As many fashion competitions are, Her Universe Fashion Show is a self-funded venture. This means you not only have to pay for your look, model, hair, makeup, and accessories, you must also fund your own trip and stay in San Diego for Comic Con. It certainly makes the opportunity seem daunting, but there are a lot of ways to save money and fund your experience. It will always cost more than you think, so give yourself a bubble if you can.
What to Expect
People go all in for this competition and often spend way more than they anticipate. It’s expensive, but it doesn’t mean you can’t be creative about how you spend! Start with an ideal budget and be realistic about what is worthwhile for your construction. For example, I originally wanted to embroider the lettering on my Aliens coat, but the quote from the embroidery studio exceeded $800. I decided that hand embroidery would take far more time than I had to complete my look, and ultimately went with a much cheaper screen print option.
When you make it into the competition, I can’t stress enough to start your travel plans immediately to get the best deals. If you wait too long, the costs go up for airfare and places to stay are few and far between. I generally set up a saved airfare search on Kayak, which has a nifty feature to recommend the best times to buy your ticket.
If you are driving to the event from somewhere in California or surrounding areas, see if you can carpool with fellow designers or con goers. In past years, Her Universe has paid for on-site parking, but this is not always guaranteed. If you carpool, it’s easier to split the cost of parking for the day, which can be upwards of $60 per day on site. Some designers don’t drive but have access to parking where they are staying, so it’s not a bad idea to ask if anyone has an extra parking pass at their hotel or AirBnB.
RideShare or Public Transit
Rideshare services are a lifesaver for SDCC. I have used them every year, and the costs are generally pretty low for most rides if you are close by. Traffic can be a little crazy, but as someone who lives in NYC and experiences the traffic here, I found it to be quite easy, quick, and pleasant.
San Diego also has a trolly and bus service that will take you directly to the convention center as well. For more info, visit the SDCC website and look for updates on service as it gets closer to July.
San Diego has a huge turn out each year for SDCC, so hotels and other places to stay are always much more expensive than any other time of the year. Even lower quality hotels often cost at least $200-300 per night. San Diego Comic Con usually works with certain hotels offering deals for hotel rooms, but they fill up quickly. Early bird hotel deals are going on now as well that may offer some great discounts.
Each year I have had great luck finding AirBnB options that are close or in the Gaslamp district of downtown San Diego for much less $ than hotels. They are a usually 10-20 min walk from the convention center, or a 5 minute Uber ride. AirBnb and other home-share options can be plentiful if you look into them early enough. I have rented both a single room in an apartment, as well as a full multi-room lofts over the years through for varying prices. Beware of scams though, and make sure to look through people’s profiles and reviews before putting money down if you decide to go through a home-share site.
Buddying up with friends in a hotel or other rental can also be a great way to save money. Hotels can be super expensive, but if you are splitting the cost multiple ways it can be much more affordable (not to mention fun!). Also, hit up friends that live nearby to see if they have an extra bedroom or couch you can crash on.
Many designers also book hotels or other rentals outside of downtown or even outside of San Diego for better pricing. Another option is to only stay downtown for the night of the show and then move hotels the next day. If you do this, bring all your stuff in rolling suitcases to the show for ease of travel. You can also check them into the front desk at the Manchester Grand Hyatt (where HUFS takes place) in case you want to party after the show.
The closer you stay to the Convention Center, the more expensive it will be, and costs definitely go up Friday and Saturday night since they are the most popular days. Everyone is always exhausted after the night of the show, so often people skip out on Saturday and Sunday of the convention anyway. Last year I left on Friday night, and years before I left on Saturday, even though I was basically too tired to do anything on Saturday. The competition and the energy that it brings you can absolutely drain you for the rest of the weekend, so make sure to take care of yourself.
Comic Con Badges
San Diego Comic Con badges are not easy to come by, and are already sold out for 2019. In the last several years, Her Universe has given each designer one weekend pass (in 2015 these were not provided). However, there is nothing in writing that guarantees these badges each year; much like parking passes, they are a courtesy of Her Universe. It is possible to find badges for the convention other ways, but the SDCC website states that “Comic-Con badges are non-transferable and may not be exchanged.”
The experience of the show without attending the convention is quite incredible itself, so if you can’t see the show with your friends, it is still very fun to walk around San Diego and see the crowds and events around town. The fashion show is open to everyone, not just badge holders, so enjoy that and invite your friends to see you rock the runway.
The first thing many designers who make the finals think to do is set up a GoFundMe for their friends and family to donate to making their look and funding their trip. GoFundMe is a crowdfunding platform that people use for a variety of projects and fund-raising efforts. It can be a great way to get your fans to help you get to San Diego. Gofundme IS a business however, so keep in mind that they charge a small transaction fee for every donation you receive, which is how they are able to support the platform.
