Anime Matsuri (AM) is an anime and Japanese culture convention based in Houston, TX that attracts a lot of lolita attention because of the amount of high profile guests they invite. I had a pretty okay experience with Anime Matsuri until they did some stupid things to me. I am writing out my experience in order to put the truth out there. I am not looking for pity or sympathy, but warning whoever decides to become involved with them. I stayed silent for various reasons, but now I can finally move on.
The timeline of this story has to take place several years. The main players are:
Me, Buttcape: my first name is Stephany
John Leigh: Co-founder/Events Director/PR/Website Manager of Anime Matsuri, Deneice's husband, likes to make 10 year long speeches at every event he runs
Deneice Leigh: Chairman of Anime Matsuri, John's wife
Jessamyn: "founder" of the HLC facebook group, AM staff member, photographer for GLW
Tati: second facebook mod of HLC, not AM staff
There were two other mods appointed after me, but they did not have any major roles.
My History with the Houston Lolita CommunityI joined the Houston Lolita Community in order to meet people with a common interest and possibly become friends with them. At the time, the Houston community's livejournal was pretty much dead. Tati and another person made a post about having a meetup in the period of inactivity, so I decided to go to it. My first meetup was in 2010-11 (can't remember the exact date). At that meetup I met Jessamyn, Tati, and one other person. After that meetup, we thought it would be a good idea to make a facebook group since livejournal sucks for organizing things. Jessamyn made the fb group a few weeks afterwards and she and Tati were co-mods. I was offered a mod position a few months after since I like to help people by answering questions. I accepted since it wasn't supposed to be that difficult. A mod was supposed to accept and reject join requests, delete spam, and keep the group clean and civilized.
My First Anime Matsuri (2012)My first Anime Matsuri was in 2012 when Baby, the Stars Shine Bright, Alice and the Pirates, and Midori Fukasawa were invited for the first time along with Dolldelight. I believe this was my first convention ever, so I can not speak about events in prior years.
Anime Matsuri's involvement with HLC in planning their 2012 convention was practically nonexistent. I believe the first time I learned of John was through one of Deneice's livestreams. AM holds livestreams prior the convention that tell people news and answer questions. I mentioned the HLC group in a livestream chat, and shortly after John Leigh sent a request to join the request. I was naive; I foolishly accepted the request, thinking that having a connection to brand would help spread the fashion. Later I would realize that I was hella wrong apparently. There were two tea parties, one on Saturday and one on Sunday, but I only went to the one on Sunday. This was the first time AM had ever hosted a tea party. There was one translator present and nothing major went wrong. That con was like a 6/10, nothing really drastic happened.
My Second Anime Matsuri (2013)Baby and AatP were invited back as guests along with Midori and Misako Aoki. I was recruited to wear AatP in their promotional video and was "accepted" into the fashion show.
Friday: There were many problems with the fashion show. Models were backstage cramped in a small room not meant for 20-30 people, furniture, and clothing. It got really hot, but models weren't allowed to leave the room. The food provided was only Pizza Hut pizza and some packaged breads. The pizza was simple, I liked it, but other models had problems with it. Those models didn't say anything about it the entire night, so they ended up not eating anything. After makeup and hair, models took individual pictures. After that, there was a whole lot of waiting around since the fashion show was delayed 2-3 hours. The fashion show finished around 11 PM. Then models were brought up to the top floor in one of the best suites to do another photoshoot. Like what the fuck, we were sweaty, our feet hurt since brand shoes are hella uncomfortable, and some people didn't even eat. One girl ended up passing out, so the photoshoot was cancelled. Volunteers ended up fetching leftover food meant for volunteers and guests to give to the models. Side note, Tati was selected to model this year, but she declined since she was physically unable. This comes into play later.
Sunday: There were no Japanese translators for either tea party. At the Sunday tea party, the mods were called up and handed a plaque for "the mods' service to lolita." Um okay. We/I didn't really do anything though.
This plaque stays in Jessamyn's house. But really, this is one way John will play you into thinking you're important. He'll give out free stuff in order to gain trust. I don't think anything else of significance happened since I remembered having an ok time for the rest of the weekend despite venue problems, 5/10.
My Third Anime Matsuri (2014)
Pre-conHere's where it starts going down. This is the first year AM recruited lolita-specific staff. The staff for that year was Jessamyn, her husband, and two volunteers they picked. The guests were Baby, AatP, Putumayo, Misako, Midori, Akira, and Yui Minakata.
AM had gotten pretty well-known at this point and a lot of people were kissing John's ass to try to get in. I was not modeling in the fashion show this time (I honestly can't remember if I applied or not), but I was a backstage volunteer which is something I liked better than being on stage. My main role was violin handler. They had a good amount of rehearsals before I was invited to start attending. Rehearsals were almost weekly for several months with sessions lasting 3-5 hours each mostly trying to figure out the ~storyline~ and stage positioning. AM used this time to develop relationships with comm members. John always invited people to dinner afterwards and he always pays.
