewing that blended a lot with cosplay sewing, which is a whole different ballgame right there. And my experience too, working in the theme park world being around costumes for like characters that are designed for meet and greets every day. They got to be designed for you know, it’s a lot of separate pieces and it’s designed for ease of taking on and putting on and taking off along with sneaky little snaps and buttons and things like that. And that applies a lot to cosplay costuming too.
So I hid a lot of snaps in the collar of the cape for it to hold properly. There’s also loops in the shoulder for the armpits, so that your cape doesn’t slide back and then I also added horsehair into the collar of the cape to give it that really stiff look like in the film. And also all along the bottom hem of the cape that’s horsehair as well, to give it that big superhero flowy shape and hold that like stiff shape at the bottom. And then I also taught myself to embroider for the first time, that was on the collar of that cape. That was all hand embroidery. The blue zig zag trim right there.
Duy: May I just say it’s so beautiful pictures don’t do it justice. The way Nam made it just flow so perfectly. I was playing around with it for quite a long time. And admiring like every single bit of it, how it just sits on the body. It’s just, it’s great. It’s just wow, I wish you guys could see it in person.
Nicole: I know that on Monica’s Instagram, she has like a video of her walking with the cape. So I wonder if well, listeners should just go and check it out so they can see the swish and the flow of it. And I’ll say that, you know, talking about Raya like yeah, maybe I can make a Raya costume for Halloween this year. And then just hearing about all the intricate details that went into your, your make. I’m like, I can’t do that. But maybe maybe I’ll try. I don’t know. So you’ll all find out in October.
Nam: I am here to help you if you need anything, I think you should do it.
Nicole: I’m gonna take you up on that offer. So here’s what I was thinking while you were talking about the cape is, I was like, I bet I could buy a tree skirt as a starting point, like a Christmas tree skirt.
Duy: Honestly, do it. It’s the same level as a thrift store.
Ada: You all say that, but I actually did make a tree skirt this year the same way.
Nam: t’s perfect. I think there’s so many resources out there to the way I learned cosplay sewing is a lot of online stuff. So you know, making a circle skirt. There’s literally just a Google circle skirt calculator. There’s a whole thing that you punch in your waist size or skirt length, all that stuff, and it’ll give you the exact pattern of measurements that you need.
Nicole: Okay, all right, maybe I’ll do it, maybe.
So I have one more question for both of you. But I’m going to combine them into one question. So we’ll start with Duy. What was the most difficult thing about this particular cosplay for you? And then what was your favorite thing about the costume? I’m thinking maybe the cape, but you know what, we’ll see what, what your thoughts are?
Duy: Well, I only did two things. But the yellow top was just difficult mainly because I’m trying to convert the cultural wear into what would function as a costume. You know, instead of making it wrap around the body, how would I have it just go on her and attach it quickly? That part was the hardest trying to figure out how does it function, especially with the way Disney redesigned it to be more conservative.
And my favorite bit of the costume, as a whole, is Nam’s cape. It’s just, I love capes. I just, I love them. And the way he did it was just was just freaking amazing. I love the embroidery work. And the way it just sits on the human body was so perfect. I was playing around with it for quite a long time while Monica was getting ready. And it’s just, it just swishes and I just love the texture work. And the functions of it. I’m all about the functions and ergonomics and costumes. And the snaps are just perfectly placed where it doesn’t bother anyone. And yeah, I love the cape. Just I love capes, and especially when they’re functional. I want it.
Nam: Capes are powerful.
Nicole: And Nam, how about you?
Nam: Making it more intricate, too was a little difficult for me, I always try to find ways to add extra textures and patterns and things to these pieces that I make to make them feel a little more realistic, especially when adapting animated films. It can be a bit simple, blocky colors and stuff like that. So you want to make it visually more striking. So that’s something I drew inspiration from my Vietnamese ao dai background is adding appliques to the bottom of the cape on the back there. I don’t think you can see them in the pictures, but I added this red like swirly applique to the bottom of the cape and it helped add a little bit more depth to that. And also the main difficult part was the embroidery on the collar that really, I was making pretty quick progress with the cape and then the embroidery kind of stopped it dead in its tracks. And it took a good while and a whole lot of yarn, but it was a sharp learning curve. And I had a good time though.
