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The Mary Sue Interview: Her Universe Founder Ashley Eckstein

Ashley Eckstein

We at The Mary Sue have been huge fans of everything Her Universe is doing–from the amazing collections inspired by franchises like Star Wars, Marvel, and Doctor Who to the fostering of a positive message for fangirls of all ages. The space for fangirls is growing all the time, but that wasn’t always the case. Fortunately for us, Her Universe founder Ashley Eckstein made the decision to create a brand to give fangirls a way to let their geek flag fly–something that, as it turns out, was desperately needed.

The Mary Sue spoke to Ashley by phone about what first gave her the idea to create Her Universe back in 2009, the fashion and published works we have to look forward to in the next year(!), and what she’s geeking out about right now.

The Mary Sue: What was the impetus behind deciding to start a female-focused brand for fans?

Ashley Eckstein: Well, it all started with the search for a Star Wars t-shirt. I’d always been a Star Wars fan, ever since I was a little girl–but I now was immersed in the Star Wars universe [as the voice of Ahsoka Tano on Star Wars: The Clone Wars] and I was going to events like San Diego Comic-Con and events at Disney and I just wanted Star Wars merchandise to wear. I looked in my closet and I only had one Star Wars t-shirt made for me, made for a girl–and so I went shopping, and I came up empty-handed.

I wasn’t truly aware that merchandise at the time–this was back in 2009–just didn’t exist for women, and if it did it was out of stock or back-ordered or it was a men’s boxy t-shirt put in the women’s section. So I started doing my research and I found out that close to half of all sci-fi and fantasy fans are women–which, if you are a fangirl and you’re in this world, [so] it’s not a surprise. But that was a hard statistic–now, it’s pretty much fifty/fifty. Half of all fans are women. I also found that 85% of consumer purchases are made by women–and so I thought, “Well, I’m not a mathematician, but this isn’t adding up.” If you give us something to buy, we’ll buy it–because we love it.

I didn’t know what I was doing–I was a full-time actress at the time, I had no experience in the fashion world or the licensing world, but I had my foot in the door at Lucasfilm so I decided to see if I could ask them if I could design merchandise for women because there was a need for it.


More importantly than just merchandise, what really spoke to me and what compelled me to make this happen was reading story after story in my research of fangirls being bullied for liking what they loved. There was one group of women in an online chat board who would pretend to be men just so they would be taken seriously. Granted, this was back in 2009 and so much has changed since then, but women felt like they couldn’t be themselves.

We know as fangirls that being a Star Wars fan or being a Marvel fan or being a Doctor Who fan–that’s like a part of your identity, that’s like part of who you are. So I felt like something had to be done. We needed to create a community where fangirls could step into the spotlight and feel celebrated.

TMS: I’m a huge fan of the brand and all the collections; I love the fact that the clothes kind of run the gamut from more casual, like t-shirts and hoodies, to things that you could dress up and wear to a party. For people who aren’t necessarily familiar with the brand–if you could pick one or two items that represent Her Universe as a whole, which I know might be tough, what would you pick?

AE: Oh gosh, that is tough. One outfit that’s kind of taken the Internet by storm is our lightsaber skirt and our lightsaber logo shirt. I think the lightsaber skirt is a perfect example of combining geeky with girly. I’ve always been inspired by lightsabers and their colors as a design element, and that skirt serves as a perfect way to combine of, like you said, dressing something up for a party or an event with your geeky love.

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What I love about that skirt is that you can pair it with a plain top or a jacket and heels and it is just the perfect outfit that screams your love of Star Wars but is also universal. You can be a hardcore fan and wear it or you can be more of a casual fan. And if you want to be really in-your-face, I wear it with our lightsaber logo tee–and what I love about that top is that it can be worn of fangirls of all ages. We have it for little girls, and my mother-in-law who’s a grandma–she loves it, she wears it. And it can also look really professional–[Lucasfilm president] Kathleen Kennedy wore it at [Star Wars] Celebration. She paired it with a white blazer and a black pants and looked so sharp–Kathleen Kennedy is like the Kate Middleton of Star Wars. She wore that shirt and suddenly everyone was like, “Oh my gosh, I need a lightsaber tee.”

I would say that’s been an iconic look, but also this year, our Marvel collection that’s at Hot Topic right now that was designed by our fashion show winners–Andrew MacLaine and Amy Beth Christenson–was one of the most successful fashion collections in Hot Topic history. I think that happened because it gave geek girls what we want. We want to show off our fandom but be able to wear it for all occasions. Some girls wore the Loki dress to prom or to a wedding reception. Some girls were using pieces [from the collection] for everyday cosplay at conventions. There’s subtle nods that show that it is very geeky and that it’s very in the know and very on-point for the characters and the property, but then they’re also everyday pieces that you can wear to the office or out on a day or to a convention.