I was invited to several dinner meetings. One in particular was a meeting to promote Putumayo. Let's be honest, Putumayo isn't popular (sorry Hasegawa). AM knew this and actively seeked out influential members in order to influence the HLC, so Putumayo could be more successful.
Another one I was invited to the Leigh house late at night to "help with inventory," but I didn't really end up doing anything at all.
|Inside the AM house|
About 1-2 weeks before the con, AM kicked their head fashion staff, V, because GLW had heard someone was talking badly about them at rehearsals. GLW assumed it was me since I never liked GLW in the first place, but I honestly didn't say anything about them.
At-conA few days before the con, GLW is dropped as a sponsor, and models have to scramble for wigs. They also didn't have any makeup or hair stylists, so all models had to help each other. Without their head staff member or proper preparation, most rehearsal was rushed and improvised. Everyone was lost and confused, so AM told V to come back and work with them.
I arrived late, but another model told me that models were not allowed to interact with Japanese guests, so most of the time Japanese guests were just talking amongst themselves in one corner of the room. Explaining rehearsals to the Japanese guests was slow as well since AM did not bother recruiting translators for the Japanese guests. How was I supposed to explain what the Japanese models needed to do if I wasn't allowed to interact with them and couldn't communicate properly? The fashion show was extremely delayed again. There were snacks, but only because a staff member volunteered to make a trip to the grocery store. Snacks don't really fill you if you have to stay in the same room for over 4 hours. Last minute, they made me help the pianist flip music pages.
Other things that added to the chaos: No maps, not enough volunteers, no program books/schedules until Saturday. Everyone will agree that AM2014 was a terrible experience.
The tea parties were AWFUL. On Saturday, the theme was "Baby, the Stars Shine Bright and Alice and the Pirates." There wasn't enough food, the "meal" was served on paper plates and styrofoam cups, the guests were placed on one side of the room, so only that side of the room could see them, the atmosphere was extremely tense. There were no microphones, so only half of the room could hear what was being said. The staff and volunteer table was placed directly in front of the Japanese guests' tables. Staff and volunteers also got food before everyone else.
|AM2014 tea party layout for Saturday and Sunday|
It was just really awkward and unbearable. Attendees were not allowed to stand up and walk around to mingle. On Sunday, the theme was "Putumayo" and it was slightly better; there at least was enough food after the Saturday fiasco, but it was still pretty awkward. They brought in speakers and a microphone, so you could at least hear things now. John made another 5 year speech. Some were upset that not all of the models were present. AM brought all of these amazing guests over, but interacting with them was almost impossible. John called the HLC mods (at the time: Jessamyn, another mod that wasn't Tati, and I) to make some comments about the tea party. I wasn't told about this, so I blurted out like 2 awkward sentences, something like "thanks for coming, etc." even though I was not involved with organizing either of the tea parties.
Post-conI won't talk about this much, but Jessamyn's husband passed away unexpectedly shortly after AM2014. It was a shock to everyone. John uses this moment of weakness and asks Mod A (who wasn't a mod at the time) to ask Tati to become an HLC mod in order to change the group's cover photo. Mods discuss it, and decide it's a bad idea. John could have just sent the image to the mods. He didn't need mod privileges.
My Fourth Anime Matsuri (2015)
Pre-conThree HLC members plus Jessamyn are AM staff. They really fucked up in 2014, so they were working really hard or something to make 2015 better. 2 out of 4 of HLC mods are AM staff. John starts posting fairly regularly about AM even though AM was not coming for another 8+ months. Putumayo was announced as a guest way ahead of time.
The Infamous Cupcake PartyJuly 2014: I got a message from Jessamyn saying to show up at the convention hotel on a certain day, dressed nicely, and that's about it. One day before, John posts a picture of him in a Rolando jacket and that's when I called Boz was going to be a guest at 2015 (but they didn't announce them until November).
They planned a secret not-so-secret invitation-only cupcake tasting party. About 20 people were invited to a cupcake tasting for the upcoming 2015 convention tea party. The theme of 2015 was "bonding worldwide communities" and to make "HLC a world renowned community" or some bullshit like that.