Ada: I do want to point out for our listeners who might be primarily garment sewists, like me and Nicole, that most of the techniques that we’ve talked about are like what we would call like couture level techniques. And I think that like, gives it that rarefied air where home garments sewists don’t really feel comfortable approaching it sometimes. But I love how you just went for it like horsehair braid to hold it up and give it structure and hand embroidery and even like the engineering of the top and draping it and figuring out how to make the yellow top work. That is, those are some things that we just apply different words to I think, depending on what kind of sewing you’re doing.
Duy: When Nam mentioned the whole, like, we make pattern stuff like yeah, you’re right. We do do that. Like it’s such a normal thing to us where we don’t even mentioned, like I don’t you mentioned it.
Ada: I think for us when we sew like garments, it’s all based off of like patterns that we buy from other people. And so I think that’s why we’re like, oh, my God, you made your own pattern. But diverging from sewing for like two seconds. Nam, you also made that wig. And you were telling us about zooming in to the all black kind of screenshot where she had the hat on, can you tell us a little bit more about how you actually did that, like, give us a sneak peek into wig making life.
Nam: Wig making life is difficult, especially when you’re running this business on just me. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. But doing that that hair, particularly for Raya was definitely a feat, I guess I’ve developed enough skill now and experience to see a picture and and see in reference, because obviously animated bodies are different from human real proportions. So seeing in regards to her body, you know, I can clock immediately “Oh, that’s a 20 inch” wig right there, I need to trim it to 20 inches, I need layers in there for all that extra volume that she has. And then I know, like what base I need to use, because I need to use something lace front, because it’s got all this intricate braiding on the top there. So you can’t use a hard front wig, which is what in the industry is something that doesn’t blend with the hairline. So the lace helps it make it more realistic. As you can see in the pictures with Monica there.
And the rest breaking it down with the braids, it was a lot of trial and error for sure. I’ll never get things perfect on the first try. I will never claim that. But overall, it was a really fun experience and getting to do these braids were really, it’s a really fun wig to do. And I’m so glad that I get orders for them a lot more recently, too. So getting to do that, as my nine to five is pretty awesome.
Nicole: Yeah, the wig is absolutely beautiful. And I think it really helps make the outfit for sure. And so that sounds really neat. And I’m glad that it’s led to more commissions for wigs for your Evermore business.
Nam: Thank you.
Nicole: So do you both have any current projects you can tell us a little bit about so Nam, maybe anything that you’re working on right now that you can share?
Nam: I gotta be honest, I have nothing going on right now in terms of sewing. But, man talking to you guys definitely makes me want to get back to it. I’m feeling very inspired right now.
Nicole: And that’s fine. If you don’t got anything going on. We all need breaks from sewing for sure. How about you Duy?
Duy: Yeah, I have lots of sewing projects. Right now. I’m trying to, I have a contract that I have to fulfill. I’m like I’m like, how do I, what do I want to make? I don’t know if you can tell behind me. I’m working on Cruella from the new Cruella film. And she has 47 costumes in the movie. And I’m working on the imperial gown, which is the military jacket with the red petal skirt.
Nicole: Oh man, I can’t wait to see that.
Duy: And it’s a lot of reinterpreting what was designed because I have to like think about my budget. What skills I do have. I can’t drape certain things or make certain things because I know the skirt on Cruella has like 5000 plus pedals, individually sewn pedals and I’m just like, I’m gonna make it ruffles and make my own ruffles with 120 yards of organza so far. Yeah, Cruella, I’m working on her come true.
Ada: Wow. 120 yards of organza.
