Arts & Life
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This article was published 22/11/2018 (628 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
A Westman tailor has found a creative outlook to explore her fandom, while also establishing her own business.
Striking a balance between school and her regular job, Onix Collette is becoming a titan of the furry community with her custom fur suit business Onix Angel Creations.
Furries are people who are fans of cute animals with human characteristics, like one sees in a Disney movie, Collette said. Often members of the community will don suits of their favourite anthropomorphic animals.
"This is weird, we’ll flat out admit that," Collette said. "It’s not something you see every day and that’s OK ... It’s just a hobby."
A creative process, fur suit characters can be a real animal, mythical or even made up.
A recent grad from Assiniboine Community College in Interactive Media Arts, Collette is using her skills as a graphic designer and with a sewing machine to establish a recognized brand within the furry community.
Collette, 20, began making fur suits when she was 13. She got her start after designing her own Halloween costumes, wanting something that wasn’t available in stores.
Her first fur suit was a cute white dove named Avianna who was a member of the Royal Canadian Air Force. She launched Onix Angel Creations soon after, jumping right into fur suit design. She has made more than 20 other suits for both herself and customers since then.
However, not all costumes are cute — there is a small segment of the community that creates scary costumes. They are not as common because they are less approachable.
Collette herself has a demon goat named Beez who has toured across North America.
A self-taught fur suit designer and maker, Collette has become a master of her trade through years of trial and error.
"It’s a long journey," she said.
Running her own business can be stressful, largely because most of her clients are generated through self promotion.
Complicating matters, the majority of her clients are from the United States. Finding clients can be hit and miss, but Collette has found that her client base is slowly growing.
"People from the States, they like the Canadian dollar; it’s cheaper," Collette said.
To get the measurements, clients send in a "duct tape dummy," where using a paint suite one duct tapes their entire body to form a mould. The dummy is then sent to Collette, who uses the measurements to make a custom form-fitting fur suit.
"I then stuff that like a custom mannequin of you," Collette said.
The construction of a suit offers limitless opportunities, where one can add fans, animatronics, lights, sounds, moving jaws and more. Collette uses resin or upholstery foam to sculpt the costume into an animal shape.
"There’s no limit to these costumes," Collette said. "It’s a completely open and creative thing."
Using fake fur, Collette imports most of her materials from the United States. Given recent tariffs imposed by the U.S., Collette has faced the difficult task of increasing her prices.
"It’s a struggle," Collette said.
Made by hand, the suits take at least six months to create and cost any where upward of $1,200.
Given the price of the suits, not every furry owns a costume.
"You don’t have to own a fur suit to be a furry," Collette said.
The creation of suits is a collaboration between Collette and her clients.
Justin Zinger, aka Toasty Avocado Snep snow leopard, is one of Collette’s most recent clients. Zinger is a computer tech posted in CFB Shilo.
"I own a house, I’m a well respected member of the community and well known on base," Zinger said, "I’m 100 per cent human, I just really love this snow leopard; he’s adorable."
When Zinger first became interested in the community, he called himself a closet furry because he was a afraid of what people would think, based on the misconceptions he had heard about furries.
Coming out of the closet as a furry two years ago, he did face some razzing at first for it, but Zinger said that the snow leopard has since become a staple within the community.
Prior to making the suit, Zinger commissioned a character reference sheet from an artist which includes multiple detailed renderings of the character Collette then used to bring Toasty to life. He went through three different designs before he found the perfect one.
"I gave my paper to Onix and said ‘please bring this to life’ … Her pieces are absolutely amazing," Zinger said.
Working together, the duo was able to make Toasty a reality over the course of eight months. Officially breaking in the full suit in October, Zinger has found it to be the highlight of his life.
"Onix did a fabulous job," Zinger said. "I got really giddy and excited."
When Zinger puts on his Toasty costume, he become the character. He does not talk, and although he will meow or hiss on occasion, he instead expresses himself with his hands and tail.
Collette currently has eight pieces, although she mainly uses five, and every one has a completely different personality.
These personalities can be completely created from the aether, while others can be based on family pets.
"It’s a very important escape," Zinger said, "Being a furry is fun."
The key, Collette said, is the ability to use body language to be expressive.
For Zinger, Toasty comes from a love of big cats and how they are majestic and deadly, but also goofy.
"When I’m in Toasty I’m a huge brat," Zinger said.
Attending the Wild Prairie Fur Con in Winnipeg in August in a partial suit, which included the head, paws and tail, Zinger introduced Toasty to the public. The convention was the first furry event of its kind in Winnipeg, and had more than 180 guests.
Collette and Zinger hope to see this passion for furries expand into the Westman region.
"Brandon is like a ghost town," Collette said. "That’s my goal; to get a lot of activity going on here."
Creating the Facebook group "Westman Furries" in 2014, Collette has been able to foster a group in Westman, gaining close to 70 members.
The community is welcoming, and they encourage anyone interested in learning more about the group to come to an event. The only thing they ask is for respect, and that one ask permission before touching or hugging a furry.
"Pretty much anyone can be a furry. There’s people that are lawyers, police officers, students, young kids," Zinger said.
The headspace created by the suit is what draws the majority of people to the furry community, as it offers a chance for one to become someone else forgetting about everyday stresses and worries. The suits can even help one deal with anxiety, shyness and depression, Collette said.
"It’s like your happy place," Collette said. "It feels amazing."
Donning the suit is a liberating experience, giving one the chance to slip into a second skin that helps the worries of the world wash away, Zinger said.
"I get to go out have fun, jump around and forget about life," Zinger said.
One of the aspects that has hampered the growth of the furry community is the fear some have in coming out, largely due to the misconceptions that surround the group. Many furries face accusations of being gay or pedophiles, Collette said.
Zinger has faced some soft ribbing from his military counterparts, but is happy to explain what it means to be a furry. A weird myth Collette has encountered is the assumption that furries are basement dwellers that literally live in their suits.
"It’s general misconceptions, just like anything in the world." Zinger said, "Furries are probably the most amazing, understanding and caring people that I have met in my life."
Using their costumes, one of the best parts of being a furry is the joy they bring to the community. Zinger and Collette cited going to Shoppers Mall at Halloween as an exciting experience, where they had the opportunity to bond with the community, take photos and have a fun time.
Kids especially love the giant animals.
"The feeling that you get from seeing people smile is so freaking great," Zinger said.
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