Katie Castles is part a growing group of Pittsburghers who are famous internationally and with little local recognition. She’s part of a growing group of niche celebrities like iJustine and Shea Whitney who are being flown around the world and paid to speak, consult, and collaborate. However, if you’re not following their niche, you might just pass them by.

Before and after of Katie Castles Instagram transformation. Courtesy Katie Castles.

Kate is turning heads. She has successfully made the transition from a 9-5 to full time fashion influencer. At the time of publication, she has amassed over 80,000 followers on Instagram. A lot of it is due to her passion for all things j-fashion. She’s been one of the models introducing Lolita fashion to America. Her mastery goes beyond wearing it. She knows conversational Japanese and works directly with companies creating stylish outfits to be adored or reveled in. While some photo shop backgrounds, Kate casually heads to Tokyo for photo-shoots with multiple Lolita and Harajuku brands.

Katie Castles sporting ACDC Rag clothing with goggles. Courtesy Katie Castles.

Before she left for Japan, I tagged along to a couple of photo-shoots one Pittsburgh evening. Her quirky modern ensembles that mix textures and concepts in a way evoked a roller coaster of delights, and were quite different from the typical Neo Rococo and Lolita looks she’s most known for. There was the crisp metallic sparkles of dark hot pink glittery combat boots, the faux fur of a double pink and black cheetah-skin printed miniskirt peeking out behind a futuristic bubble gum and candy apple green printed satin batwing sleeved kimono. If a lolly pop could kick you in the face this is probably what it would wear.

Outside of collaborations with other influencers and photographers, Kate primarily uses her Google Pixel 4 to get cadids of her in locations like Starbucks and Target. But when she works with others, like the night I tagged along, she used her phone to share hip-hop artists she liked.

Her style, the sharing music she liked between shoots, and her sharing of Japanese words and phrases relevant to our surrounding and situations as we crossed the city were both unexpected, and endearing. I was already impressed her modeling ability when we found out that she was super afraid of heights. She’d been striking poses on a bridge truss like a champion for 20 mins. The photographer climbed up to help her feel safer as she climbed down, and I was extra impressed by her professionalism in the face of fear.

Catching up with Katie Castles after her recent trip to Tokyo:

Wearing masks and enamel pins, Kastles shows her fashion is built not bought. Courtesy Katie Castles.

Christina: I really love how you’ve made Pittsburgh a great backdrop for your work. The roof top Lawrenceville photos, Kickback Pinball Café, Bicycle Heaven, The Inn at Negley: they’re colorful and show little bits of some of Pittsburgh’s gems. You have fantastic photos in super ordinary places too: A supermarket, a pharmacy store, a convenient store; you’ve done a great job of finding places to shoot around town and setting up shots that are visually interesting and still let the brands and your styles shine.

Katie Castles: I’m really touched by your compliments on my photography.

Christina: Your Facebook profile says Lolita and Colita, I’m familiar with Lolita and Gothic Lolita, but in fashion is just limited to the swimwear company. Is Colita a new vein of the subculture?

Katie Castles: It’s a Chinese Lolita fashion brand that’s very well respected. I also model for ACDC Rag and 6% Doki Doki.

Christina: I enjoyed the contrast you leveraged in the shoot(s) I tagged along on: Girlie with leather and studs, fuzzy with sleek, silky with hard crunchy glitter and enamel, and ultra modern patterns with the simplest plain cotton single doll dress.

Compared to your intense baby doll looks with ruffles, bows, ribbon and lace, this is a juxtaposition within the body of what you post on Instagram. Where did you find inspiration for this? Was this a fan request?

Katie Castles: Everyone gets tired or being a princess sometimes. I love changing it up.

Katie Castles puts her pink coat into a wash of earth tones at a local event. Courtesy Katie Castles.

Christina: Yeah, That makes sense. I understand you’re predicting a resurgence of cyberpunk.

