Ashley Eckstein talks us through her brand new Her Universe line, Our Universe, and her upcoming book
We’re huge fans of Her Universe here at HelloGiggles. If you’ve never heard of it, Her Universe is fangirl clothing line started by Ashley Eckstein — and it’s a line that creates awesome, creative, and cute fandom wear that celebrates everything from from Star Wars to anime to Disney Princesses. Her Universe doesn’t only celebrate fangirl fashion, but Eckstein works hard to make her clothing size inclusive, and she hires a diverse range of models to show off the new Her Universe styles online and in the annual Her Universe fashion show. Honestly, our biggest complaint against the line is that it’s all so damn adorable that we’ve all thrown SO MUCH MONEY at the company.
But Eckstein isn’t one to rest on her laurels, and has recently launched a line called Our Universe, which is aimed at tweens, and features masculine and feminine style. While the masculine line is going to be expanding in the future, the first offerings in the Our Universe line are activewear inspired by Disney Princesses and Black Panther. We got the opportunity to talk to Eckstein about the line, why she decided to expand the brand, the heart behind the line, as well as her forthcoming book, It’s Your Universe.
HelloGiggles: I wanted to talk to you about Our Universe. What made you think that this is the right time to not only branch out, but bring in a boys’ line, as well?
Ashley Eckstein: You know, it was something that Disney actually came to me, and asked us if I would be interested. And of course, me being such a massive Disney fan, I think I said yes before they could fully get the question out to me. The funny thing is, and some of the fans already know because I’ve been talking about it for a while, Our Universe was actually already in the works. So I had announced, when Hot Topic acquired Her Universe, that men’s fashion was going to be in our future. At the time I did a Facebook livestream, and I said the line would be called Our Universe. So we were already in the process of trademarking the brand, and figuring out our next steps, when I got the call from Disney. They said, “We love what you’ve done with activewear for the Her Universe brand, and we’d love to do that for kids and tweens. Would you be interested?” They said, “The catch is, we’d love for you to do it for boys and girls. Would you be open to expanding your brand with us? Maybe something like Our Universe?” I started laughing, and I said, “It’s so funny you say that, because we’ve already trademarked Our Universe and we’re currently working on it!” It was perfect. It was kind of like, the universe brought us together. Disney had this idea, and I just was beyond honored that they would come to me and give me the opportunity to design this for them.
HG: Looking at the designs, I have to ask if there will be certain designs that are just for kids and tweens, or if they’ll also be available for adults?
AE: Well, this line that’s currently in Disney stores and in Disney parks and on shopDisney is only available for kids and tweens. But we are launching a Star Wars line in April under the Our Universe brand, exclusively for Disney stores and shopDisney, and that will be available for adults and kids. I’m very excited. It’s going to be Star Wars for the whole family.
It came from a very selfish place, because I designed it, and I fell in love with it. And literally, they didn’t have plans of making it for adults. I looked at the designs, and I actually asked them, “Is there any way you can make this in a couple of larger sizes, so I can wear it, because I love these designs so much, and selfishly I want to wear them.” And everyone else in the room said the same thing, and they were like, “If we want to wear it then I’m sure other adults will, too.” And so we kind of did a matching look for the whole family.
HG: That’s awesome. So, with the new Star Wars line, we have to know how much will Ahsoka be featured?
AE: What I can tell you about the Star Wars line is that it’s inspired by lightsabers. I was very much inspired by lightsaber training, Jedi training. I always love designing with lightsabers. I think it’s a really cool design element, and the colors are really cool. So it’s not character-based, but I am currently working on several Ahsoka designs that you will see this year at San Diego Comic-Con. So yeah, more Ahsoka is definitely coming.
HG: How does designing work differently for you when a line is more Star Wars-inspired as opposed to supposed to be something that is more directly connected to a character like Leia or Rey?
AE: Every single collection is different for me. I look at what the need is, and also what’s already out there, what isn’t out there, for the fans. I always try to do something different. For example, our Black Panther collection for Our Universe is very different than the Princess collection. The Black Panther collection is very much inspired by their costume. We’ve gotten to see Black Panther, actually, in Captain America: Civil War, but this is really the first time we’re getting to see the world of Wakanda, and the characters in action. It’s the first time we’re having the spotlight shined on Wakanda. After looking at their costumes, I was so blown away and inspired.