They announced several things at the party that caught my attention. One, they said "what if Houston had a Kawaii Ambassador (KA)?" Once I heard that, I immediately acknowledged no one in Texas deserved that title because nobody had ever planned anything on a grand scale here in Houston (I used European events as a reference). From what I understood, a KA had to have some kind of skill other than looking pretty. Then, a KA world summit was mentioned. Why would you waste convention money flying in KA from the other side of the world? As much as I like some of them, I wouldn't consider them as con guests. Two, they said "What if Houston had its own lolita store?" Yeah, good luck with that, bub. There is a decent amount of lolitas in Houston, but not anywhere near enough to support a physical shop. We all know what happened with Planet Zero. Three, KERA models would be hosting the lolita panels including Lolita 101, a wig panel, and something similar to Maison de Julietta. They intended for the models to host it because last AM2014's Lolita 101 panel went awry. They didn't mention anything about boystyle, so I brought up the idea that I could host a boystyle panel with two other well-known oujis and AKIRA could show up if she wanted. Four, there would be outside catering. Lastly, John mentioned that everyone at this party should make facebook like pages for themselves. He already made all of his staff do it. Why? So he could breed someone e-famous enough to become kawaii ambassador.
Shortly after, someone who was at the party posted the pictures to the HLC group. A lot of people were upset about why weren't they invited and whined about elitism. The cupcakes were gross by the way. A few days after the party, a general complaint and criticism post is made. A noteworthy point was brought up.
John tries to compare sharing pictures of his private meetup versus me sharing pictures of my public meetup. I am the "definition of elitist."
---------------------Fast forward a little bit, I was eating dinner at IHOP with some friends when everyone's phone starts exploding. Rose Corolla shenanigans happened that night. Shit went down. This night, one of the people I was with tells me that John was planning to kick Tati out of the mod team.
---------------------August 2014: After the cupcake fiasco, now John is posting constantly about AM even though it's still months away. A one-post-per-day rule in the comm had been in effect for awhile to reduce the spam and new threads from appearing too fast. At this point I had already made the sticky thread, but he continued to make new threads. Some of them were interesting, but some of them was something he could post on his personal page (ex. a selfie with Japanese people). He was breaking the rule and members were complaining.
|Yes John, I did want you to post in only one thread.|
The discussion is brought up in the mod chat. Is it breaking the rules, yes or no?
Update: It was requested of me to remove the poster from the caps and I have respectfully done so.
I was pretty sure that he was breaking the one-post-a-day rule. He obviously was capable of posting in the sticky thread last year, so why couldn't he do it this year? The man is posting everyday, of course he sees the community every day.
Apparently, he is a baby. I tell him to calm down and just post in ONE thread since threads are bumped up when they get new comments. He doesn't do it. I get a message from John for another meeting. He is always vague and never lets you know the details. I have things to do, you know? I pester another staff member about it, but they don't say much. Eventually, I get this:
Tati and I have to repeatedly tell him to stop spamming the comm. He obviously doesn't agree, so he messages Tati and I at the same time, separately to throw each of us a fit. He is more aggressive on Tati's side. Remember when I mentioned Tati was in a wheelchair?
I can't speak for her side, but here's my side:
|AM isn't just any con, guys!|
|"Members need AM to be happy. But wait! I gave you special treatment!"|
Guess what, all AM contests are rigged!
Shortly after, Jessamyn posts this in the mod group. It basically tells me to shut up and Tati to get the fuck out.
I learned later from an ex-AM staff member at the tim that John posted in the AM Staff group:
"Jessamyn, you have 2 days to get Stephany and Tati out of the mod team or else you're off of AM staff"Upon reading the message, I figured I was fucked anyway. Jessamyn was the original creator of the group, so even if we refused, we would have gotten the boot anyway because the original creator has the ability to kick any mod. Tati and I discussed our options together and decided it was best to quit before getting fired. We didn't leave in silence and gave a warning to the rest of the comm.
It was unjust and unfair. I was honestly hurt this happened to me that I cried for a few days. All I wanted to do was encourage people get into the fashion I love, assist those who need help, and throw a few jokes around. I never expected to receive anything back for my work. Just because I was a mod didn't mean I could express my general frustration on my private accounts.
I unfriended anyone related to AM immediately. A few days after, I got a text message from John saying
"We may not be facebook friends anymore, but can we still be phone friends?"Are you for fucking real? You kicked me out of my own community and you still expect me to see you as a "friend"?! Fuck no, he's barely human.
I didn't go to the Grand Lolita Tea Party or any HLC meetups after that. I am now what is known as a "lone lolita."
---------------------2015: Now, let's talk about Nightfall.
Nightfall was not made out of a desire for revenge or vengeance. If anything, Nightfall made AM more appealing for people and it really did not provide any competition since AM's tea party tickets were long sold out.
I have wanted to do events for a long time, but didn't know where to start. It's extremely difficult to plan an event in Houston (due to circumstances I can't leave the area) since AM has monopolized the market.
