I am not what you would call a “fangeek” nor am I really into science fiction. I am, however, a huge lover of fashion and I adore the Her Universe Clothing line. I was so blessed to meet the creator of Her Universe, Ashley Eckstein, and sit down with her for a one on one interview recently, at the D23 Expo 2015! I had posted on FB to ask you all what you would like to know and Ashley was gracious enough to answer the questions for us.
ME: What made you want to make clothing for girls that are typically made for a male fan base?
ASHLEY: That question is the reason we started Her Universe. The stereotype is that the sci fi fantasy genre is just for men and boys but if you actually go to the conventions or do the research, half of the sci fi/fantasy fans are women! It’s not a myth, it’s a true statement! It’s been our mission to debunk that stereotype from day 1. What is there not to like for women? These stories transcend gender. They aren’t just for men and they aren’t just for women.We aren’t here to say that these stories are here just for women, we aren’t here to say that at all. We are here to say that these stories should be celebrated by everyone. That question just shows me we have a little ways to go to try and debunk that stereotype.
ME: How did you get connected with Disney?
ASHLEY: I got connected to Disney from Star Wars, actually. Disney does an event called Disney Star Wars Weekends and I had the privilege to be asked all the way back in 2009 to attend and be one of the hosts. So, I’ve been doing it for 7 years. I got to know a lot of the Disney people through that event. Then, Disney buys Star Wars! I’ve gotten more entrenched with Disney through Star Wars Rebels, Disney Channel and Disney XD. Now, with Disney merchandise… I am so grateful to Disney. They were the first retailer to start carrying our merchandise, before anybody else. That was a dream come true. I was one of the first purchasers of our merchandise at Disney! I walked into this store at Star Wars Weekends and I saw our merchandise and I had to go and buy my own shirt because it was a dream come true! As a little girl, to be able to design merchandise and have it sold at Disney, blew my mind.
Our merchandise has been in the Parks for Disney Star Wars Weekends, which is a limited event. We are starting to sell to Disney now at Disney Parks year round! Your dress!! I was going to say when you walked up that I love your dress! That one and another one are available at Disneyland and Walt Disney World and then we have little girls shirts now. I walked into the World of Disney store and there are our shirts! I was speechless! I just stood there for a minute and couldn’t believe it! It’s really a dream come true to be working with Disney on several different levels.
ME: You kind of just touched on this but, you mentioned Star Wars Weekends. There is actually a Star Wars Marathon Weekend for runDisney. Have you ever thought of doing a dry fit line that women could wear while running the event?
ASHLEY: We are actually working on an active wear line, right now. So, definitely look for that more in 2016. That’s another thing with our merchandise. From the time we come up with the concept to the time it comes out in stores, it is easily 6 months. What we are working on now is for Spring of 2016. Expect it to come, probably not in time for the marathon, but for future marathons it will be there!
ME: Does your educational and/or professional background include fashion?
ASHLEY: That’s a great question!! I had a humbling experience about that recently, actually. No, my background does not include fashion. Fashion and design has always just been a hobby. I have been designing dresses since I was a little girl with my mom. It started out with my mom and we designed a dress together for a beauty pageant, I was in. I should clarify, and say, that I was the one that wanted to do the beauty pageants. I was that crazy child. I would see the pageants on tv and tell my mom I wanted to do them and she would tell me “no, you don’t want to do those, “ and I would keep telling her “yes, I do!” She was always so supportive of whatever I wanted to do. So, my very first beauty pageant gown was a combination of Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty and we designed it together and had somebody make it. Aside from designing my dresses for homecoming and prom dances, I had no professional experience. My training and education is in theater, drama and acting.
I was asked to speak at the Fashion Law Institute a few weeks ago. What surprised me is that I was able to answer everyone’s questions very confidently and I didn’t realize that I have gotten an education by doing Her Universe. I now understand licensing, contracts, guarantees, advances, insurance policies and factory audits and all of these things have become an every day part of my conversation which you don’t stop to think about because you just do it day in and day out. I think I just got my degree on the job and it’s been fascinating. For me, I think that’s the best way to learn, is by doing. I wish I had gone to school for business and fashion. That would have helped.
ME: Is Business and fashion what you would have gone to school for?
ASHLEY: I mean, if I had to do it all over again, I would have gotten that. I wish I was proficient in excel spreadsheets, budgeting and all of that. I hear parents and teachers in the back of your head, talking about math class, saying “you’re gonna use this one day!” I use math all the time! I think about that all the time and I know I sound like an old person but kids, study your math, because it’s not a lie, I use it a lot. So, if I were to go back and do it all over again, I would go to school for business.
ME: I am fascinated with the Her Universe fashion show and the process. So, tell me how you choose the designs that are going to be in the fashion show?
ASHLEY: Oh my goodness, that is such a tough process. We had 160 designers submit and they could each submit up to 3 designs. Several of them did submit three! We had so many designs to choose from and I spent the whole weekend going through every single design. We asked for them to give an explanation or an example of their work and their training. One thing that we learned is that just because someone can do a beautiful sketch, doesn’t mean that they can execute it. That’s part of the fashion show. If you get picked, you literally need to make that piece that you just submitted to us!
ME: So, they only have to give you the sketches?
ASHLEY: They only have to give us sketches but, I will say, if anybody wants to submit for next year, please give us examples of your past work. Or, if you don’t have examples, fill out the section about your training and capabilities. Give us your resume because some people, their designs should have been chosen, but we didn’t chose them because they didn’t fill out that portion. We didn’t know if they were capable of making it or not. We want to give everyone a shot but there are only 25 slots and it’s tough. We met for over 5 hours to narrow down 160 to 25.
