I find myself in an unexpected situation. I thought I’d left the conventional office life grind when I built my own boutique agency focused on public relations, event planning and yoga. At the time, I‘d just completed yoga teacher training in India. Implementing the tools learned to balance work and life for a more peaceful existence was my priority. It’s the calm and confidence I gained there that inspired me to start a business built around my favorite hobby—costumes.

My friends call me the “HallowQueen.” Like many Halloween super fans, October 31 was a gateway to discovering the art of “costume” and “play”—cosplay—and a community that dresses up year round for events, themed parties and conventions. When my friends introduced me to DragonCon, I found a family among the 85,000 brazen weirdos who gather every year in cosplay and good cheer. Costuming and cosplay are art forms. I love that costumes tell stories and empower the people who wear them and I love that the cosplay community welcomes all ages, sizes and genders, orientations, backgrounds, races and abilities.

My well-known love-affair took over my house and life. With more than 300 elaborate costumes constantly being lent to friends, I wondered if I could do it professionally. I wanted to build a business that reflected that beautiful diversity and fostered a safe and inclusive community designed around creative expression.

I also built my business knowing that cosplay is a $45 billion global industry. There are more than 1400 conventions across North America, annually. Costumes are no longer just associated with Halloween. Cons make cosplaying a year-round endeavor, with 64% of cosplayers attending three or more events every year.

So, I launched Trove in August 2019, which is the world’s first online peer-to-peer costume rental community. Trove provides access to high-quality costume goods for less money and empowers “Trovians” to make money by renting out costumes they aren’t wearing. Sharing costumes minimizes waste and encourages reuse. Most importantly, this passion forges connections between real people, in real life and across creative communities.

Functionally, the site works like tested and adopted share-economy models Rent the Runway and Airbnb. Users register their “wardrobes” and rent out full costumes or pieces to monetize what’s usually in storage. Those looking to wear something awesome and not invest a huge amount in a single-use item have access to high quality pieces at a lower cost. 

Like so many entrepreneurs and new business owners, it’s a 24-hour a day hustle. Unforeseen challenges impact carefully made plans. The pressure is constant and the responsibility truly lonely. Stress and anxiety now bleed into my former escape as I look for investors, hire key business partners and experience rapid growth. Is work-life balance possible when they are now one and the same?

To be honest, regaining the work-life balance I enjoyed before Trove is a struggle. I need to get back to my mat and breath. I need to drink a little less whiskey and a little more water. I need to meditate, eat healthier, get out in nature, rest and be with my friends. Finding this time now seems like a luxury.  

 As a response to this intense pressure, I now schedule time to “take rest” with intention, and am working on giving myself permission to stop, cry, fall apart, and get back to work as an accepted and necessary business practice. I’ve learned that being vulnerable with friends and family isn’t a weakness and asking for help is just a part of the process when building anything this big. As social creatures, community is a stronger survival system than isolation and our families, whether genetic or chosen, want to support each other. 

I’m learning a valuable lesson about compartmentalization as I schedule my restorative moments. There is a time to hustle, a time to rest and a time to re-align. Trove is on my mind every second. I am gradually learning to schedule time to put that weight down, step away, and take the break my body, mind and spirit need to regenerate. In doing that, I return refreshed and more prepared to make Trove successful. 

As I write this, I’m on a plane to Salem, Massachusetts for Halloween. I left my business cards at home and am “turning off.” If Halloween becomes a job, that defeats the mission of bringing joy to others through this practice. Trove’s origin story is rooted in the word “play” and the magic it creates. I can’t forget that myself and be an effective leader or voice for this community.

It’s not a linear process, but scheduling time to step back from work and being gentle with myself are the first steps toward engineering a balance I can be proud of, celebrate and truly live with.


  • Kelly Carnes

    CEO & Founder


    Trove CEO and founder Kelly Carnes spent 12 years in public relations for the Smithsonian and the Kennedy Center, before opening her own boutique consulting firm in 2017, Carnes&Co. She lives in Washington, D.C. with her nerdy husband and two dogs, lives for throwing elaborately-themed parties, and looks forward all year to dressing up for the Renaissance Fair, DragonCon, and of course, Halloween. She is proud to support other women-owned and diverse businesses as Trove grows.