AM never plans anything on the Thursday beforehand, so that day was supposed to be free. Because all of the important people would be at fashion show rehearsals, there wasn't anybody they could trust to run a lolita event on Day 0. They decided to have a fashion walk on Day 0 (guess what never happened) which would occur in the early afternoon. Nightfall was planned take place in the evening, so there would be no conflict. Nightfall was announced on January 12. I received an anonymous tip saying John was enraged at the following fashion show rehearsal and asked one of the staff/models to spy on the event. (If you're reading this, girl, you were a shitty spy because you didn't find out shit.) John attempts to distract people from Nightfall by planning a (lame) pre-con party on Thursday evening. Staff were required to attend this pre-con party. They try to entice people with free food.
I went to AM2015 because Boz is my favorite brand and I already pre-registered for a badge before everything went down. The guests were Putumayo, Angelic Pretty, Metamorphose, Atelier Boz, Midori, Misako, Yui, Akira, Yura Peko, and Chokelate. AM didn't even announce that Yui was coming.
There were NO translators or handlers again. Midori personally asked one of the Canadian lolitas who happened to be attending to translate for all of the models + designers. Translator-chan didn't even get compensated.
Friday: Fashion show surprisingly starts relatively on time. The story made 0 sense.
Saturday: The whole models hosting panels was a joke. I sat in the Boystyle with Akira and Shiva panel the whole time. Akira and Shiva didn't even know it was a boystyle panel. They both thought it was going to be a Q&A about themselves. Midori's Lolita 101 panel went the same way.
Sunday: I wasn't going to the tea party originally, but a friend bought me a ticket when I woke up that morning. Because I originally wasn't planning to go, I had to rush and arrived about 10 minutes late. My friends who were at the front of the check-in line asked if they could save a seat for me. One staff member said yes, but several minutes later, a different staff member said no (update: it has been clarified as a miscommunication). They ended up using the hotel's catering despite saying that they weren't going to at the cupcake party.
|AM2015 tea party layout|
The layout was similar to last year where the Guests ended up being on one side where the back tables still couldn't see them. The worst part about this layout is they shoved the Kawaii Ambassadors in an obscure corner behind a large corner. The KAs couldn't see anything and nobody could see them! AM spent all of this money to fly them over and shoved them in a corner. John took over half of the time talking and making bad jokes. He always insists on being the MC, but is really bad at it. Again, attendees were not supposed to walk around the room, but the staff lost control and people started walking anyway.
Some other things that are noteworthy, but don't go anywhere in specific:
- The HLC logo: John's idea
- The HLC facebook page: John's idea
- John would also send me pictures and text to post, so he wouldn't have to do it.
- He will offer you modeling opportunities and free stuff to get you to work with him.
- He doesn't give one shit about indie brands.
- He might give a shit if you give him free stuff.
- Doesn't serve tea at his tea parties.
- He will look up your facebook, friend you, and go through your pictures. Starting in either 2014 or 2015, the fashion show application requires you to submit a link to your facebook profile.
- The majority of communication is through facebook, not e-mail.
- He always posted convention fashion updates in HLC and never on the AM facebook page.
- He always sticks Deneice in the fashion show even though she probably has more important things to do as the con chairman. Having Deneice in the show is one less spot for a dreaming lolita who wishes to model for the glorious burando. In 2015, Deneice was in the fashion show, not once, but twice! She wore two different outfits for reasons I can't fathom.
- Sexual harassment.
- Once, he tried to lift up my jabot to see what was underneath. I often wear a jabot over a tank top since it gets really hot in Houston. Not dealing with someone trying to peek at my chest, I immediately slapped his hand away.
- A prime example of completely inappropriate comments, regardless of the fact that he is married with two young children:
I have forgiven some people, but there are people I will never trust again. I know too many people who have been used by AM. I can't speak for them, but hopefully my story will allow people to realize how shady they really are. John acts like he is god's gift to lolitas. He will find every opportunity to talk about himself and his convention. His con has to be the special snowflake of all cons. You can't even call HLC a comm anymore. If you don't kiss AM's ass, then you are ignored. New HLC is a cash pool for AM. I have personally witnessed AM will be nice to your face, but as soon as they talk about lolita in private, they will talk shit about you. If you're still on "good" terms with them to this day, they probably hate you. If you're not on good terms with them, they hate you.
I am sharing my story to be a reference of mistakes. Do not let Anime Matsuri (or any other convention/event) push you or your community around. John Leigh is an unethical and unprofessional organizer. Please re-consider if you were ever interested in working with Anime Matsuri. Lolitas all around the world have the ability to create their own events and support each other due to their love and support of the fashion; it's a fact. When you look at all of the successful events of the past and present, it's clear that the lolita community can sustain itself. Anime Matsuri is now aiming outside of Texas. Germany, Hawaii, and who knows where else. AM systematically exploited the Houston community by alienating members one by one and pitting them against each other. Don't let your community be their next cash cow.