ORLANDO, Fla. — In June 2010, actress Ashley Eckstein, the voice of the Ahsoka Tano on the animated TV series “Star Wars: the Clone Wars,” opened a booth at the Celebration V convention in Orlando.
It was for her new company Her Universe, which aimed directly at an elusive demographic in the media fan-geek world — women.
Two years later, Her Universe is a success with licensing from “Star Wars,” “Battlestar Galactica” and “Star Trek.” Its shirts and jewelry are sold in stores like Hot Topics and online at ThinkGeek.com
At 2012’s Celebration VI “Star Wars” convention in August, Eckstein mused on building her company. “Being an actress, you have to have thick skin because you’re rejected a lot. I think that prepared me for having my own business because you especially have to have thick skin for your own business.”
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“It’s been tough because I want to try to find that sweet spot where you’re pleasing most of the fans. We’re getting there.”
After two years, Her Universe has broken even. Eckstein says. “From a business point of view they always say year two is the pivotal year for a new company. We definitely had some growing pains because jumping from your booth at a convention to a store is a big step to make.” All Her Universe’s profits are invested back into the company.
She constantly asks for feedback. “I don’t want things sugar-coated. I want to know how can I improve, how can I become better, because I feel a responsibility to the fans who know what they want. I just don’t know how to get there. And I’m not going to get there if I don’t learn from my mistakes.”
She even takes fashion tips from the kids at the Disney “Star Wars” Weekends. “All these young kids have told me that your ring finger, you paint a different (nail) color, so I decided to give it a try.”
Eckstein estimates that about 50 percent of the fans of Her Universe are men. Many are pleased that now they have an opportunity to buy clothes specifically for their “wives, or their moms or their daughters or their sisters or their cousins” or significant others. To those who ask why not a “His Universe,” she points to the rest of the convention floor, and says, “It’s out there.”
Her latest shirt was designed by actress, singer and artist Denise Vasquez. It has a Darth Vader Day-of-the-Dead theme with the saying, “La Fuerza Es Fuerte Con Este” — the Force is strong with this one, a Darth Vader line from “Star Wars.”
Her business’ reputation is spreading. Along with U.S. television shows, she now has the license for the worldwide U.K. hit “Doctor Who.” At San Diego ComicCon, “a wonderful man named Ed Casey from BBC America came up. He goes, “I hear you’re the company that knows how to make T-shirts for fan girls.’” He handed her his card, then said, “I want to talk about Doctor Who.”
Casey is the director of licensing for BBC Worldwide America. With the 50th anniversary of “Doctor Who” coming up in 2013, Her Universe is planning a special T-shirt and maybe more.
She’s now a big fan of the show. “I won’t design for something unless I’m a fan of it. They’re fun playgrounds to play in.”
The newest challenge is social media. “It’s this world where you’re supposed to share everything on Twitter and on Facebook and you’re constantly connected, and that’s been new to me.” Responsive to her online fan community, she is also protective of its members. “It’s so great because I get to connect with all of the girls in our community but it’s something that I’m continuing to learn to navigate. And I’m very protective our girls in that it’s a very dangerous place in the cyber world.”
She realizes “The Clone Wars” has made her a role model to many young girls. “To me it’s an honor that I don’t take lightly, because so many actors and sports figures say, ‘I don’t want to be a role model.’ Whether you want to be or not, you have to realize that you’re in that position, you’re gonna be (one).”
But she’s constantly amazed and inspired at the women she meets at conventions.
At the official Star Trek Convention in Las Vegas just before Celebration, she met Kayla Iacovino, who is studying for her Ph.D in volcanology and petrology at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom.
“It’s really still an untapped market, the power of women, and it’s not being talked about enough,” she says. “There’s all these amazing women and we’re not hearing their stories. How do we tell their stories?”