With her Bubbalicious-pink T-shirt and messy lavender wig, you could easily mistake Tanya Mangiafico for just another Pegasister or KatyCat. Or both. She's actually the savvy businesswoman at the helm of Tawnie Bow Studios, a growing wig business catering to cosplayers, the superfans who dress like comic book and anime characters at conventions and fan events.
Since launching her wig concession and online store in 2007, Mangiafico, who goes by Tawnie, has become a familiar character at comic cons around the country where, in addition to manning the Tawnie Bow wig booth, she cosplays Sylveon from Pokemon, a Rainbow Dash/Alice In Wonderland mash-up, and several other characters.
"I like to costume and people used to ask me how to fix their wigs and it kind of went from just helping them with theirs to making them for them," she tells me, while fielding questions from an endless stream of caped crusaders and warrior women perusing the wigs displayed around her booth at New York Comic Con.
Tawnie still does custom work but the bulk of her business is selling stock henlon wigs at special events and online. Sales have been brisk over the last three years and she's managed to double her numbers with each successive year.
"Three-and-a-half years ago I had maybe 25 styles of wigs. Now I have almost 200," says Tawnie, of the thriving Tolland, Conn.-based business she runs with her husband, an accountant who handles the finances. "My primary customer base is 16-24 (year-olds) who like to wear costumes and cosplay, although we also do work with people who are having health issues such as cancer and alopecia."
Pony tail wigs are among her best-selling styles because they can be styled both for cosplay and street wear. Most of her customers are American but Tawnie gets a lot of "Lolita" wig orders from Sweden. She attributes this to personal preference and doesn't ask why. As part of a team that hits the road for much of the fall, travelling between comic cons and fan gatherings, she's often on the frontline of the latest cosplay trends.
"Supernatural has gotten really popular so I've been getting a lot of wigs that are for the Supernatural characters like Dean, Sam and Castiel," she says of her best-selling comic con styles. "When it comes to anime, the sports shows are getting really popular, like Free! and Haikyuu!!
Animazement, a fan-run anime convention in Raleigh, N.C., is one of her favorite events. "It has one of the best cosplay communities that I've seen," she says. "People come to my booth and they ask me questions and if I'm busy the person next to them will explain to them how to do what they're looking to do."
Like the expert tie-dyed T-shirt vendor at a Grateful Dead gathering, Tawnie learned about wigs by hand-dying a lot of them and she's often asked for coloring tips.
"Cosplay wigs don't take hair dye well," she says. "If you're just doing the tips, color them with a Sharpie (permanent marker.) If you're going to be doing the entire wig, cut open your Sharpie and mix it in 30 percent alcohol. Then you can [pour the mixture into a spray bottle and] spray your wig."
She doesn't recommend the Sharpie method for human hair. Definitely not. When it comes to a Sharpie dye job, a wig's the way to go.