By day, Trent Fleury is a help desk administrator at a custom metalwork company. Nights and weekends, he’s sometimes a silver fox. As a member of MNFurs, a community committed to their crush on creatures, Fleury and his comrades bring their love of animals to life with costumes made by By Cats 4 Cats in White Bear Lake.
Founder Eric “Snapcat” Stevens purchased a black-panther costume for $400 after trying on a tiger costume at a camp-out near St. Louis, Missouri in 2000. Stevens, now 38, wanted a second costume, so he bought a cheap sewing machine and made a full-body custom-made white tiger costume in 2001. “Everyone wants to own their own business, and I thought this would be great for my creative outlet,” Stevens says. “Basically, I’m living the dream right now.”
Stevens’ sewing skills began to catch on with science fiction fans who dress up like characters, particularly of the feline variety. Word of mouth ramped up demand as he constructed about five costumes in 2009, about 15 in 2012 and an estimated 48 costumes of different species last year. “I’m booked usually six months ahead,” Stevens says. “I even have to close down my website for people looking for quotes every month or so, so I don’t get overwhelmed.”
Stevens’ talent overwhelmed Deron Adamavich. Two winters ago, the White Bear Lake man contacted Stevens, who was then living in Omaha, about a costume. “I didn’t have any reference art or any pictures,” Adamavich says. “I wanted a white lion with a big, poofy mane and just told him, ‘Just make it look great.’ ”
Adamavich met Stevens in Omaha, where he was presented with the final product. “I was absolutely speechless,” Adamavich says. A respectable 6-feet 2-inches when dressed in street attire, he put on the costume while still in Omaha that Easter Sunday and walked around the downtown area dressed as a 6-foot 6-inch lion. Families, bikers and shoppers all swooned and snapped photos. “It was a totally incredible experience for me,” Adamavich says. “It was the first time that I had a costume on. I wasn’t Deron; I was my character. You are someone else. It’s just different.”
The connection established at that first meeting was so strong they began a relationship, and Stevens moved to White Bear Lake later that year; the couple married in 2013.
Stevens’ differentiation is his craftsmanship and efficiency, Fleury says. On Fleury’s silver fox, Stevens took precise measurements from the end of Fleury’s arm to the tip of his fingers. “He is able to get those measurements precise,” Fleury says. “Then, when trying it on, it was perfect. Never any issues where things are too cramped or too long.”
Costumes commence at about $2,200 and go up from there; details can include stripes or LED lights. With that price tag comes routine correspondence. “I’m in communication with every single one of my customers, from when they give me a deposit to when they get the suit, and even a year after they have it,” Stevens says. “I do ask them to be brutally honest with me as far as what they like about it and what they don’t like about it, so I can make changes.”
Each costume has between 80–120 hours invested into it, with some bodies now done by a seamstress, which allows Stevens to focus on the head, paws, feet and tail.
When people see Stevens, Adamavich or Fleury in costume, they sometimes think it’s peculiar. “Sure, some people think it’s weird, but that’s just people,” Steven says. “ ‘What are you doing?’ That is the No. 1 question we get, ‘Who are you?’”
Stevens compared it to men in purple face paint and braids at Vikings games, those that enjoy bowling or those that “put a V8 in a ’68 Mustang.”
“We just say we are doing it for fun,” Stevens concludes.