Ashley Eckstein and Jennifer Tisdale Work to Create a Safe Space for Geek Girls

ashely-eckstein-LEGO-dress-SDCC
PC: Debshots Photography

On Saturday morning at SDCC 2016, I took my time getting ready for the day–prepping my Captain America pin-up cosplay with big hair, red lips and my star-spangled sunglasses. Although I hadn’t been very excited about cosplaying for previous days of the convention, I wanted to show off my most fashionable look for a very special interview. That afternoon, I met up with Ashley Eckstein, geek chic icon, voice of Ahsoka Lekku (Star Wars Rebels), and founder of the Her Universe brand along with her business partner and Executive Producer of the CCHQ show, Jennifer Tisdale (sister of Disney channel starlet, Ashley Tisdale) the third day of San Diego Comic Con 2016. Our topics of discussion? The 2016 Her Universe Fashion Show, the brand’s plus sized collections, Comic Con HQ and, of course, Ashley’s one-of-a-kind, Star Wars Lego couture dress.

I was compelled to start Her Universe, more so, to just create a safe community where women could be themselves and not be bullied for it.

C.Diva: So, we made it to the fashion show and your Lego dress? Amazing.

Ashley Eckstein: Oh, thank you so much. It was…

Jennifer Tisdale: Twenty-two pounds.

Ashley (to Jennifer): Did you weigh it?

Jennifer: I asked Andrew (Maclaine), I think Andrew weighed it. We had another dress in the fashion show that weighed over twenty-five pounds.

Ashley: Which dress was that?

Jennifer: The one Kristen Koga did, inspired by The Last Man on Earth. The one that was all knit with the stuffed animals.

A model wears a dress designed by Kristin Koga PC: MARK EADES
PC: Mark Eades

Ashley: All the stuffed animals were knit by hand, by the way.

Jennifer: You didn’t get to see them on the runway, but she had these amazing shoes that had little teddy bears on them.

Ashley: Yeah, so, heavy dresses! Twenty-two pounds, that sounds about right. And over ten thousand lego bricks. The funny thing is, the way that Andrew made the dress, it didn’t hurt my arms at all, but it cut up the back of my calves…They say you can’t feel pain in two places at the same time and my shoes hurt so bad, I really didn’t feel the Lego gown until after I took off the shoes. Thank goodness I had really uncomfortable shoes.

Diva: Was that dress hard to walk in?

Ashley: You know, we made some last minute adjustments. It was at first, because it actually had a train on it, and I kept stepping on Lego bricks. So, we cut the train off.

Diva: You don’t want to scatter them across the runway.

Ashley: No, no. It ended up being just a floor length gown because I was stepping on the Legos. Once we cut off the train, it wasn’t bad at all.

Diva: How are you going to top that dress next year?

Ashley: I don’t know! (Laughs) The funny thing is, we were talking about it last night at dinner, and, I mean, I don’t know. What do you do after that?

Jennifer: Oh, We’ll come up with something.

Ashley: Andrew had made me a second dress, a Rey dress. That’s what this Millennium Falcon purse was for, to go with the Rey dress, but at the last minute, we came up with the Ahsoka hairstyle. I wanted to invoke Ahsoka Lekku, but obviously do a fashion interpretation. We thought of the blue extensions and the three braids, but there was no quick change with that. It took an hour to do that hairstyle and there were a ton of extensions in it. So, I had to sacrifice the Rey gown for the hairstyle.

mil falcon purse 2

Jennifer: It was a worthy sacrifice.

Ashley: You know, it’s funny. I’ve been a Star Wars fan–literally, my earliest memory was when, I think I was three years old, and I remember watching Star Wars on VHS, you know? In our home, we had this orange shag carpet that created the perfect Tatooine setting. Once I was cast as Ahsoka, I really didn’t think anything of it, because I feel like, society, over time, as women, we just accepted the fact that nothing was made for us, it was made for the men and the boys. I didn’t even think of the fact that I didn’t have much Star Wars clothes made for me until I was immersed in the Star Wars world as Ahsoka, and I was going to all these events–comic cons, press junkets, everything–and I wanted more Star Wars clothes made for me. I just went shopping, thinking, naively, that it existed and obviously, quickly came up empty handed. I scoured the internet and it didn’t exist. To the point where, I remember, at the time, at Star Wars dot com, I went to the women’s section and it was all men’s stuff. They actually put men’s watches in the women’s section. So, I did my research, because I knew I wasn’t the only one, and I got some pretty accurate statistics at the time. We averaged the top five conventions around the world–we knew the convention organizers, so they were real statistics–and found out that 45% of all attendees of the top conventions around the world were women. I also found out that 85% of all consumer purchases are made by women, and that’s when I started Her Universe. Story after story after story of women being bullied for liking this world, story after story of women pretending to be men in the message boards so that they could actually have a real conversation about Star Wars. I was compelled to start Her Universe, more so, to just create a safe community where women could be themselves and not be bullied for it.  Merchandise was 50% of it, but more importantly, it was just the community, that’s really been my mission. That’s really where the fashion show came from. I first came to Comic Con in 2007 and, over the years, I saw female fans using the hallways of San Diego Comic Con like it was a runway. Like, look at your dress today, you look gorgeous!

Diva: Oh, thank you!

Ashley: This is a fashion look.

