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Exclusive Interview with Her Universe’s Ashley Eckstein

192910_258224454205045_8229448_o-1Ashley Eckstein is an actor and fashion designer who perhaps is best known as the voice of Ahsoka Tano on Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels. She also played a small role as Alicia in the film Sydney White and as Ms. Cole in the film Alice Upside Down, both films were released in 2007. Eckstein has also had a recurring role as Muffy on the Disney Channel sitcom That’s So Raven.

Her latest project, “The Her Universe Fashion Show”, will air on Comic-Con’s SVOD service Comic-Con HQ and premieres on June 30.  The show will follow contestants of Comic-Con’s “Her Universe Fashion Show” as they design and prepare to model their original creations on the runway; in this particular case, the geek-couture looks combine the best of fan girl geek culture with the best of haute couture design.

A designer in her own right, Ashley is the creator of HerUniverse.com where fan girls everywhere can purchase clothing that features designs inspired by and drawn from Star Wars all the way through Dr. Who and the Marvel Universe.  Ashley is the perfect hostess for this hot new show that takes us BTS to look at Comic-Con’s high fashion showcase.

TNWU was thrilled to be able to grab some time with Ashley this week to talk about “The Her Universe Fashion show”, as well as the website that inspired the show!  We are all major fan girls (and boys) and really, who doesn’t like to talk design and shopping.

 

Thank you, Ashley for taking time to meet with us today.  I’m really so excited to speak with you because your new show sounds like so much fun and of course it has been tailor-made for the geeky fan girl in us all. 

The nice thing about this is that this is actually a docu-series about the fashion show that we’ve already been doing for the past two years and it’s… the fashion show was born out of me observing what the fan girls were already doing at Comic-Con.  I noticed that fan girls were using the hallways of San Diego Comic-Con as their runway for their own original designs! 

It wasn’t just cosplay, it was actually like cosplay and geek inspired fashion.  I thought, “You know what?  We need to give these girls an actual runway to walk on.”  So, I approached Comic-Con (International) about four years ago now and said, “Look, almost half your attendees are women and I’d like to partner with you and do an event that celebrates the fan girl culture at Comic-Con.  I’d like to do a geek-couture fashion show”.  (laughs)

At the time ‘geek-couture’ was such an oxymoron.  I said, “I’d like to do a couture fashion show, a geek-couture fashion show at Comic-Con but it needs to be straight out of fashion week!  I mean, let’s go big or go home, so unless we make this a big spectacle we’re not going to do it.  Comic-Con was so supportive of the idea and it’s been so amazing to watch it grow and be able to provide these designers with a professional opportunity.

That is really so great, particularly because there is so much raw talent out there.  I know you said it veers well off cosplay, but that is probably where a lot of people start.  They start with cosplay and then realize that they have the talent to do more; to go a little bit farther.  This is really such a great opportunity for really talented people who may not get their designs seen otherwise.

It truly is!  San Diego Comic-Con is the world’s biggest… truly a celebration of all things geek and if you’re going to do a couture fashion show celebrating geek fashion, there’s just no better place to do it, no bigger stage than at San Diego Comic-Con. What I think is so amazing about the show and what it’s turned into is that it’s a combination of designers who are looking to become professionals and those who are just doing this as a hobby.  Like you said, a lot of fans start off with cosplay and then they realize they have a talent for it and it can turn into a profession.  Or, for some designers it really is just a hobby and Comic-Con is just an outlet to really use their creative abilities and do something different from what they do in their everyday lives.

I think we have a good mix of designers.  We have designers who are looking to design professionally – like design students from the various schools in the area, Parsons for instance – so we have a variety of designers who are looking to do this as a profession or who already are doing this professionally.  We also have some designers this year, and you’ll see it on the show, who, have literally just started sewing.  They taught themselves how to sew by watching YouTube!

That’s fantastic!  What a great story.  How did you choose who would be featured on the show?

Oh gosh, I will say that that is my least favorite part of the process.  (laughs).  This year we had a record-breaking 245 designers submit (designs) to be selected for the show… we only have 25 slots.  At the end of the day I couldn’t narrow it down past 27 and so I put my foot down and broke the rules.  I said, “I’m sorry, I just can’t narrow it down to 25 we have to have 27”.

I guess that’s the good thing about being the creator of the show… (laughs)

Yeah!  I admit I pulled a little bit of rank there but I just couldn’t decide.  I assembled a group of judges, it wasn’t just MY choice, and it was done by a committee which really helps because it brought a variety of different points of view to the table.  We had my fellow team members Cat and Heather from Her Universe and we had Ed and Mandy from Hot Topic and then we had Jennifer Tisdale from Blondie Girl Productions so it was a good variety of all the partners of the show as well as Comic-Con HQ documenting the process. 

You’ll see, we document our choosing day and it is not fun to narrow it down, but we eventually did.  We have a very fair, and you’ll see this on the show, a very fair submission process.  The designers can each submit up to three designs, they have the opportunity to show up at a live open call and show us their creations in person or if they couldn’t make the open call, they could submit a video explaining their designs.  There are all sorts of questions and criteria… it is a very thorough submission process.  I can assure you that I read every single word of every single submission, watched every single video and looked at every single image they sent.  I spent literally all day from the moment I woke up until like two o’clock in the morning after the deadline looking at all of them because I care so much about these designers.  They are literally like family to me so it was a tough process to narrow it down, but I think we have a really great group.