ME: You mentioned in an interview that you are going to have a reality show that reminds me of Project Runway. Am I off on that or is it going to be that type of show, like Project Runway?
ASHLEY: You know, we are still figuring out exactly what the show is going to look like but we are so excited about it! We are talking with the comic con channel right now and Lionsgate and definitely expect it next year. I think that’s what we are so excited about. These designers work for a couple of months on these pieces. If you come to the show, it’s a beautiful event, but you only see their designs on the runway for 2 minutes. That’s it. You don’t get any more background. They each submit their own video diary to us, and it is so fascinating. That’s what I want to see more of. I want to get to know these designers. We are definitely excited about developing the show.
ME: You’ve got to keep me posted on that! I definitely want to watch that show!
ASHLEY: I will, thank you!
ME: Next year, you said?
ASHLEY: Yes, we are still figuring out launch dates and everything but it will be centered around next year’s fashion show.
ME: All right! So this year’s winners are building a collection right now. What is that collection?
ASHLEY: I just posted on Instagram this week. We had our first design meeting with our winning designers at Hot Topic. We all got together the Hot Topic team, our team, the 2 designers… we met for 2 hours and it was amazing! It was such an inspiring meeting. I can’t say at the moment but I will say that if you look at my Instagram post there is a hint in the post. Check out the photo.
ME: I absolutely will do that! What has been your most popular collection thus far?
ASHLEY: Oh my goodness, I don’t know that there has been a “most popular” but I will say one exciting thing. The fashion show winners from 2014 designed a Marvel collection, an Avengers Collection at Hot Topic, and it was the most successful fashion collection in the history of Hot Topic!
ME: I loved that Collection! It sold out!
ASHLEY: Thank you! Yes, well it’s coming back. It’s the first fashion collection like that, that they are bringing back into stores because it sold out so quickly. Everyone was so upset that they didn’t get it! It’s coming back and people should expect to see it around the first week of October.
ME: I did have a lot of readers tell me they were trying to buy it and it wasn’t there. I explained that it sold out very quickly.
ASHLEY: Oh gosh, well it’s coming back soon in a big way and there will be plenty!!
ME: Excellent! So, what is your favorite piece from any collection?
ASHLEY: Oh that’s tough! Let’s see. You know, I’m a Star Wars girl and Her Universe wouldn’t be possible without Star Wars, without me being the voice of Ahsoka. I wouldn’t have had my foot in the door at Lucas Film. I had to go about it the right way. I had to start a company. I had to get a license. They didn’t let me cut corners from a business stand point. I wouldn’t even have gotten in the door if I hadn’t been the voice of Ahsoka. I’m forever grateful for that opportunity and I’m forever grateful to Lucas Film. When your first license is Star Wars, right out of the gate, one of the biggest licenses. It gave us credibility. It gave us the credibility we needed tog et other licenses like Star Trek, Doctor Who, and Marvel. I’ve been a Star Wars fan ever since I can remember. I remember being three years old and playing Star Wars in my living room so, a long time.
ME: So, anything from Star Wars!
Ashley: Anything from the Star Wars Collection. I will say, I love R2D2. He is my hero from Star Wars and I love pearls. He is a classy little droid ,that R2, so you have to class it up.
ME: That actually brings me to my next question which is the new jewelry!?
ASHLEY: Oh, yes,thank you! It was a collaboration with the Sparkle Factory and they are all hand made pieces in the USA, which is something I am really proud of. It’s really nice, quality jewelry line made in the USA and we have a Darth Vader Collection and an R2D2 Collection so, it was definitely meant to be limited edition. Once it’s gone, it’s gone.
ME: Can you still purchase it?
ASHLEY: Yes! It’s on Heruniverse.com, on our website, and it’s here at D23.
ME: Excellent! Okay, so, new collections coming soon would be??
ASHLEY: So many new collections, so many new things! This is the year of Star Wars, with episode 7 coming out. Between, now and the end of the year, we probably have 15 new Star Wars designs coming out. Several of them are going to Disney Parks, which I am really excited about. So look for that. We also have a big holiday collection coming to Hot Topic! Beautiful knit sweaters, a gorgeous Darth Vader dress that has a cape on it, a princess lea holiday dress which is perfect for holiday parties. Look for it, it’s a beautiful collection. I’m very proud of it.
ME: My next question has nothing to do with Her Universe. It’s Disney related. I read that you had your wedding reception at Disney World and I am going to be getting married at Disney, as well. I was hoping for some tips you could give me!
ASHLEY: Oh! Congratulations! I told my husband, before we got engaged, that we were going to get married at Disney. We are both from Orlando, Florida. My dad worked for Disney and my husband grew up there. The ceremony was actually in the church that my husband grew up in. It was really special to me that we had connections there. Then, we had the Disney Magical Express take all the guests from the ceremony to the Yacht and Beach Club and had our wedding reception there. It was the most magical experience, having a wedding at Disney. They assign you a wedding planner, that’s part of the package. She was incredible. Anything that I even dreamed of wanting, she made it happen AND she made it even better than I imagined. We had a churro cart and an ice cream cart inside the reception! They brought them in from the Parks! You could get Mickey Mouse ice cream bars. That’s just the thing, Disney makes dreams come true and there’s no wish that’s to extreme! Even if it’s a crazy thought, ask. They are also really good with a budget! Our wedding planner jam packed as many magical moments as she could into that budget. You do not have to have a massive budget to have your Disney dream wedding. If you just tell them what’s important to you, they will make it happen. Please send us photos!! I am such a Disney nut!
Ashley was so wonderful and I love her collection even more now that I know her and how passionate and genuine she is. I hope we answered all your questions! Please check out Her Universe at Heruniverse.com and Hot Topic, as well as at Disney Parks!!
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