While the statement that Phoenix Comicon knows that one size does not fit all could apply to the programming, including any and all pop culture genres and fandom, I literally mean that because fifty percent of their attendees and volunteers are female, they provide shirts in all sizes, including LADIES, something most cons don’t do. To get some details on how appreciated this is I spent time talking with the con’s Marketing director Jillian Squires before the convention last week.
For some context, Jillian, as Director of Marketing is one of those people who you rarely see during the convention, because so much of what she does is behind the scenes, managing several teams leading up to and during the con. Without her as Director of Marketing, no one would hear about awesome guests like Christopher Lloyd, or get their media badges to blog about it.
To kick things off we talked about the fact that convention merchandise is something that Phoenix Comicon has “been asked for years to do”, because “people want stuff with [the convention’s] logo on it”.
When it came to getting female shirts though, that was a direct result of who runs the con. Jillian revealed that:
One of our first questions was: What kind of items… volunteers are pretty split 50/50 average, and we talked about what WE like to buy… The ladies said I love shirts, but I can never find a good fit…let’s offer what we want
When I asked her if other conventions haven’t started doing this for their volunteers and attendees in the past, she commented by explaining:
I think there’s a lot of factors, [offering ladies shirts is] more expensive for sure… nobody has the same sizes for female shirts you have to find someone… not super small, or wonky sizing… and I think that a lot of cons because they’re volunteer based don’t have the time… Cons have traditionally have been male dominated… so they may not see the demand.
This of course steered the conversation to conventions in general, and how comics and pop culture are still sometimes treated like a guy thing (in case an example is needed, look no further than the comments about girls and comics made at an all male Denver ComicCon panel). Jillian addressed this by pointing out that not all conventions have fifty percent or more female attendees or volunteers, like Phoenix Comicon.
This presents an important chicken and egg concept. If cons want women at conventions, they have to meet their needs, whether it’s by offering well rounded programming or tee shirts. These may seem like small things, and they may fall into the category of first-world-problems, or in the case of cons nerd-world-problems. However, are cons willing to do that, especially since Jillian pointed out that “There’s not a lot of money in conventions, in the comic world specifically”? When I asked Jillian why it was easy for Phoenix Comicon to make these kinds of things a priority, having half attendees being women, this was her response:
Why does Phoenix Comicon have the female base it does… [Convention Director] Matt Solberg has created an environment that is fully inclusive, it’s an expression of that, that females feel safe and welcome…I don’t know other cons that have the number of female driven panels… I think it’s really just an extension of his philosophy.*
When I asked about the potential success of Phoenix Comicon’s merchandise (particularly the ladies shirt sizes), and whether other cons might follow suit if Phoenix Comicon did well with it Jillian mused that
The pop culture world is changing…. And traditionally females are the buying power, so I’m sure that as [this] becomes more mainstream more cons will … not be able to ignore it any more.
Finally when asked if this was just something that Phoenix Comicon was just testing the waters with, or if offering ladies sizes was something they were committed to, Jillian said that:
The entire merchandise thing depends on how well it goes at Phoenix Comicon, which I feel it will be successful… [and] we’ll always offer female shirts… it’s the right thing to do.
So, there we have it. While again it may not seem like a big deal to most convention attendees (mostly because most of them are still male at other conventions) Phoenix Comicon is once again stepping forward to make sure everyone feels valued at their convention.
*For examples of Phoenix Comicon Convention Director Matt Solberg’s philosophy on Phoenix Comicon’s inclusion attitudes and efforts see my interview with him on Phoenix Comicon and Cosplay is NOT Consent.