Duy: We’re still counting.
Ada: Man, I have like three yards of organza and I can’t figure out how to do it, so you’re way ahead of me. I’m curious, do either of you have any additional advice for listeners who might be interested in getting into costuming or cosplay?
Duy: If you want to get into sewing or just cosplay, I just say just do it. And it’s so weird to say that because everyone approaches costuming or just making cosplays differently. But if you just want to do with like, start for like buying a costume and then figuring out how it fits on you, and then eventually it will just develop more. Not everyone wants to make costumes in any form, so the best way to do it is just, I would say, buy a costume or buy something like an existing piece of clothing and just kind of manipulate it to make it fit you as a person. And maybe your skills will grow like maybe that, that desire to make things will be there. But if you want to cosplay, just do it, just buy that piece and wear it. Commission a wig from Nam and where it.
Nam: You’ve got to start with what you’re passionate about and what you like, realize that you know, there’s so many genres of costumes and films and things that you can do out there that not everything is going to be for you. For sure. But it’s, it’s a great start. jumping off point, buying things too. Something I like to tell people when they ask me for advice was sewing and cosplay is, you know, keep it simple, like, don’t make it harder for yourself. If you think, “oh, like I really want to like”. Why are you putting that restriction on yourself to have to fully make everything in a piece, if it’s just easier to spend the five bucks and buy about and adjust it from there, or buy a base piece. You know, it’s all about how you look and how you feel in the costume. So I guess if you want to make it, go for it, but also you can keep things simple and really work with what you know and the skills that you have.
And from there, there’s just a vast ocean of resources for you online as well. Free or paid that you can watch on YouTube or take classes for, from some of the most like experienced cosplayers and costumers out there and it’s all there for you online. So I think you should use them to your advantage. And also just not worry so much about everything being perfect all the time because we had a great time with our Raya shoot and costume. And we all know that it wasn’t entirely accurate to the movie. But we had a great time and we got to represent and I think that’s what matters most.
Especially I see that with a lot of like new cosplayers, is people comparing themselves to an image of a professional cosplayer who’s done that for 10 plus years or something. Because looking at just one image and comparing it to your costume, you’re never going to see the amount of years of work and experience and trial and error that’s gone into that one photo alone that’s led up to that point. So use those skills, use those free courses and classes to your advantage. Learn to combine things too. Patterning, you know, you got to have the eye to “Oh, you see a sleeve part that you like in this full dress pattern? But it doesn’t work with that pattern?” Learn to combine things together and use pieces of other things to make what you need. So trial and error.
Nicole: So go for it and expect trial and error in order to grow. I like it. We’re so happy that you could join us today. Can you both remind our listeners where we can find you? So I’ll start with Duy.
Duy: Alright, so you can find me on Instagram at @cafededuy. C-A-F-E-D-E-D-U-Y. I’m all over social media with the same handle, except my main platform is Instagram. On there you can find pictures on my costuming work, costume design, and just me just raving about certain costume designs for films and such. And little bits of my personal life.
Nam: You can find me at my personal costume work and cosplay at @nammai on Instagram N-A-M-M-A-I, and then all of your princess hair needs you can head over to @EvermoreWigs on Instagram.
Ada: Thank you Nam and Duy for joining us on our podcast today and talking to us about Raya and The Last Dragon and costuming. It was so great to talk to you, we learned so much and I hope our listeners did too.
Thank you listeners for joining us on this week’s episode of the Asian Sewist Collective podcast. Next week, we will be wrapping up season one with a discussion on size inclusivity.
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Nicole: This episode was brought to you by your co-hosts Ada Chen and Nicole Angeline. This episode was researched by Eileen Leung and Esther Lee, produced by Shilyn Joy and edited by Leslie Rehm Hunt and Henry Wong. Thank you so much to the other members of our collective who made this week’s episode a reality. This is the Asian Sewist Collective podcast and we’ll see you next week.