Diva: A friend made it, too. It’s homemade.

diva and ashley

Ashley: Yeah! That’s why I was inspired. I was seeing original designs. Women using the hallways of San Diego Comic Con as their runway, and I thought, you know what? We need to give fans an actual runway to walk on. [The fashion show}] really started from the fans and wanting to celebrate fangirls.

Diva: You talk about inclusivity with women and, one of the things I love about Her Universe, in the fashion show and on the website, you have women of all ages and all sizes, all races. The new stuff that we got to see at the fashion show, do you plan to include that in the Torrid plus size collection?

If you see a need, or have passion for something, just do it.

Ashley: Anything we sell with Hot Topic, for the most part, is available in Torrid. What Hot Topic has started to do is, they’re now carrying everything in plus sizes. So, our entire Star Wars collection, it’s only online right now, but their goal is definitely to eventually take it to stores, hopefully. [The Collection] is available in XS-3X in Junior sizes, and it’s available in what they’re calling HT Plus, in 0-5. That’s been so important to us from day one. It’s something we’ve been working on hard to perfect. Naively, when I first started Her Universe, I thought, we’re going to conquer the world! We’re going to do all sizes and plus sizes from day one! Little did I realize, how difficult getting the fit was and how important it is. About two years ago, we hired our own fit team and Hot Topic also has a great fit team. It just takes a while because we want to perfect it, we want it to be right, and we want it to be consistent, so you know, if you’re a 3X in one thing Her Universe, you’re going to be a 3X in everything. It’s taken awhile, but it’s something we’ve been working so hard at.

Diva: That’s great, because I really want that Rey sweater…so…I gotta make sure I can find it.

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Jennifer: They have some plus sizes on the [Comic Con sale] floor still. I was just at the [Her Universe] booth. They had some plus sizes this morning.

Diva: For me, I just assume I have to go find it online. Having it in stores and consistent, is really important.

Ashley: Absolutely. That’s something that Her Universe, Hot Topic and Torrid, you know, it’s been a conscience effort. Everyone’s been working hard to perfect it, for two years. We’re finally getting there! I started Her Universe, and I have insane naivete, but I just say, why not? Just do it. I had no idea how hard Her Universe was going to be, had I known, maybe that would have stopped me, but I didn’t. I saw a need and I was like, the world needs this, because girls need this. Women need this. Maybe I would say to my younger self to just do it, and to not overthink it. If you see a need, or have passion for something, just do it.

Jennifer: To piggyback on that, I’m raising a six and a half year old little girl. To me, it’s really important to me, the messages we’re teaching them. We’re in such a great place right now. It’s not perfect, but I think, compared to five years ago, as women in business running companies, we’re getting respect and it’s more normal, versus, “Can she handle it?” We have a female running for president, you know? The world has changed, a little bit. I think the piece of advice I give to [my daughter] and to myself on a daily basis is, don’t ever let any one else’s opinion of you bring you down…be supportive of each other [as women] and have each other’s back. It’s kind of like (turns to Ashley) what we do with each other.

Ashley: Yeah.

Jennifer: We have each other’s back.

Ashley: I think the fashion show is a good example of having a dream and doing it. That’s what I’m so excited about with Comic Con HQ documenting the Her Universe fashion show. We get to meet all 27 designers and follow their journey. From the open submissions and open calls, being selected, and then all the way to the runway at San Diego Comic Con. Comic Con HQ is all about education; it’s empowering and it’s positive and it’s all about education. I never wanted to do a show about Her Universe unless it could be that. To have the ability to do this now, with Comic Con, and document the process and showcase these designers in such a positive light and give them a platform to show off their work and their talent, I’m just, as my younger self, I’d watch these designers and say, wow. If they can do it, I can do it too.

Jennifer: We grew up loving Star Wars, you know, I loved He-Man. There were things I loved as a kid that were not “normal” for girls to like and…I don’t want my daughter to have to feel that she’s weird for liking this. I think this group, our generation that grew up as fans of these great franchises were like, we don’t want to be told that we can’t like this. We don’t want our kids to feel like they have to be told that they can’t like this. I love the fact that the message of (San Diego) Comic Con is started to drip out into other areas and I think we’re all kind of responsible for that because we’re the generation that’s making those changes.

Ashley:  We’re so lucky to be here at Comic Con. It’s like the lottery now, to get to come to Comic Con. There’s so many people that don’t get to go and honestly can never even dream of going because it’s so expensive. I’m thrilled to be a part of Comic Con HQ because it’s taking Comic Con out into the world to people that can’t go or…can only dream to go. They get to experience it now and be a part of it and even celebrate it year round.

Diva: You mentioned at WonderCon [2016] maybe doing accessories. Sometimes you have a few things online, and you have an awesome Lego purse…any plans to do accessories or anything like that?

Ashley: Yes. We’re having a couple more come out for Studio Ghibli with Hot Topic that we’re working on. I don’t like to do something and not do it really, really well. Finding the right manufacturing partners to make your vision come to life, sometimes, is harder than it looks. When it comes to accessories, I’m not an expert, so when you see us come out with something, it’s usually because we have the right partner and we can execute that vision. I would love to offer Millenium Falcon purses and after the fashion show, I have to admit, I’m probably going to try and make it happen.

 

Diva: Yes! Thank you so much for speaking to us today, ladies. Enjoy the rest of the convention.

***

xoxo C. Diva

Find me over on Twitter and Tumblr rambling, per usual.

Check out the Her Universe tag on our blog here. 

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