So that’s why you’ll see that the boys’ outfit is very much inspired by Black Panther’s costume. But we mix the current trends with what boys are wearing today, like to school and to practice, with the compression tops, and the basketball shorts, and the compression pants. We took the trend and merged it with the costume. So a lot of the lines are similar to Black Panther’s costume. The back detail is very similar to the back detail on his costume. The blue pattern is very similar, the claw marks are similar. The Black Panther’s costume glows blue in the movie, and the blue on the boys’ outfit is reflective, so it actually glows as well. I wanted the boys, when they put it on, to truly feel like they’re Black Panther, and be empowered and inspired by him.
And then, the girls’ outfit in the Black Panther line is inspired by the Dora Milaje. I mean, their costumes are so cool. Their armor is so cool, and so when the girl puts it on, I wanted her to feel like she was putting on armor. Like she was literally going to go be empowered by the Dora Milaje, and how cool they are, and put on armor to go about her day. These are outfits that they can wear to school, but then they’re also functional enough for practice, whether it be track practice, soccer practice, or even just band practice. It’s just something that’s cross-functional. We were also very much inspired by the elements of their costumes. The pattern is directly pulled from the costume.
HG: That is so awesome.
AE: Yeah, there is very close attention to detail. It’s all original art. I worked with a very good friend of mine, Kevin Simpson… I’ve worked with him a lot, and he’s a big fan. We literally got to study the costumes and kind of pick them apart and create our own art for it.
HG: Tell me a bit more about the Princess line.
AE: The Princess line was a very different approach from the Black Panther line. Especially with the tween audience, it’s a very different audience in terms of what their wants and needs are. Their love of the princesses hasn’t changed. They still are inspired by and love the princesses just as much as when they did when they were four, five, and six years old. But they’re not necessarily going to walk out of the house in a Belle dress anymore.
So I actually went straight to the source. Luckily my niece, her name is Ava (she’s actually the brunette model in all the photos) was 11, and I asked her who her favorite Disney princess was. Without even skipping a beat, she said, “Cinderella.” I said, “Well, why?” And she goes, “Because she never stops dreaming, no matter what.” She answered me immediately. She didn’t even have to think about it, which proved to me that this is something that is top of mind for her, that she does feel inspired and empowered by the Disney princesses. She just may not wear photos of them on her clothes all the time, but she’s still inspired by them.
So I thought, I want to take out the elements, and the lessons, from each princess, that they teach us, and incorporate that into the designs. Starting with Ava, where she said Cinderella inspires her because she never stops dreaming, no matter what … that reminded me of me, when I was a little girl, because my parents taught me to wish upon a star. My favorite song with my mom was “When You Wish Upon a Star,” and I loved watching Cinderella with her. They taught me to dream.
HG: The tagline for the princess collection is “dream it, do it,” which is something you’ve said a lot in other places. Why did you choose that charge for this line?
AE: When I was nine, [my parents] sat me down, they actually gave me a hat on Christmas morning that said, “Don’t Dream It. Be It.” They explained to me, they said, “All those dreams, that you’ve been wishing upon all those stars, now you have to do it. You have to be it. You can’t just sit back. Your dreams aren’t just going to fall in your lap.” That really opened up my eyes. Something clicked with me. I was like, “Oh my gosh! I have to be the one to work hard and make these dreams happen?” I know it sounds silly to us, as adults, but at that age, we do need to teach kids how to dream it, and do it.
