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Saturday, September 20, 2008

Flip Side of the coin.. a response to the Costume Conundrum

Not to my surprise I have gotten responses from persons affiliated with certain locally based bands but no one wants to go “on the record” to state exactly what their expenses are and how much of our costume cost is actually a profit.

Yet I have been told,“FYI”, that we masqueraders are misguided by the prices that Pekar India have quoted. I was also told that Pekar India is not a reliable source for imported costumes, several bands this year we left waiting for costumes that were never delivered or were delivered AFTER Carnival! Maybe that is why some of you masqueraders never received your costumes until Carnival Monday, if at all! I was also informed that it is doubtful that Pekar India was responsible for TRIBE’s Black Magic costume; while this may be true (or not) I have not received any official statement from any of the bands that the costumes Pekar India is advertising as his “work” is a misrepresentation. If any band wants to vouch for this they are free to email me at trinicarnivaldiary@ to set the record straight.

In addition no one seems to realize that I did not ask a rhetorical question:
Ok, so I know the COST of my costume is not all that I pay for when I choose to pay that price; we have the all inclusive feature to consider as well as security, music, cost overheads and all that but really, how much of that $500.00 that we are paying is purely profit if the COSTUME costs on average $45.00US?

I am not completely clueless as to the other expenses that go into running a band. In fact I have always stated that when masqueraders start to complain about high prices of costumes and bandleaders getting rich that they have a choice to either not pay the price or look for another band. People should also temper their criticisms of the fruits of a successful band leader who has turned Carnival into a business as the success did not come over night and involves continuous hard work over the years to achieve and maintain that success. For me personally I always set a budget for my costume, what I am willing to pay based on what the experience means to me, and when the day comes that I can no longer afford it I will either stop playing mas with my band of choice and look for another band that fits the criteria I am looking for (as well as my pocket) or stop playing mas altogether. However that does not mean that I will not speak out against the prices of costumes rising each year; ideally I would like to pay LESS than I budgeted for, thanks!

My issue with the cost of the imported costumes is that the cheaper cost (cheaper than having them made in Trinidad) is not passed on to the masquerader and the prices actually increase, why? If a band is importing costumes at a price of $45.00US shouldn’t the masquerader benefit from this “cheap” price with a costume that costs less than the average costume made in Trinidad? Every year band leaders sing the same some, every thing is going up in price! Cost of living has gone up, materials have gone up, labour has gone up .. these are the people making costumes in Trinidad.. and as someone living in Trinidad I can appreciate that EVERYTHING has skyrocketed in price; however these imported costumes are a fraction of the price, even when you add VAT (15%), Custom Duties ( maximum 40%), Insurance (2%) and Shipping the mark up still brings the cost of the costume for under $600.00TT (minus the headpiece). And speaking of the headpiece, I would love to see that for Carnival 2009 EACH and EVERY masquerader gets the headpiece as advertised at the band launch and website instead of a scaled down version with smaller plumes and less feathers!

Now unto the real topic of today which is the Band’s rebuttal:
I have been told that “any decent quality full costume” cannot be purchased for less than $120.00US before shipping, customs duty and VAT. This is at 2009 prices. One band has told me that Band expenses run around $1500.00TT per masquerader for an all-inclusive large band; this price includes food and drinks ,music, VAT, year round administration, staff, rents, storage, security (not just on the road),and that the cost can actually be even more if the band wants to be super efficient as many masqueraders expect.

Now you do the math on how much profit is made per masquerader based on a costume costing $3000.00TT. Add an extra $50.00US to the imported costume cost of $120.00US for the headpiece. When you get that figure multiply that by an average section size of 250 masqueraders. Finally multiply by the number of sections, around 12 on average, and work out the profit based on this ONE band’s figures. I am not even going to touch the fact that the MALE costumes cost considerably less than females to produce. Although the profit amounts to over $1 million dollars based on THESE calculations, not all the sections in the band are owned by the band leaders as the trend is to allow private sections owners.

A private section, which is a section leader that owns a special section in the band, has to pay what is known as a “band fee” which covers most of the all inclusive package for their masqueraders by the affiliated band (food, drinks, security, music etc). However private sections are responsible for producing and distributing their costume as well as some choose to have their own mas camp and website independent of the band they are affiliated with, which is an additional expense. The band fee ranges from $1000.00 per masquerader for a medium sized band to $1750.00-$2200.00 for the more popular, large scale, ultimate exclusive bands. The band fee also takes into consideration some profit element for the band; one band is known for instance to allow private sections to have female costumes only, the male sections being owned by the band.

Finally I am going to give you a breakdown of MOST of the expenses that factor into the cost of your costume:

cost of materials (bra, appliqué, foam, shorts, etc.)
Shipping costs,
Value Added TAX
Custom Duties
Design fees
Headpiece molds
Wire bending
Bags/Boxes for costume distribution
Goody bag
Items in Goody Bag (not all items are sponsored)
Venue, storage, security and Staff for registration AND distribution

Security Staff and managers
Road managers
Traffic officers
Rental of vehicles (trucks, maxi taxis for shuttle bus, vans)
Rental of equipment
Musical equipment (speakers, DJ equipment etc)
Hiring of D.J.s or Live Bands
BAR & bar staff
Food (inclusive of snacks, lunch and breakfast)
Servers (and all the salaries tied to catering)
T shirts for road,bar and security staff
Welder &Engineer (some mobile bars are custom fabricated)
Portable Toilets
Rental of location for lunch stop
Security for location for lunch stop
Cleaning crew for location for lunch stop
Medical team
Printing of signs and banners

Staff salaries
Equipment (computers etc.)
Utilities (electricity, telephone, internet, water)
Marketing costs incurred (advertisements, bill boards)
Website hosting & updating
Printing and publishing

Licenses and Fees
C.O.T.T (Copyright Organization)
NCBA (National Carnival Bands Association)
Importation of Feathers (licenses)

Sure many people think they can start a band and become a millionaire overnight but to do it RIGHT it takes a lot of planning and proper execution; too many start up bands are "bussing price" and offering shoddy services and amenities! So, now that we all have this information on exactly what the cost of your costume entails, do you still think the bands are gouging you, the masquerader with prices?
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