Katie Castles: Yes. Cyberpunk is going to trend this year. I believe it will be huge. It was very evident in Tokyo, that that’s what’s coming next.  Understanding and learning about the style has been good for me. It’s gotten me interested in cryptocurrencies and wearable technology

Christina: Do you have favorite places you go for learning about fashion or finding inspiration

Katie Castles: While my Neo Rococo and Lolita style is cute it’s not very progressive or innovative. I take a lot of inspiration from anime and cyberpunk. I love the neon Neo Noir aesthetic. There isn’t room for the ancient concept of princesses in this world anymore. Things are scary and in order for things to end up happily ever after we need to work and evolve and innovate. I’m inspired by Zelda because she’s a princess and also a fighter as Sheik if you’re familiar with that video game.

I think as corporations grow more powerful and governments keep doing insane stuff we will see an even more rebellious and futuristic turn in the theme of media and fashion. When I was in Tokyo I saw a very powerful exhibit at my favorite art museum and I actually started crying because it gave me such incredible visions for the future. Living alongside technology and using it to aid us in helping humanity health and the planet

I remember crying because I have health issues I manage on a daily basis. On my trip I saw so many ways technology is helping replace human parts as they break down. Should I lose my arm, sign me up for a new one. Grappling hook or plasma gun built in please. I feel if we can accept technology into our lives, the fragility of the human body is no longer is a bottleneck to the ideas and art we can produce. That makes me happy.

In Japan I saw the class inequality with people that wear the fashion. It’s so expensive now. With what I see developing in the world I see a bigger divide between classes and that’s why I think cyberpunk is really relevant right now. Cyberpunk modernized from the 1980s concept to a 2020 concept would be fascinating. -In terms of envisioning a future run by reliance on technology and fusion of human life with tech.

Katie Castles: The Lolita style to me represents a kind of decadence and wealth now, but it started out as a very punk fashion, and innovative, and weird, and now the companies are all marketing to China because they have new money and money to spend. I’ve been doing a lot of research on China: The Lolita markets are primary marketing to Chinese girls now because they are wealthy. The prices are exorbitant now. I love the idea of hacking your way through life and beating the system and looking awesome doing it!!!

Christina: Hmm. So, do you think the Lolita thing is a bubble that and will burst creating a secondary feed into the coming cyberpunk resurgence? Japan and Korea first, then China?

Katie Castles: Cyberpunk will be extremely popular this fall. The release of Cyberpunk 2077 is one of the driving factors. Another game Neon District is in public beta and is drawing attention. The hype is real.

Katie Castles: I have a list of dream projects. One is working with a gaming company or bringing block-chain into fashion. I’m slowly transitioning over to full blown cyberpunk but my followers still love Lolita. I’ve been fusing them. It’s going well! But it requires a lot of hard work.

I’m passionate about exploring other genres. The vision of fashion I see is a hyper focus on technology and integrating it into everyday life even more so than it already is, and that includes through fashion and self-expression and biology. I’m already fused with technology in that I have a medical device implanted in me that helps me monitor my blood sugar and health.

Christina: You’ve taken a first step to becoming a cyborg!  Neo Noir and cyberpunk have special places in my heart. I’m excited that you are predicting this, and I that you seem excited about where this could go intellectually, artistically, technologically, and medically for our benefit. –Society’s benefit.

Christina: So, like Zelda, you are adding roles, to have a positive impact on the story! Your followers are the heroes in their own adventures, but in a way you are sharing the magic of shifting ability with them: Permission to be fully themselves, permission to shift into something positive and new, permission to really pay attention to what is going on in the world and do what they can to make things better.

Katie Castles: Yeah!

Christina: I like that. Not just changing clothes, but changing roles and empowering others.
So, in that light it seems perfect that you put in so much time and energy into being a doll. The shift you’re making would not be as powerful if you had not put in that kind of time and been great at it. And your primary audience bracket (80% female, 65% ages 18-34) is a group that could have a powerful influence in their own communities. So, long story short, what you’re doing has the potential to have massive positive impact.

Katie Castles: Yeah I agree that my time spent as a doll will make things more dramatic interesting and inspiring!! This makes sense. I’m looking forward to it and would love to be someone’s inspiration for creating art or expressing themselves.

This article originally appeared in Maniac Magazine.