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Local business creates costumes and mascots for clients around the world

Greg Manger shows the file of Brutus Buckeye. Designers use the file as a reference for how to create the Ohio State athletic mascot. The documents date back to the 1980s when Costume Specialist first began creating Brutus. Credit: Lydia Freudenberg | Lantern Reporter

According to the calendar, it is socially allowed for adults to wear costumes in public Tuesday. But for Wendy Goldstein, an assistant professor in fashion and retail studies, costumes are a daily part of life.

Combining her lifelong love for theater with her sewing ability, Goldstein created Costume Specialists in 1981, right after she graduated from Ohio State with a master’s in fashion and retail studies, which at the time was called textiles and clothing.

Located in downtown Columbus in a three-story renovated warehouse, the company is the world’s only character and mascot company to produce both inflatable and foam handmade custom and rentable designs.

Goldstein said the inspiration for starting the company camewhile trying to create her own undergraduate major at Ohio State. The college denied her request to combine theater, fashion and art courses, claiming it could never make her a living.

“That was sort of the inspiration for me, it was sort of like, ‘Oh yeah? Watch me’,” Goldstein said laughing. “So afterward, … my husband and I decided to open a costume store together. He was going to be the business part and I was going to be the creative and do theatrical work, and that’s pretty much how we started.”

And she made a living.

Costume Specialists creates designs and prototypes of the costumes, forms the molds for mascot heads, cuts fabric electronically on a 35-foot table and hand-stitches small details like buttons and bows. Even maintenance, washing and shipping trunks are provided.

Lovierèe Simmons, the company’s production buyer and an Ohio State alumna, purchases all the materials needed to make the costume, from foam to a particle shade or texturized fabric. She said it can be stressful, but the work environment helps.

“When I first started, I didn’t believe there is that much that goes into a costume, but there are so many little things,” she said. “I like the creative environment, being able to come in every day and do something you love.”

The 35-employee team has created Peter Rabbit for The White House, designs for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and Elmo for the touring “Sesame Street” show. And for the past few decades, the Brutus Buckeye head comes to life thanks to this local business.

Going beyond the United States., the company’s costumes have shipped to countries such as England, France, Turkey, Mexico, China and Japan.

Greg Manger, Costume Specialists’ vice president and an Ohio State alumnus, said working internationally with license holders like Michelin and Kool-Aid to create ethical mascots helps strengthen their brand recognition and customer loyalty.

“We typically don’t compete on price, we compete on quality and that is how we have carved out our niche in the industry by providing quality costumes and developing a relationship with these license-holders,” Manger said.

Manger personally delivered costumes to foreign countries to ensure the design arrives safe and in proper condition.

After 15 years with the company, Manger now oversees a lot of the daily work since Goldstein switched to long-range planning. Manger said he’s enjoyed working with Goldstein through the years.

“Wendy is very creative, she has that creative mindset, and has a good eye for business and opportunities,” he said.

Even though Goldstein might not be highly involved with the design aspect anymore, she still looks forward to adding her creative touch when possible.

“I love the creative process, without a doubt, and collaborating with the people I work with to create something from nothing,” Goldstein said.

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