By: Tim “Kijani” Watanabe
For Redmond’s Doug Brathovde, it all began in 2004 after watching “The Lion King on Broadway” stage production.
Although none of the costumes in the show contained the faux fur he works with today, Brathovde realized how creative, and fun, building costumes could be as a hobby.
“I thought it was a really fun deal and saw everyone was enjoying it, so I started building my own,” he recalled.
After serving five years in the Marines, which included a tour of duty in Afghanistan as an aircraft mechanic, and a short stint at Boeing working on the new 787 Dreamliner, Brathovde continued building costumes on the side, and late in 2009, started up his own home-based business, Anthropaws, Inc.
The unique company name comes from the word “anthropomorphics,” which relates to bringing human characteristics to something that is non-human, like an animal. Cartoon characters like Bugs Bunny or Mickey Mouse are an example, and many fans of anthropomorphics, also known as “furries,” create their own characters and have them commissioned into a full costume, called a “fursuit,” that resemble sports mascots with a personal touch.
“The community itself is very broad,” Brathovde noted. “You have your fans of cartoon (animals), musicians, artists… and the costuming part is just another way to express yourself that you can’t do normally.”
Brathovde estimates that 90 percent of his business comes from the furry community, but Anthropaws also offers many other services.
“The rest comes from organizations interested in mascots, or (performance) catering,” he said. “I also service existing mascots or fursuits, general repairs, sizing, anything and everything.”
CREATING A CRITTER
According to Brathovde, the most challenging part of his job is not the actual hands-on work, but the conceptual creation that must go on before he even plugs in his sewing machine.
“The most difficult part is coming up with a character design from someone’s description, taking that and turning it around into a three-dimensional form,” he said. “That’s the most challenging part, and in turn, one of the most fun parts.”
Brathovde has at least 20 different colors of faux fur in his workshop, all different styles and lengths, and will special-order to meet any customer’s needs.
He has made eight full suits so far – a hyena, german shepherd, two lions, two huskies, a badger and a raccoon – and Brathovde says his goal is to try and look for ways to improve his craft, to make each costume he builds a little better than the last.
“I’ve been doing a lot with moving jaws, whenever the wearer opens their jaw, the character’s jaw works as well,” he explained. “I’m also working with a style of eyes that wherever you look at the costume from, the character’s eyes are also looking at you… I’m always trying new things.”
And once a costume is ordered, how long does it take to build from head to paw?
“It’s totally dependent on the complexity of the costume,” Brathovde said. “If it’s really fancy it usually takes somewhere in the nature of 3-4 months, but more basic stuff is real quick. I also do partials, which is just a head, paws and a tail, and those come a lot faster.”
While other costume builders often charge at least $1,000 for a custom mascot character and sometimes much more, Anthropaws currently offers full suits starting at just $500, going up based on complexity.
“I started it on my own so that I could make a little money doing what I love doing,” Brathovde said. “I cater to the anthropomorphic community, and also to anyone that wants something for Halloween or to wear to parties, anyone that wants a costume of some sort.”
A REWARDING EXPERIENCE
Though building mascots and fursuits often means many long nights of grueling work, Brathovde admits that it is all worthwhile after the customer sees the finished product.
“The most enjoyable thing is once they get their costume and can go out and be their character, and just enjoy the time they have with it,” he said. “They can totally express themselves in a form they can’t do any other way.”
Brathovde also cherishes every opportunity he gets to go out in one of his own costumes and perform, bringing smiles to the faces of children and families, brightening their day. Brathovde and his crew of costume performers attended Issaquah’s popular Salmon Days festival last year, and also made an appearance at the Redmond Saturday Market in May at Redmond Town Center.
“That’s one of the most fun things about building costumes, that you can take them out and people don’t worry about who you are, they just see the character and that’s what they look at,” he explained. “The reaction from people is just outstanding. Everywhere you go, people are like, ‘Oh my gosh I can’t believe this!’ They all want pictures. It’s awesome, a really rewarding experience.”
Having moved to Redmond from Bothell about one year ago, Brathovde is also looking to get involved locally with community and charity organizations in his new, unique line of work.
“I am always open for commissions, and open for performing,” he said. “If it’s a matter of doing a party or coming to a charity event, I’d definitely be there and I can usually round up a bunch of other costumers who’d be interested as well.”
To see more photos of Brathovde’s costumes and home workshop, check out staff photographer Chad Coleman’s blog, Focus Northwest.
For more information about Anthropaws or to contact Brathovde about a commission, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, call (425) 381-9657, or visit www.anthropaws.com