'Star Wars' actress broadens souvenir universe for female fans

McClatchy NewspapersSeptember 27, 2010 

EMPTY

Ashley Eckstein models the Padme Amidala T-shirt

KELSEY EDWARDS — Kelsey Edwards Photography / Her Universe / MCT

ORLANDO, Fla. — When Ashley Eckstein, 29, was first cast as the voice of Jedi apprentice Ahsoka Tano in the animated "Star Wars: The Clone Wars," she went looking for "Star Wars" merchandise aimed at her gender. She rapidly realized it was scarce on the ground.

"I scoured the Internet looking for more female 'Star Wars' merchandise and realized it didn't really exist, and, if it did, it was either sold out or on back order or very small," she says.

Eckstein decided that female science-fiction fans deserved better. In June, she launched a company called Her Universe that sells T-shirts, hoodies and jewelry.

"I started talking to Lucasfilm and we joined forces. My first license is 'Star Wars,' naturally, because of my role in 'The Clone Wars,'" Eckstein says. She is in talks with other media franchises.

Science fiction commonly is viewed as a mostly male field. Challenging that perception are the latest demographics from the Syfy channel, where viewership in the third quarter was 48 percent female.

"I will say that behind the scenes in Syfy, the people working at Lucasfilm, the people running some of the top sci-fi websites — a lot of women are making things happen," Eckstein says. "Girls need not be scared to show it. There are a lot of other girls who are closet sci-fi fans that aren't talking about it publicly."

"I don't understand how there's still a stereotype that it's a boy's world – and I'm not trying to say it's a girl's world, I'm just trying to say that it's for everyone."

She's been working on the clothing line for three years.

"My very first product I made, way before the line, was my Swarovski crystal 'Star Wars' ball cap. I ordered a hat online — they didn't have any girls' hats, there were only guys' hats — and it was just kind of bland when I got it in the mail. So I ordered Swarovski crystals that were the same color as the logo, and some clear crystals, and completely bedazzled the hat." Eckstein works with original artists, and with Lucasfilm, on the T-shirt designs.

At the "Star Wars" convention Celebration V in Orlando, Fla., in August, buyers jammed the Her Universe booth.

Buyers tried on shirts in a women's cut that appeared to run slightly small. One T-shirt, a red art nouveau-style shirt of doomed heroine Padme Amidala from the "Star Wars" films, sold out at various sizes, for $30 a pop.

Eckstein hopes to have more merchandise soon. On the website, there's only a Rebel Alliance necklace, $30, but she wants more jewelry in the future including R2-D2 charms, purses and lip gloss in a lightsaber holder.

She is firm on keeping quality control. "The thing I started with my line is that if I wouldn't pay for it _ if I wouldn't buy it — I'm not going to sell it. 'Cause I can't tell you how many items I've bought that were ruined after the first time I washed it or fell apart. ... It's very important to me to maintain a certain sense of quality."

Fan support is crucial.

"I say to the girls, if we can show sales now, this is just the beginning," she said. "We can do so much more, but we have to prove that girls will buy. If girls won't buy, we won't get to make more."

As for those male fans?

"The male gender has been so supportive. I would say we had just as many guys at our booth (at Celebration) as girls because they're buying for their wives, their daughters, their girlfriends, their sisters, and the nice thing is that they've all been supportive," Eckstein says. "Honestly, the guys have come up and said, 'Thank you. I've wanted to get something for my daughter.'"

ON THE WEB

Her Universe

Syfy channel

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