Volante Design will make you feel like the hero in your own epic adventure
When you love what your favorite characters are wearing and want to dress like they do to embody their spirit, it can be hard to find the right balance between cosplay and fashion. You don’t want to wear a costume in your daily life, but you really want something that captures that feeling. While there are an increasing number of fashions that allow fans to do this in different ways, finding such items that do this well can still be a challenge. That’s where Volante Design comes in.
Volante Design sells handmade hoodies, jackets, vests, and more that look like they leapt right from your favorite video games, comic books, movies, or other media. They have the epic feel of what those characters might wear in their adventures yet the versatility to be something that can work in everyday environments. Their quest to add such stylish apparel to your closet began when they created a jacket inspired by Connor Kenway from Assassin’s Creed 3. According to CEO Willow Volante, this was at a time before they officially started the company and were just doing custom work for a few years. When they made the jacket, they posted pictures online and the images went viral.
“It got a lot of attention really fast. We put up 100 orders thinking we’ll never see 100 orders and we got 150 in an hour or two. We were totally unprepared and not quite ready to make those and didn’t have the infrastructure to push out those orders so we built the company around trying to respond to that initially,” she told GeekFold.
That first jacket was the Eagle. After starting the company, the first design they put up for sale was the Kestral. Since both jackets, Volante has expanded with a range of impressive items but they still keep the feel of those original two with items that look like they came from the wardrobes of classic characters. Knowing that these are handmade makes the items even more remarkable. How long it takes to design one can vary. For something they want to have available right away, it can take about three months from idea to having it in hand.
The initial ideas for these pieces come from what they see in character designs they like.
“There are so many elements especially in video games and anime design that just don’t make any sense in the fabric world. They’re stuck on or they have a cape that just perfectly fits on one shoulder and it never moves. There’s no realism to that kind of design,” she said “We always have to figure out how do we want to play with this element and make it functional and make it work because we’re making clothes we want to wear.”
The company didn’t want to make just cosplay because they wanted something more regular and useful.
“There are some great characters that have armor, but nobody wants to walk around for six hours in armor. It’s a pain in the butt, but we do love that look or want to feel that cool so we try to translate elements into a fabric sensibility,” Willow explained. “The silhouette we play with. Does it have a big shoulder shape or is it more streamline? We keep looking at doing our own spin. It’s different for every design, trying to capture the essential parts.”
Volante has worked with licenses on official pieces as well, including a capelet inspired by Image Comics’ Saga. Willow said they love working on licensed pieces, but it can also be a challenge for some companies to understand it’s not going to be a replica item. For example, with one company they went back and forth about trim they proposed since the company thought it didn’t look exactly like what the character had. Volante explained that they don’t think people want to look exactly like the character.
“We think people would rather look really cool and have a nod [to them] so that can be tricky. A lot of these people are not clothing designers. They think ‘I have such a great character. We love our character. Our fans love our character. Why not make this coat?’ That can be tricky because we need to translate it to make it practical, functional, and a flattering real piece of clothing,” she said.
To Willow, licensing is great because it helps Volante reach a large fanbase which can make a difference for the small company. She explained that working with Capcom on a Mega Man jacket a few years ago was a huge success that helped put them on the map. She said they are open to working with more licenses of different types, but getting to talk to the right person can be difficult. A developer might think a design is a great idea, but they might then talk to their lawyer who says no. Part of the conversation is still trying to have the people behind the scenes understand that fans want to wear these items in their daily lives.
While that might remain a struggle, the world of gaming fashion has changed over the years (as was discussed on our PAX East panel in April) with more options and more companies entering the gaming fashion industry. Seeing such growth has been exciting for Willow, who said she doesn’t see new companies as competitors. She thinks they are doing different things and have a different mindset, which is great. When it comes to areas gaming fashion needs to work on, Willow believes more items are needed for women but sees it as a complicated area. Online sales by women are something Volante has struggled with.
“We’ve done lots of things to try and make it easier like we do free exchanges and we offer a variety of women’s cuts, but we can’t produce them in the same number as the men’s because we don’t have the sales to back them up,” she said. “It’s kind of a self-fulfilling challenge because we would like to offer a wider variety of women’s things, but we also need to have proof we can sell those things before we can make more. I think women have more options in clothes in general so there’s less of ‘I really want to support this and make this company happen or make this company know I want this.’”
Volante travels to a lot of conventions and sees a difference in who buys there, with women tending to buy equally to men at cons unlike online. There are a few reasons she thinks this happens.
“I think the con goer balance is shifting to be more equal men and women. I also think we’ve gotten better with our women’s cuts, especially with a wider variety of body types,” Willow told GeekFold. “Some of our styles are really great if you have big shoulders and are really tall and thin. Other styles really work well if you’re curvier and for shorter girls. We’re getting better at that as well. I think between those two things we’ve been able to reach those women at shows much more.”
The company is heading to new conventions this year to reach people that might not be aware of them or have never seen their items in person.
“We’re going to E3 this year which is a big deal for us partially because it’s so far away and partially because it’s a big game developer show and we hope to meet some people with licenses there to talk about making something licensed,” she said.
Amid their busy convention schedule, Volante has some “cool designs coming in the next quarter” according to Willow.
“We’re probably going to be releasing a collection that includes some non-coats like a long sleeve shirt and some pants and other things that are new for us,” she said. “We haven’t done a lot more than vests and coats because we do such a high level of detail, it kind of makes the most sense to do products that show that detail but we’re trying to flesh out what we’ve got.”
As gaming fashion continues to grow, Volante provides a much-needed option for fans who want to go beyond T-shirts but want to wear something closer to what they see in their favorite media without having to worry about entering the realm of cosplay.
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