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TMS: On the site it looks like there’s a lot of pieces available like holiday sweaters, or the Star Wars collection that was just released–is there anything else coming down the pipeline that you can talk about, or anything in the planning stages?

AE: Sure, I can talk about it. The brand in general–definitely expect this new fashion direction, like the Darth Vader cape dress, where that is definitely a fashion-forward piece that’s inspired by Darth Vader but it’s something you may see in a fashion magazine. Expect that direction for the brand. We are definitely doing Episode VII fashion; expect more of that for next year. I can’t give more detail, but expect an Episode VII fashion collection for sure.

I feel like we’re just now scratching the surface on geek fashion, and a lot of that has come from the Her Universe fashion show at San Diego Comic-Con. Being given that platform on the biggest geek stage in the world–not only for Her Universe but Hot Topic and all of the fans and designers, it really highlights geek fashion. Expect more fashion and more collections based for different seasons moving into 2016.

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TMS: I want to talk a little bit about Her Universe Press. I know the announcement was made not too long ago, but I’m super excited about it. What’s the response been like in terms of submissions, and when are we going to start to see published works from the imprint?

AE: We announced our first two books at New York Comic-Con; the first one is a book called Weirdest, by Heather Nuhfer. She’s written My Little Pony comics but she’s making a transition to novels as well. Her book is actually being released on April 26; you can now pre-order on Amazon. That’s a mid-grade novel, and it’s adorable. I’m obsessed with it, I think fangirls of all ages are going to be able to love it and relate to it. It really captures the audience, and Heather’s such a fantastic writer. The book grabs you from the beginning.

The second book is one I’ve been collaborating on with Dave Filoni, who is my director from Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Rebels–he’s illustrating it, but his wife Anne Convery is writing it. I wish I could write; I set out to write a book and I end up with an essay, but I came to Anne with the concept and she just took it and ran with it from there. She created this world that is amazing. It’s called The Confidence Chronicles–it’s a story of a twelve-year-old girl called Adelaide Lenihan that is set in an alternate universe in gold rush California, this steampunk-inspired story. Anne’s created a world like Harry Potter; it’s fascinating. Expect that to come out this summer, hopefully in July. We don’t have an exact date yet.

This was my goal–to sign these writers, sign these fangirl writers that are writing amazing stories and give them the opportunity to be published professionally. All of these fangirls that are writing really didn’t have a way to get their works published. I would say there’s currently 10-15 manuscripts we’re looking into. It’s definitely going to be a process but I can’t wait to start publishing these books.

TMS: As a self-professed fangirl, what was your first fandom? What was the show or movie that you consider your first fandom experience?

AE: I would definitely say Star Wars. That’s my earliest memory. I think I was three; I’ve kind of narrowed it down. I remember seeing R2-D2 and C-3PO in the desert of Tatooine and falling in love with R2-D2 and playing Star Wars in my living room with my siblings. I didn’t want to be Princess Leia, I wanted to be R2-D2.

I will say I’m also a self-professed Disney fangirl. Anything Disney I absolutely geek out about. Now to have Star Wars combined with Disney, it’s like combining my two loves.

TMS: Is there anything that you’ve been enjoying lately in terms of media–current TV or movies?

AE: Aside from The Force Awakens, which I am literally counting off the days for, I’m obsessed with Daisy Ridley. I’m really excited to get to know her more–even separate from her character, Rey. I follow her on Instagram and I really like everything she has to say and how outspoken and positive she is. Sometimes we forget that big celebrities are fangirls just like us and I think she’s so relatable.

I have to say I’m a newer DC fangirl; I grew up with Marvel and Star Wars and Disney, and am now kind of discovering it for the first time as the voice of Cheetah on DC Super Hero Girls. I’m blown away by what DC is doing. I really have to applaud them for realizing they have a major stable of characters and wanting to introduce it to girls. I have to applaud DC and Mattel for creating a space for fangirls at such a young age and an accepting environment.

In turn, I’m enjoying Supergirl. I think back to when Her Universe started and we couldn’t even get a Wonder Woman movie–and now there’s a Wonder Woman movie in the works, there’s a Supergirl TV show. It looks like the lead of Episode VII is a girl. There’s so many exciting things going on. Look at all the change that’s happening. And then of course–Agent Carter. I cannot wait for that to come back.

Five years ago, they were saying that women weren’t profitable in this genre–and I think we’re proving them wrong. I don’t think–I know we’re proving them wrong. It’s just an exciting time to be a fangirl.

(all images via Her Universe)

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