Kia Sangria was born to make magic real. No paper and pen required; I mean this quite literally, because she admittedly can’t draw. Instead, she acts as a conduit for creativity, not letting that minor detail deter her from creating clothing, costumes, and moving artwork.
While speaking about her creative journey, Kia wove a story of passion borne of natural talent and stoked by loved ones. However, it would be in her adult life that she felt the pull to join the Fantasy world of costuming and cosplay. Since that first event, she has been dazzling viewers and burgeoning designers with her eye for enchantment. She has found her calling, as you’ll read below, through her connection to community and her ability to educate others. By one stitch at a time, she is guiding other magic-makers toward wonder.
LaKase: Can you tell me a little bit about your sewing background, specifically sewing Fantasy garments? How did you develop that?
Kia: I have always had a thing for sewing, even before I even knew what cosplay was. The first thing that I ever made was something that I made, I don’t know if it was kindergarten or grade school, but I made a family quilt. Basically, what our teachers asked, they asked us to bring in photos of family members that meant a lot to us. I was predominantly raised by my grandmother, so I brought in photos of my grandma. They basically sent these to a printing press and they had the photos turned into fabric. That piece still exists. It’s at my mother’s house. It’s in beautiful condition. My love of sewing started with things like that. Then, my mother eventually took me to some sewing classes where I think I remember making three different things: I made a tote bag, a purse, and a pair of pants. I was probably like 10, and then I discovered pop culture, Sailor Moon, and stuff like that.
I think the first costume that I ever put together on my machine was a mermaid tail, because in New York City, which is where I’m from, at Coney Island, we have the Mermaid Day Parade every year. I put together some spandex, some organza, some crystals on the bottom of my tail, and, honestly, you couldn’t tell me anything [laughs]. I was like a mermaid princess. It felt so good to be whatever I wanted, and no one being able to say “no, you can’t do that.” I’ve just been doing it. Fast forward to 2022, I am now the proud owner of five sewing machines. I’m always working. It’s me and my husband. We do this together. It’s a madhouse here. It has just allowed me to be whoever I want, whenever I want. I can literally make something whenever I want. And I don’t take this superpower for granted at all.
LaKase: It’s so cool. I just love the imagery of you and your mermaid tail. Just like, “nope, this is me. This is who I am.” From then on, was that when you started doing cosplay?
Kia: That did it for me, because it was a parade. I wasn’t the only mermaid at the beach that day. Feeling secure in my costume, but also just visually getting to see everybody else’s costume that day has completely changed my life. Any opportunity to dress up and do fun things like that, I always take it. Always. I will never not want to be something not of this world.
LaKase: So, you have this parade moment. Did you think, “okay, this is the only time I’ll be around people like this,” or did you think you’d be able to find a community outside of that mermaid day parade?
Kia: No, I honestly thought that this was kind of like a one day thing. I think that’s why I had to really soak it in, because I thought I would have to wait until the next year. Boy, was I wrong, because I live in New York City. There’s always something. The intimidation was there, too, because I had made my costume in a weekend. I could barely walk in my costume. I didn’t understand zippers at that time, and I was just not about to try.
I knew that there were pockets of communities, but I didn’t know where to start when it came to getting myself into those communities. I think that’s really the hardest part, when you’re really into something and you don’t know where to find people like you. Then, when you do, it’s just like “oh, I am not as cool as you are.” It’s intimidating.
LaKase: It is for sure. It’s so scary. I think we forget that everybody started out somewhere, but when you’re in the moment the imposter syndrome kicks in for sure.
Kia: I’m looking at my tail, then looking at her tail, and I’m thinking my tail could have been better, but at the same time it was too late. I think that was a big part of it, too. People would see my costume and they would want pictures. Then, we were just happy to see each other, you know? I think being in spaces like that really helped.
LaKase: What has it been like as a Black woman in this space? Have you felt like it’s open in general to Black cosplayers?
Kia: I would say that the cosplay community specifically in New York has been very open for Black cosplayers. I mean, you can’t help but be open. But, I think in general, the space as a whole is just not kind to us. It’s really unfortunate, but I think that we’re eventually reaching a turning point, because for the longest we’ve been told to go make our own. We’re finally doing that. We’re finally popping up in spaces where you never really see us, and we’re not just there, but we’re at the forefront. We’re doing the podcasts, we’re hosting the spaces, we’re hosting the panels. We’re getting involved in deeper, more meaningful ways that previously we were denied access to. So, I do feel like the community as a whole is getting better. It’s definitely going to take some work, because people have to start getting used to seeing us in spaces that we weren’t in before.
Read the rest of Kia’s story in Issue 2, available now!