How many weeks does the show run?

The show premieres this Thursday (June 30th) and it ends up at Comic-Con.  Starting on Thursday you’ll get the first two episodes and then… well, the first four episodes will follow the process of choosing the designers and the open call.  Then, I think episodes five through nine are actually of me going to visit each and every designer.  There are actually 28 visits because one of the episodes is talking about my gown.  We are doing something truly ground breaking with my gown as well. 

So we go on 28 different visits to the designers and we kind of check on their progress, see what they’re doing and making sure that they are on track because our biggest concern is that what they present to us in sketch form, what they tell us they’re going to make, that they actually have the ability to make it, so I went to visit every designer to check their progress.  We view the fashion show as a platform to give all of the designers a chance to showcase their skills, whether they win or lose it has actually provided professional opportunities for designers.

The winning designers have gone on to design a collection with Her Universe and Hot Topic and those collections have had great success.  The first year’s winner’s Marvel collection was the fastest selling fashion collection in Hot Topic history and the Star Wars collection this year also was record-breaking as well.  As far as the other designers go, one designer didn’t win, but Hot Topic loved her so much that they ended up hiring her.  Another designer, this year – you’ll find out, her design last year didn’t win but Hot Topic loved it so much that they actually bought the design from her and are recreating it and selling it in stores!  So it’s really providing a platform for these designers and we want to set them up for success.  We want to make sure that when they show up… that that’s their moment to shine.

That’s great, it sounds like everything has been really well thought out and I think that Comic-Con HQ is really the perfect media outlet for this kind of show.

Absolutely!  It really is the perfect place and Comic-Con HQ is the perfect match for Her Universe.  Her Universe… we have been approached before to do different shows about the brand, but I’m very, very protective of Her Universe because from day one I wanted Her Universe to be not only a merchandise line, but also a community for fans, a safe community, where fans – both male and female – could step into the spotlight and be celebrated, rewarded, empowered and supported.  So unless I could have a show that reflected the same spirit of the Her Universe community I wouldn’t do it and Comic-Con is perfect because our missions are aligned. 

We want to first and foremost be educational.  We want to share with the audience at home and we want them to learn from Her Universe and also from these designers.  Most importantly though it has to be positive and empowering and it needs to celebrate fans.  When I first heard about Comic-Con HQ – I mean we were already working together with the fashion show at Comic-Con but we both felt “this is the perfect fit and we have to work together.”

It is a really exciting new channel that I think will end up offering some really great and original content, including your show, that hopefully does continue to celebrate the geek in us all.  What kind of advice would you give somebody who is perhaps interested in submitting a design to the show in the future, what would you tell them that you are looking for when you’re judging the entries?

First, I would advise them to watch the show this year because for the first time you’re being give a behind the scenes look at what we’re looking for as well as how and why these designers were chosen.  The biggest thing I hope that people see is that anyone can make it whether you have a ton of experience or you’re a beginner.  It’s all based on your creativity and your design and if you’re capable of making it. 

We have a girl returning, last year was her first year, but she had only been sewing for a couple of months.  She was just a college student working at The Gap and she decided that she’d teach herself to sew.  She went online and learned to sew from watching YouTube.  She’s completely self-taught and she could’ve been intimidated, she could have looked at these fashion students that had competed the year prior, but she didn’t.  She believed in herself and decided to go for it.  We have several of those designers that have proven that experience isn’t really necessary, that as long as you are determined and that you work hard that it is possible for anyone. 

We’re very upfront in the videos – you’ll see – we have a detailed submissions process and as long as you follow the guidelines and understand what we look for… it’s open to anyone.  If you are a fan and you want to design geek fashion, I would encourage anyone to give it a shot because ultimately you could design a collection for Her Universe and Hot Topic and not only are you going to be sold in Hot Topic stores nationwide and in Canada, but you’d also be sold online.  You will also get paid for your collection, it is a true opportunity and it really is a wonderful learning experience.

Also, you don’t have to sew.  I want to be clear, you just have to have the ability to make your design, so whether your best friend is a seamstress and you do it together or whether your mom is helping you sew you just need to be able to design and make sure that it shows up at Comic-Con on the runway looking like your design.

That does really level the playing field across all experience levels and it makes it really approachable to anybody.  We at Talk Nerdy With Us really think that this concept of geek-couture is really wonderful.

Thank you so much!  One thing I want to add to the previous question that I think is really important because it speaks to the designers and this has happened all three years but has really grown the past two.  It is a competition so of course these designers want to win, but what has happened, and it’s so beautiful, they’ve created their own kind of private group where they support each other and as I’ve gone – it’s an online group – as I’ve gone to each designer they talk about the friendships that they’ve made in the community that they’ve built with each other.  Some of the more experienced designers are offering their help and support to some of the newer designers. 

In fact, one of the designers took another designer shopping for her fabric because she was new to LA and she didn’t know anyone and I think what we see at Comic-Con is that this is such a supportive community and I really want that to show and I think it will.  In a time where it is so easy to tear other people down, that’s not what we have here.  We have a true supportive community where we’re fans of building each other up. 

 

You will be able to tune in to “The Her Universe Fashion Show” on Comic-Con HQ starting on June 30th.  Be a part of the evolution of geek-couture!

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