Some GoFundMe campaigns get a bad rap, and although I personally don’t mind people raising money this way (I funded my 2017 model’s trip entirely through a campaign), there are many other ways to fund yourself that don’t constitute asking loved ones to pay for you. If you do decide to use a crowdfunding platform, it’s best to be very transparent about what the costs will go to. Detail out your material costs as well as your trip costs. It’s not a bad idea to focus on one thing specifically to fund. In 2017, I did a model search in order to spotlight a person with disabilities as my model. I wanted to pay for her traveling expenses, so I set up a GoFundMe campaign in which I detailed the costs of her plane ticket and hotel info. This was much more successful than just making a blanket campaign, and my donors knew where every penny they donated went.
Some designers have been lucky enough to find sponsors to pay for their materials. Many areas have arts foundations and grants that are set up specifically for this kind of project. The easiest way to find these things is just to google your town and “art foundations” or “art grants”. Google is your friend. You can also look up “artist resource” for your city that may have places that can help as well.
Some fabric or craft stores may even give you discounts or free items in exchange for showing your work in their windows or on their websites. It never hurts to go in and ask if they offer any sponsorships for fashion designers or artists.
There are so many options out there for sourcing inexpensive materials, as 2017 Audience Choice winner Grace DuVal explains:
“I’m a HUGE believer that extraordinary art doesn’t have to cost you thousands of dollars to make. You can make spectacular things out of anything. My biggest piece of advice, always, is to ASK for what you want. The worst anyone can say is no.
My last year in HUFS my piece was made entirely out of old towels that I sourced from gyms around Chicago. I just started calling gyms and asking if I could have their old towels. Most thought I was crazy, but a few chains got totally on board and were thrilled to be contributing to an artist and her crazy schemes. The year before that I made my outfit almost entirely out of bike tubes. Again, I just started calling bike shops and asked them if I could have their busted tubes. They thought I was crazy, but were totally down.
Both of those primary materials were totally free, even if I paid for them in the extra labor of sourcing and cleaning them. Still, my point is that if you can get over being the crazy person asking for other people’s trash, you can get so much amazing material for free, AND keep things out of landfills.
Go forth and ask for things! People say yes more than you would think!
There are always out-of-the-box ways to source materials. Thrift stores often carry fabric scraps, and things like curtains, sheets, or oversized garments can often be repurposed. Cheap or free materials are available often if you ask around in places like factories or large scale upholstery companies. There are organizations that do fabric recycling such as FabScrap, which takes donations from designers, costumers, and interior decorators and resells them at low costs so that they don’t end up in a landfill. Grace also recommends Freecycle and the free section of Craigslist for finding free items.
Don’t underestimate the power of couponing either! We all know that JoAnn Fabrics does amazing coupons that can potentially save designers a ton on supplies. Sign up for mailing lists for them and/or other stores you shop at frequently. Keep a list of items you need, and then take advantage of the big sale days and coupons.
Other Funding Ideas
There are a multitude of things you can do to save for this competition. Many designers begin saving a little every week in order to afford their materials and trip. A little at a time will add up. Others have had great luck with either separate bank accounts for their creative endeavors, or literally just paying into a Venmo or PayPal account and only using those funds for your project.
With Marie Kondo Fever hitting the nation from her new show on Netflix called Tidying Up, many people have been thanking items and parting from them either by trashing, donating, or selling them. Look around and see if you have any worthwhile items to sell that no longer spark joy for you. Tax returns can also be a nice chunk of cash to use.
It’s also important to budget as you go and spend your hard earned cash on the most important things first. Be smart about purchasing important things like fabric versus less important detail materials.
Grace offers another great piece of advice for fundraising:
“Also a great question to ask is how can you make your art pay for itself? I’m constantly scrolling callforentry.org to find other wearable art or gallery competitions that I can enter pieces into. If I get lucky and make a sale or win, I use that money to fund other shows I want to be in.
For example, I’ve taken parts of my HUFS piece from 2016, combined it with some newer elements and entered it into two shows, one of which I won. That prize money then helped pay for me to go to New Zealand to be in another competition. That same 2016 HUFS piece is about to be reconfigured again and hopefully entered into this year’s World of WearableArt.
The point being, make your art work for you. You’re all so skilled and you all deserve to have your work shown in a multitude of locations that can all potentially fund and further all of your creative ventures.”
Upcoming blogs in this series:
Presentation: The Runway Experience
Many designers have never exhibited on the runway until the show. This blog will cover bringing the complete look to life on stage, as well as what to expect when you step in front of the judges.
HUFS Winners Round Table
Past winners of HUFS will tell you what they looked for when judging the finalists, and will also tell you what NOT to do!
So You Think You Can HUFS: Series Introduction
The first blog in this series gives an overview of what to expect from both the competition and upcoming blogs in the series.
Creating A Concept Part 1: Push the Drama
How do you even begin to design? This section will provide tips on brainstorming a concept based on a fandom, choosing or inventing a unique silhouette, and making it fashion.
Creating A Concept Part 2: Submitting Your Design
As you design for the Her Universe Fashion Show, you may wonder how to best to fit the criteria of the competition and still showcase yourself as a designer. Highlights include presentation tips, competition strategy, and how to design to GET IN.
Getting in: Construction, Execution, and Project Management
So you have the perfect design! This section covers tips on bringing your ideas to life in a professional way through construction and execution, planning your time, and planning and raising funds for you trip.