How the World’s Biggest Costume Maker Cracked Halloween
October 30, 2017
If you’ve ever dressed up as a movie or television character for Halloween, the costume you bought was probably made by Rubie’s. The odds drop a little with generic characters like witches or vampires—plenty of smaller companies make those—but with more than 20,000 costumes and accessories for sale at retailers like Walmart, Amazon, and Party City, Rubie’s has probably played a part in your Halloween festivities.
What started in 1951 as a soda shop/novelty store in Queens has, over the past 65 years, grown into an international business that earns hundreds of millions. Rubie’s has 3,000 employees, contracts with 12 factories in China, owns four factories in the U.S., and runs six large warehouses, four on Long Island, one in Arizona, and one in South Carolina. Rubie’s has also spawned 15 subsidiaries in countries such as Japan, the Netherlands, and the U.K. It sells Carnival costumes in Brazil, Day of the Dead dresses in Mexico, and Easter Bunny and Santa Claus suits around the world. But in America its bread and butter is still Halloween. The company and the holiday have enjoyed a relationship not unlike a happy marriage: The success of one fosters the growth of the other. “Halloween is not the same holiday it was even 10 years ago,” Beige says, with a smile. “I like to think we had a hand in that.”
Americans will shell out a record-breaking $8.4 billion on Halloween candy, costumes, and decorations this year, according to the National Retail Federation. That figure has jumped almost 70 percent in just 10 years, making Halloween the second-largest holiday in terms of decoration sales, behind Christmas. In the process, it’s become age-proof. “What was once a kid’s holiday has become something that most adults now participate in, too,” says Lesley Bannatyne, a historian and the author of Halloween: An American Holiday, an American History. Nearly half of all American adults will dress up this year, twice as many as 30 years ago. Candy and costumes are cheap enough that Halloween is also largely recession-proof, as well; sales actually increased in 2008 because, as Beige puts it, “almost anyone can buy a $9 mask from Walmart.”
But figuring out what that mask should be, and how many to make, isn’t easy. More people are dressing up for Halloween, but they’re doing it differently, picking costumes in early October based on news events, movies, or internet memes that went viral only a few weeks or months before. Rubie’s tries to anticipate Halloween trends a year in advance, but it’s constantly adjusting its plans as expected blockbusters flop (The Legend of Tarzan), beloved actors die (Gene Wilder’s Willy Wonka costume will be popular this year), or millions of people get swept up in the Pokémon Go craze and Beige finds himself mass-manufacturing last-minute Pikachu costumes to fill thousands of back orders. Pokémon will break into Rubie’s 10 best-selling costumes this year, which didn’t happen when it was popular the first time around. “Thank God we already had the license and the designs for that one,” he says. “Otherwise, it would’ve been a disaster.”