The 2019 Her Universe Fashion Show has come and gone, but Ashley Eckstein is still on the move. Following the July event at San Diego Comic-Con, the voice actress and founder of the Her Universe clothing line was busy moderating another workshop for aspiring geek couture designers. Welcoming industry professionals who discussed everything from fashion law to licensing and production, Eckstein’s all about sharing the wealth of knowledge that has brought her success in the industry.
“I feel a sense of responsibility to pay it forward,” Eckstein said in a recent phone interview with WWAC. “I didn’t get to where I am and I haven’t achieved what I’ve achieved without the help of a lot of wonderful people. People that were always there to answer my questions and give me advice and help along the way, or give me an opportunity.” She thinks of Her Universe as a byproduct of the opportunities she’s had and the people who have helped her along the way, which is why it’s so important to her to offer the same kind of support for other designers and entrepreneurs.
It’s also why she shares the stage with talented designers each year at the Her Universe Fashion Show. This year’s theme was “The Power of Fashion” inspired by She-Ra and the Princess of Power, now in its third season — (look out for a new character to be voiced by Eckstein herself, as announced at the show). “Not only does the series tell the story of Adora and how she balances her powers and learns to become She-Ra,” Eckstein wrote in the show program’s introduction, “the series also showcases the power of friendship and teamwork.” Eckstein can’t express enough how important these concepts are to her, and how important it is to work together and lift each other up.
During the designers’ personal introductions, many of them spoke about these concepts and how empowering geek fashion is for them, not only as a form of expressing love for a particular show or story, but also as a way of expressing themselves. “As a big girl who never got to wear cool stuff,” began one designer who then went on to speak about finding her confidence through fashion that truly feels inclusive. The empowering nature of geek couture shone bright at the Her Universe Fashion Show, with many designers speaking about their own introversion or low self esteem, only to step well beyond their comfort zones to take to the stage themselves in their own designs.
Seeing the designers and their models walk the stage is a moment of great excitement for Eckstein, and she is so proud to be able to give them all that opportunity to showcase their hard work. “I do relate to the designers,” she said. “I’m the same way. People don’t realize that, before I walk on that stage, I am incredibly nervous — probably the most nervous I get all year. I know it’s terrifying, but to work so hard at something, and then go out and be able to show the world what you’ve been working so hard on and be proud of that, knowing you’re among your peers.”
As well as introducing new lines for Her Universe and Hot Topic and the Steven Universe-inspired Junior Winners, the judges named Adria Renee’s “Isla Nubla” dress, based on Jurassic Park, their winner, and the audience selected Sarah Hambly’s “Bodak Green,” based on Marvel’s Loki.
The winning designs, as well as the outfits worn by Eckstein during the event, joined previous designs in the pop-up Comic-Con Museum display that weekend. Eckstein and her team worked closely with the museum organizers to curate the exhibit, which is something she has wanted to do for a long time. Considering the hundreds of hours worth of work the designers put into their outfits, “it’s such a shame to have these beautiful couture creations just sitting in someone’s closet.” As the museum continues to take shape for its official 2021 opening in Balboa Park, San Diego, Eckstein is excited that visitors will be able to see the designs in a proper museum display.
Though Her Universe is over for another year, the winners have already gotten to work on a new collection inspired by Wonder Woman 1984. Meanwhile, Eckstein is very excited about a new product that she and her team have been working on after receiving an email from Disney Parks merchandising team, inviting her to put her own twist on the iconic Minnie Mouse ears that are a must-have for park visitors. Given free reign to come up with a unique design, Eckstein and her team finally settled on Star Wars since that’s what she’s best known for as the voice of Ahsoka Tano and as a huge fan of the property. “I felt like we had to start with Princess Leia,” said Eckstein. A fashion icon herself, Leia has played a big role in shaping Eckstein’s life, as the character has for many of us, and, as she writes in her book, It’s Your Universe: You Have the Power to Make It Happen, Disney has always been a huge part of Eckstein’s upbringing. Personally designing Princess Leia bun-inspired Minnie Mouse ears seems like a culminating moment for her.
Though she hints that there are definitely more fun designs to come, starting with the Princess Leia Minnie Mouse ears also feels like a very important statement about the evolution and acceptance of geek fashion. When Disney first acquired the licensing rights to Star Wars, they did not feel the need to promote Princess Leia, since they’d already cornered the princess market, and Eckstein and the fan community had to work hard to prove that women and girls were absolutely interested in Star Wars merchandise. Despite the simplicity of the design, that definitive Leia stamp on the iconic Disney ears epitomizes how far Eckstein and geek fashion have come. “When I see somebody else wearing the ears, I will audibly squeal,” Eckstein said, wishing she could go back and tell her ten-year-old self about how grateful she is to have this experience.
The Princess Leia bun-inspired Minnie Mouse ears will be available at the Disney Parks and online at shopDisney.com on October 4, but attendees at the August 23-25 D23 Expo at the Anaheim Convention Center will have a chance to check them out much sooner.
Everything we wear is a statement, especially when we get to show off our favourite fandoms. Ashley Eckstein and Her Universe continues to prove that geek fashion is here to stay and that geek couture has a place on the runway. See more from the Her Universe event below.