One of the highlights of both Halloween and convention season are the costumes and cosplays. From elaborate Q costumes to people cosplaying as their favorite minor character, it’s always fun to see people’s creativity and artistry at work. But diving into cosplay itself can be daunting. After all, not everyone has a sewing machine or even the crafting knowledge necessary to create Starfleet uniforms, Vulcan robes, or Cardassian armor. These costumes can be expensive and challenging to tackle, which in turn scares fans away from trying their hand at costuming.
Enter Kellan, better known to the Star Trek fandom as the Thrifty Trekkie. An expert at making costumes on a low budget and using thrifted or affordable materials, their cosplays stand out both in terms of accuracy and in creativity. Kellan’s costumes include Major Kira, Garak, and Ezri Dax. And now, StarTrek.com is pleased to exclusively debut their newest creation, Ensign Tendi from Lower Decks.
We sat down with them to discuss their costumes, how to cosplay on a budget, and why the Star Trek fandom matters to them.
StarTrek.com: What was your first contact with Star Trek, and how did you join the fandom?
Kellan: Back in 2009, I went to see the new movie in theaters with a friend for her birthday, and I hadn't really been exposed to it before. I knew what it was, I knew who the characters kind of were from a cultural osmosis type perspective, but I really enjoyed the movie and I wanted to know the story behind it. So I started watching The Original Series and kind of went from there.
What does Star Trek mean to you, and what does the Star Trek fandom mean to you?
K: I love the fandom. I love the show because it teaches inclusivity. It teaches about a hopeful future. It shows that all of us have strengths. All of us have a complimentary way to help each other achieve a goal.
How did you first become interested in cosplaying? Who was the first character you cosplayed as?
K: I went to the Star Trek Las Vegas Convention in 2014. It was my first time going. At that time I had only seen The Original Series and the movies. So my first cosplays were Saavik and Dr. McCoy because those were two characters that I really enjoyed at the time.
Your specialty is thrifty cosplays that are affordable for all cosplayers. Why is that so important for cosplayers of all skill levels?
K: I think it's just the art form itself [that] is really intimidating. I feel like cosplay has become a more mainstream, [and is] almost modeling to some degree. Of course there are people that are really talented at sewing these things from scratch and working with so many different materials, but that's not the norm. I wanted to show people that they don't need to be able to do all of those things in order to look great.
What has been your favorite Star Trek cosplay so far?
K: Really the only cosplays I've done are Star Trek, so it's a hard choice. Personally, I really enjoyed doing any kind of Trill cosplay. I think those were my favorites. The one that people like to see most though is generally my Kira costumes. I always have a lot of fun in those.
Which one has been the most challenging?
K: I don't know — I've learned something new every time. I think possibly the Cardassian armor because that didn't require any sewing, but it required a lot of other skills that I hadn't used before then. I'm cutting vinyl and trying to make hot glue look good on a large scale. A lot of studs and a lot of poking yourself as you're putting the studs in, but probably that one, but like I said, no sewing. So if you can't sew, that's a good one to start with.
Your most recent build is Ensign Tendi — can you walk us through the process of building this costume?
K: Absolutely. I wanted to do something current. I'm really excited to have a currently-airing Star Trek to work on, and I wanted to use pieces that anybody could find, so I tried to keep it as simple as I could. It's two turtleneck shirts and a pair of leggings. You could use whatever black pants you want. The wig is going to be a little bit of a challenge. I'll try and walk people through that one too. I used a few different methods — I tried to swim cap at first, and that wasn't quite stretchy enough, so I'm going to try using just a wig cap to see how that goes. But I think that's even a little bit better because you get a wig cap when you buy a wig, so you don't even need to go out hunting for any additional pieces.
The makeup is going to be something new for me. I don't do a whole lot of body paint, but I'm looking forward to that. I haven't tried the whole thing on yet, so it's going to be a surprise for me as much as for everyone else, but I hope at least the build process was easy enough. It's just cutting the two shirts and merging them, merging the shoulder piece onto the rest of the shirt. You can cover your stitching with that white trim to hide whatever. My hand sewing is very sloppy, so I like to come up with ways to hide it when I can, [and] just make it as fun and approachable as I can for beginners, because even if you don't want to be Tendi specifically, or any characters specifically, you can make the uniform.
What are the specific challenges of cosplaying an animated character versus a live action one?
K: Trying to translate the animated style onto the shirt was a bit of a challenge because you know that the insignia and the pips are a little bit larger scale than we usually see on humans playing these characters. So trying to make the lines seem as stark and drawn as they are on the screen is going to be different. Although I've seen some people outline, like draw their eyes around with a black so it looks like it was drawn on with a marker. I'm not sure if I'm going to go that route. I think I'm going to try and merge the two styles a little bit so that it looks not realistic, but not fully drawn, because I still want people to know that it's a costume.
So you've expressed excitement at cosplaying new characters Adira and Gray on Twitter.
K: Oh yeah.
What does the inclusion of trans and non-binary characters in Star Trek mean to you?
K: God, I'm so excited. Cosplay for me has been a great way for me to explore gender identity. It's been there with me since I first started cosplaying, however many years ago that was. It's great to be able to see someone like me on the screen, and to know that when I dress as either of those characters, it's part of me, and there's not going to be a question of why I'm cosplaying a certain character. I think it will be a little bit more obvious. In the past I’ve tried, especially with the Trill, which is why I'm so excited for Gray. I think the Trill are generally a good representation of a genderfluid race. So I enjoy cosplaying them for that reason, but I don't know if that translates to everyone that sees me, but in this case, it'll be obvious to people that see me because that's who the character is explicitly.
Last question: what are some tips you have for cosplay beginners?
K: I think it's very important that you start with your favorite character, because you want to be excited about it and you want that excitement to show through in your finished product. The only costumes that I'd give up on making are ones that I just don't feel a connection to. If I'm making like a generic uniform, I generally don't finish those because there's no spark there, there's no connection to a character or a story. So I think that's the best place to start; really think about who you connect with, and then regardless of your skill level, the love for that character is going to show through when you're done.
Kate Gardner (she/they) is the editorial assistant for StarTrek.com
Star Trek: Lower Decks streams exclusively in the United States on CBS All Access and in Canada, airs on Bell Media’s CTV Sci-Fi Channel and streams on Crave.
Star Trek: Discovery streams on CBS All Access in the United States, airs on Bell Media’s CTV Sci-Fi Channel and streams on Crave in Canada, and on Netflix in 190 countries.