- Associated Press - Friday, September 23, 2016

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (AP) - Kory Burch and Kevin Austin have been making “Star Wars”-inspired costumes for nearly four years, but they’ve been stumped by only one request.

“We had a guy ask for a ‘Pokemaster steampunk Jedi sky-pirate,’ ” Burch said.

A what now?

“I didn’t even know where to go,” Burch said.

The Overland Park couple quit their day jobs about a year ago to focus on their company, Saint’s Customs, The Kansas City Star (https://bit.ly/2cKDvNJ ) reports. They specialize in making costumes for cosplayers (those folks who go to comic conventions dressed as superheroes and supervillains, or icons from “Star Trek” and “Star Wars”).

But they have aspirations beyond being “The ‘Star Wars’ Costume Guys.”

“We’ve done other things - we make regular garments,” Burch said. “We have other stuff in the books to be worked on, like a Dr. Strange costume. We did a Magneto costume for a guy. But right now, ‘Star Wars’ is what everybody wants.”

And when Burch says “everybody,” he means it.

“We have people from all around the world - Norway, China, Japan, the U.K. - wearing our stuff,” he said. “Facebook is a good thing, because that’s all we have to have to spread the word.”

Not too shabby for a couple of guys who used to work at Piercing Pagoda at Oak Park Mall.

Austin is from the KC area. Burch is an emigre from Florida. He came to Kansas City when his grandmother was diagnosed with cancer. She was originally from this area, so when she was given six months to live, she wanted to be closer to family.

“She ended up living three years past what they told her,” he said. “She was just the strongest. She was a fighter.”

His grandmother was the one who taught him to sew. Buttons on his siblings’ school uniforms at first, then the entire uniforms.

After she died in 2003, Burch decided to stay in KC because he was dating someone at the time and, he jokes, “I was young and stupid.” But he also liked the snow.

“Growing up in Florida as a kid, we didn’t have snow,” he said. “My mom was here one winter and was, like, ‘No, I can’t do the snow thing.’ I like the seasons.”

Burch and Austin met while working in Oak Park Mall. They dated five years before getting married in 2011.

“We drove up to Iowa to get our marriage license - this was before it was legal, of course - and then we had the ceremony at his aunt’s house in Blue Springs,” Burch said. “We fit 100 people in her living room and I still think, ‘How did we do that in somebody’s living room?’ “

Then, about four years ago, Austin told Burch he was going to go meet some “Star Wars” fans.

“I was like, ‘You’re not going to go meet strange people by yourself, so I’m going to go with you,’ ” Burch said.

The group was the Rebel Legion, a “Star Wars” fandom that - like its parent organization, the 501st Legion - dresses up like characters from the movies for charity events. Soon after, Austin and Burch created their first Jedi costume.

“We kept doing more, and people would look at our stuff and say, ‘You guys need to do this,’ ” Burch said. “At the time, we were both working 40 hours a week, and we said, ‘No, no. There’s no way.’ “

In time, they decided maybe they could make it work if they made costumes that were detail-oriented and expensive. They dipped their toes in the cosplay pool by taking just a few commissions at first. A Darth Vader costume for about $3,000, for example, or a Kylo Ren for $1,500.

And from there, business blew up. Especially after “The Force Awakens” came out last December.

“I just shipped one to Germany,” Burch said. “I have one that’s going to the U.K. - we have a lot going to the U.K.”

Burch quit his other jobs in August 2015; Austin followed suit last October. In time, they hope to get officially licensed by Lucasfilm.

“We’re part of tons of ‘Star Wars’ groups,” Burch said. “We’ll post pictures of costumes, and people from all over the world will say, ‘I want that exact costume, or I want this character from that movie.’ “

Saint’s made a full Jedi outfit - tunic, robes, arm wraps, hood - for Airrion Scott of Baltimore. The order was all placed and purchased via Facebook Messenger and PayPal. Scott didn’t meet Austin and Burch in person until several months later.

“They were very methodical,” said Scott, a member of the worldwide lightsaber sparring group Saber Legion. “They asked for a ton of measurements - in places I didn’t think they’d need measurements for. But I’m extraordinarily happy with the finished product. They really pulled everything together with fit and finish.”

Sometimes fans will ask for something that’s just completely mental, hence the aforementioned “Pokemaster steampunk Jedi sky-pirate.” Hearing Austin and Burch list the costume mashups they’ve fashioned is hilarious.

Austin: “We’ve had an ‘Adventure Time’ Jedi.”

Burch: “A barbarian Jedi.”

Austin: “A Zelda Jedi.”

Burch: “We did a Native American Jedi .”

Austin: “. from a kid of Cherokee descent.”

Burch: “We did a ‘Game of Thrones’ Jedi crossover.”

Austin: “A Pokemon Jedi.”

And on and on.

Austin and Burch’s costumes, however, are no joke. An outfit has to look only so good for a big budget movie - you can always erase something with special effects.

But people are ordering Saint’s Customs outfits to wear around conventions and charity events, sometimes for hours at a time, despite their utter impracticality. Kylo Ren’s outfit, for example, is several layers, some wool.

“When he’s on Starkiller base (in ‘The Force Awakens’), it makes sense because it’s a snowy planet,” Burch said. “But honestly, when he’s traveling through the galaxy, it’s like, ‘Dude, this is hot.’ “

Austin and Burch spend a lot of time getting the details just right. One of the biggest: no seams.

“And if there are closures, they’re always hidden,” Austin said. ” ‘Star Wars’ doesn’t like seams. They don’t like buttons. They don’t like zippers. The garments are just supposed to stay closed, somehow.”

(Perhaps the Force?)

A few weeks ago when we visited their studio in the Arts Asylum downtown, Austin and Burch were assembling various Kylo Ren costumes, which they said are the most difficult to produce. Each can take a full 40-hour work week. The easiest? A simple Jedi outfit, which Burch said he could knock out in an hour if he had to.

Between filling orders, Austin and Burch are freeze-framing the trailer for “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” trying to determine what fans are going to want next.

Before the film is released in December, Burch has another big project. In a corner room of the studio is a knockout shimmery green and black dress. Burch won Miss Gay Missouri in April and plans to wear that gown when he competes in the Miss Gay America pageant next month in Memphis.

“I am designing my own evening gown, which is stressful,” Burch said. “But at the same time I’m excited to showcase my talents.”


Information from: The Kansas City Star, https://www.kcstar.com

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