That’s what I wanted to do with this line. That’s why I picked the phrase, “Dream It. Do It.” I wanted to pull out all the lessons that the princesses taught us. And I created that crest. Almost like … girls, and even boys, because several boys love the princesses too. The crest represents the characters and the lessons that they taught us, almost like you’re going to a princess school. And it stands as a reminder for all those lessons, what to learn and what to keep in mind as you go about your day. Disney let me write a mantra for the line which is on all the closes. I’m so inspired by those videos online of the dad and the daughter looking in the mirror every morning, saying “I am brave,” “I am strong.” So I wrote a mantra that I hope fans will say to themselves as they go about their day every morning, and their lessons by each of the princesses, and it’s “I am brave. I am fearless.” It’s everything in what it means to be a Disney princess, because I do believe that every girl is a Disney princess. So this line is very inspired by … the girl that’s wearing it is a Disney princess, so I don’t really have images of the princesses on the line, because the wearer is the princess. It’s more icons and symbols and reminders of what it means to be a Disney princess.
HG: I love the idea of putting icons instead of the actual princess faces. Even as adults sometimes, which is one of the reasons that I love Her Universe, it’s like, “Well, I really do love Star Wars, but I don’t want to go into the office with Princess Leia on my dress, because that’s probably not going to work out. But the top with the logos on it, I can wear that into work, and show off that.” And I love that you’re doing that for kids who maybe don’t want to pop a character on their clothes, but still want to channel that power, and that love that they have for their fandom.
AE: I think with tweens, they’re at the age when they’re in that in-between phase, where they are looking to the teens, and even to the adults, and they want to dress a bit more inspired by [the fandom as a whole]. But at the same time, we’ve still got to remember they’re still so young, and they’re still learning so much. You know, the Marvel line also has a mantra to it. I really tried to make this line empowering and educational at the same time.
HG: The last thing I wanted to talk about is your book, It’s Your Universe. You just dropped the cover of your book. How did you settle on that image?
AE: I sort of always had the image in my mind, because it’s so empowering to me. There’s a lot of talk about wishing upon a star in the book. And so I wanted a star on the cover, but then there’s a lot of talk about Star Wars in the book, because without Star Wars, I truly wouldn’t be talking with you today. So I wanted to do something that combined my love of Disney and combined my love of Star Wars. I just thought of that iconic Star Wars pose that Luke did in the original Star Wars poster, that Rey just did in The Last Jedi poster, and I thought, how cool would it be if I could do my own version of that empowering Star Wars pose, holding a light saber, but it also looks like a star. Leave it to my designer Ashley Taylor, who I’ve worked with quite a bit. We kind of gave her the concept, and she just knocked it out of the park on the first try.
That’s how it all came together, combining my love of Disney, combining my love of Star Wars, and then having the talent of Ashley Taylor to bring it all together. I also have an amazing photographer and designer that I worked with on most of our shoots. Really, it was just a good team. Teamwork makes dream work, I say.
HG: What made you think that now is the right time to write a book?
AE: In the excerpt I released, I say that I wanted to set the record straight that I asked Disney if I could write this book. They didn’t ask me. I had the privilege of helping promote the Ahsoka book for Star Wars that E.K. Johnson wrote. I asked them if I could, because obviously I’m so passionate about Ahsoka, and anything that’s about her I always want to help promote. I had so much fun on that book tour that I went back to Disney, and they even said to me, “Well, this was fun. Let’s do more together.”
We were talking about ideas, and they did ask me if I would be interested in writing my story. I said, “Look. I’m not even here talking to you today without the inspiration and influence of Disney in my life. I really grew up Disney. Disney taught me to dream and Disney taught me to dream it and do it. I would love to tell my story, but more as a guide and advice book on, here’s what Disney taught me, and here’s how you can do it, too.” If I could do one thing, I would love to just pay it forward, because I’m so grateful to the lessons that Disney taught me, that I’d love to share them, and share those steps with others.
It’s an advice and inspirational book aimed at tweens, and I do tell my story, but it breaks down dreaming and doing into steps. It starts with a dream, then you wish, then you believe, then you do, then you transform, and then you trust. It’s an interactive book. There’s prompts throughout the book that I encourage fans to treat it as a journal and write in it and make it your own. Hopefully, by the end, the reader has a guide and a road map on how to make your dreams come true.
We are so excited for Our Universe, and the way it will empower and inspire kids. With this new line and book, Her Universe and Ashley are putting so many awesome products out there into the world to inspire kids to dream big and chase those dreams.