Ashley Eckstain explains why she started a Star Wars fashion brand

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What’s in your bag? is a recurring feature where we ask people to tell us a bit more about their everyday gadgets by opening their bags and hearts to us. This week, we’re featuring voice actress and fashion designer Ashley Eckstein.

A decade ago, the Star Wars franchise expanded in a new direction with an animated series called The Clone Wars. The series followed the Jedi Knights and Clone Troopers who were fighting in the war that started in 2002’s Attack of the Clones. It also introduced a young Jedi Padawan assigned to Anakin Skywalker, Ahsoka Tano, voiced by actress Ashley Eckstein.

While the series got off to a rocky start, Ahsoka quickly became a popular and enduring character in the franchise who grew up to become a wise, strong leader for the growing rebellion in the next animated show, Star Wars Rebels. Next year, Eckstein will reprise her role when The Clone Wars returns on Disney’s upcoming streaming service, Disney+.

Since the show ended back in 2013, Eckstein has not only established herself as a voice actress for the franchise. She is also a fashion designer and champion of the franchise’s female fans, launching a woman-focused brand called Her Universe.

At San Diego Comic-Con this summer, I met up with Eckstein to talk about her work at Her Universe, and what she carries with her in her bag. Her enthusiasm is infectious: on her way over to meet with me, she spoke with a fan who recognized her. Upon hearing that his daughter was a fan of her character, she had him pull out his phone and record a voice message — in character — urging her to practice being a Jedi and to keep her head up.

Image: Lucasfilm

“We’ve been able to find success with [Her Universe] because the numbers are on our side,” she told me when we found a quiet corner of the hotel lobby. “The sheer fact that half of all sci-fi and fantasy fans are now woman and girls, and I knew that the women were there, and I knew that I was one of them. I was like, ‘I’m a fangirl, and I will buy this if you make it.’ I think it’s just the fact that we’ve always been there, but we’ve never been catered to until now.”

Her Universe started out because she wanted more Star Wars apparel for herself. “I honestly thought more existed, but when I came up empty-handed and found out that there was really nothing — and then was told that I should be happy with a men’s size small — I was like, ‘Okay, this is a problem.’ More importantly than even the lack of merchandise, I found that women and girls were being bullied for just being who we are. So I wanted to make merchandise so women and girls could be comfortable being a fangirl.”

Eckstein speaks from experience, noting that she’s been the subject of cyberbullying, even recently. “It hurts, I’m not going to lie. Of course you read the comments, and you pull those out. But I have to keep in mind that it’s still a small minority of fans, and most of the fans are supportive and positive,” noting that her online Her Universe presence works to add to that positivity and create a safe space for fans. Her character, Ahsoka, she notes, is one that she’s able to draw guidance from. “I ask my self on a regular basis: ‘What would Ahsoka do? Ahsoka would stand up for fangirls.’”

After that, she excused herself, noting that she had to run to a panel — during which Lucasfilm announced that a new season of Clone Wars was coming — and we met up later that day to chat about what she carries around in her bag.

Tell me a bit about your bag.

I love this new bag. This is from our Destination Disney line by Her Universe. It’s a new collection that we launched here at San Diego Comic-Con, and it is inspired by Jasmine’s look [from Aladdin]. We took the magic carpet and turned it into a bag. It’s really just like if you were to fold up the magic carpet and turn it into a purse. That’s what it would be, and it even has the tassel! So I’m super obsessed with this bag right now. It’s brand-new, and it has all of my essentials for Comic-Con.

What about the design and the artwork appeals to you the most?

It’s literally the artwork from the magic carpet from Aladdin. I think just being a Disney fan. I love Aladdin, and it’s one of the films that I grew up on. It just inspires me so much. This was also designed by one of the winners of our fashion show in 2017. We do a fashion show every year at [San Diego] Comic-Con, and the winners get to design a collection with Her Universe to be sold at Hot Topic. And so I love that I’m supporting one of the designers by buying the bag that she designed.

You’ve got your convention pass, your book, and notebook. Tell me a bit about the book.

It’s called It’s Your Universe: You Have the Power to Make it Happen. We’re doing book signings here at Comic-Con, but I actually always keep a book with me because I like to pass them out. So my dream and my goal for this year is to be a dream warrior. A dream warrior is somebody that I think fiercely goes out there and helps make dreams come true or make your own dreams come true. And so I always keep a book handy because if I meet a young fan or even just, you know, a fangirl of any age, and if they tell me their dreams or if they ask for advice, I like to have one handy to give to them.

Do you do that a lot?

Oh yes. I love to pay it forward to a new generation of dreamers

I always keep a journal with me, and that’s my favorite quote by Cinderella: “They can’t order me to stop dreaming.” I don’t really write in a diary, but I write in a journal all the time. I write down any thoughts, ideas, quotes, checklists… you know, everything. I always have a journal on me. And then, of course, a pen.

I just went to the Girl Up summit in Washington, DC. It’s the partner for Dream Big Princess. They also work with United Nations and UNICEF, and it’s bringing together girls from all over the world to create peace and girl empowerment. I’m definitely inspired by them. So using that pen inspires me because there are so many girls that are a part of Girl Up that are causing change throughout the world.

And then, of course, the Comic-Con badge. You can’t go anywhere without that. So that is glued to me during Comic-Con.

Of course, you have to stay hydrated at Comic-Con, so I always have a bottle of water on me. My wallet is usually pretty bulky so for this, so I like to bring a little pouch, and I just put the essentials in it: some cash, credit cards, business cards. I love Alice in Wonderland — like I’m obsessed with Alice in Wonderland — so that’s my pouch for, you know, everything.

Where did you get the pouch?

I got that at Hot Topic about two years ago. But I collect all things Alice in Wonderland. I love that quote — “If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense” — because everything’s always crazy, and I love that. You know what I love about Alice in Wonderland is that she’s so curious, and she creates the world that she wants, not the world that everyone tells her she should live in.

And then I have my Dinglehopper Makeup Brush. That’s a part of the Destination Disney Line that we just launched, but that goes hand in hand with my compact. I always have a compact with me, and so I keep a makeup brush just in case I want to use the brush with the compact.

Ever use the fork end for its intended purpose?

[Laughs] Not yet. The Little Mermaid was another film that really inspired me growing up. Then, I carry a brush because you have to have a brush nearby. It’s windy outside. And of course, sunglasses. Those are my Star Wars sunglasses. I like to have a little bit of fandom on me at all times.

Photography by Andrew Liptak / The Verge

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