Ashley Eckstein is a mover-and-a-shaker in more ways than one. She not only voices the fan fave character of Ahsoka Tano on the animated series, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, but she has launched a company called Her Universe with a line of sci-fi apparel for female fans.
I had the wonderful opportunity to sit down with the gracious and effervescent Ashley Eckstein at Star Wars Fan Days in Dallas, Texas to talk about her character that has become so popular with a new generation of Star Wars fans and about the Her Universe. Check out our conversation below. (I’ve also intercut two fan questions from the Clone Wars panel as well.)
SciFi Mafia: Let’s talk about Her Universe, what inspired you to create a geek chic line of clothing for women?
Ashley Eckstein: Well, it all started because selfishly, I’m a fan and I wanted more merchandise. I was just cast on The Clone Wars and I only had one Star Wars shirt that was actually made for girls and so I wanted more! I went to the internet and I went to the stores and I couldn’t find anything. It was either sold out, back ordered or didn’t exist. So I started doing more research because I’m like “I can’t be the only one.” I see all of these women at these events and it turns out close to half of all sci-fi fans are women. And they weren’t giving us things to buy. It’s funny that 85% of all consumer purchases are made by women. So the numbers are not adding up.
SFM: It doesn’t make sense!
Ashley Eckstein: It really started from there. Sci-fi is for everyone. We’re not trying to say it’s for women [only] and we’re not trying to say that it’s not for guys. We just want equal treatment.
SFM: Exactly! And how did you get involved with partnering up Her Universe with SyFy?
Ashley Eckstein: You know, they’ve just been fantastic. At our first San Diego Comic-Con where we just launched Her Universe in 2010, we did a panel, a first Her Universe panel. We had Erica Kannair, who’s an executive at SyFy, on the panel and also Jane Espenson who SyFy put us in touch with. We got to talking with the executives at SyFy and we got to know more people and half of their viewer demographic is women. Some of their shows, they have more female viewers than male viewers – Being Human, Ghost Hunters, they skew sometimes as much as 60% female.
SFM: Two words for that – Sam Witwer!
Ashley Eckstein: [laughs] Yeah, that would do it! Sam as a vampire shirtless…
SFM: And his episode of Clone Wars was so sexy…
Ashley Eckstein: Oh my gosh, he… the Mortise trilogy, when he first appeared on the Clone Wars, his acting was just phenomenal. He’s just such a good actor and you can tell on Being Human, he’s just fantastic. I’m a huge fan of the show.
So just through that panel, we got to know everyone and it seemed like a nice fit and it just all started from there.
SFM: Now, Her Universe isn’t just a clothing line is it? Your website is inspiring a movement of young fangirls!
Ashley Eckstein: Well, that was something that I felt was important from the very beginning. This is not just a merchandise line. This has to be a community for female fans. We are not only creating merchandise, but we’re breaking down a stereotype that a) Women aren’t into sci-fi and b) women wouldn’t buy merchandise made for them. I felt that in order to do that, we all need to ban together because united we stand, divided we fall. If we all come united and say “we’re women, we’re here and we like sci-fi and we want stuff made for us.” That was really important to me.
Also, we just created a safe community for female fans. You know, not so much us as adults. We made it through. We’re to the point where it’s like I’m not ashamed to say, “I’m a girl and I like Star Wars” but some of the younger girls are still afraid to do that. I felt that if we created a community of strong women, then that will encourage the younger girls and tell them that it’s ok and they’re not alone. And sure enough, we’ve actually started groups of girls that met on our website that are now getting together and meeting. There’s one group that’s over 60 girls! That was my goal was to get girls together.
SFM: That in itself is an amazing feat and a wonderful, positive message to send young girls.
Ashley Eckstein: Well, I’m tired of the bullying, I know it’s an issue that, us alone, we’re not going to solve. It’s terribly out of control but when it involves sci-fi like the girl Katie and her [Star Wars] water bottle… She’s such a sweet little girl and her story just broke my heart because I think we all related to it. If I can make a difference for these girls that like Star Wars and like sci-fi by maybe making it more recognizable so the kids in their class won’t make fun of them because it becomes more accepted to them to like Star Wars. So we’re trying.
SFM: And you mentioned recently in a blog post that you had noticed a line of derogatory t-shirt designs marketed towards young girls.
Ashley Eckstein: I think we all had the same reaction…
SFM: Are you going to be coming out with a new line to combat those tees by JC Penny and Forever 21 that project the image that girls should be dumb?
Ashley Eckstein: We’re definitely coming out with t-shirts for that for the Her Universe brand. That’s something that we’re designing now. The message that we’re trying to send is that it’s cool to be smart. The popular girls are the smart girls and not because you’re the prettiest girl in school. If that makes sense. Trust me, that is a major stereotype I’m not trying to fight that one right now but if I can encourage girls that hey, I made it through algebra. One of the shirts was “Allergic to Algebra.” I busted my butt all year long [on that]. I was a pretty good student but it wasn’t easy. Do I use algebra today? No, but it gave me a sense of confidence that goes on to other things.
SFM: Exactly! It’s all about self-confidence for young girls and instilling that belief in themselves in their own abilities. Like you said, we can’t fight the social norm but we can at least make girls feel better about themselves.
Ashley Eckstein: Exactly, because at the end of the day, if you figure something out on your own through your own intelligence and through your own hard work, I don’t care how pretty you’re looking that day you’re going to feel better about yourself because of what you overcame not because of what you’re wearing or how cute your hair and make-up is. The sense of accomplishment that you get from…
SFM: Using your brain.
Ashley Eckstein: Yes, thank you. From using your brain. That makes me feel so good and that’s what I want to encourage with our girls. You can be pretty, too! I like hair and make-up. I like dressing up and all of that stuff, but use your brain and it’s cool to do that.
Fan Q: Will your Her Universe clothing line be sold in stores as well as online?
Ashley Eckstein: We definitely plan on releasing it in stores. A fact that many people don’t know is that the reason why we haven’t been in stores yet is because we didn’t have the rights to sell in stores. We only had the rights to sell online and at conventions. Because honestly, we had to prove to a lot of people that girls would buy the merchandise. I know it sounds silly but we were met with a lot of skepticism.
LucasFilm was unbelievably supportive. I can’t thank them enough because they gave me an opportunity when nobody else would. No one else wanted to believe that women would buy sci-fi merchandise. I can’t thank everyone enough.
Every single purchase is actually making a statement. All we’re asking for is equal opportunity. So when a guy and a girl walk into Hot Topic and the guys have five Star Wars shirts, we’ll have an equal amount made for women. We’re getting there. We’ve only been out a year and a half.
However, we’ve received lots of interest from certain retail stores. I have to thank everyone here that came to Disney’s Star Wars Weekends. Disney was so surprised at the amount of women that bought the merchandise that they are going to pick up our merchandise year-round. So it’s coming. It just will take a little while.
SFM: Now, switching gears back to Clone Wars, your character Ahsoka Tano has grown and evolved significantly over the recent season, what do you reference in yourself that you draw on to pull Ahsoka through all her trials and challenges?
Ashley Eckstein: Oh jeez, I have to give credit to the writing of the show. I have nothing to do with that. They just give us such great scenes and lines to say. That’s a huge part of it. The writing makes our job easier and makes us look good because people ask us all the time “Do you have say with the lines?” and we don’t. However, I would say that Ahsoka’s more of an inspiration to me because she always tries to do what’s right at all costs. She takes the Jedi way of life very seriously. With every decision she makes and every choice she makes, she’s always questioning if that’s the right thing to do and I try to keep that in mind. What I take from Star Wars is that good will always overcome evil but you need to make the right choices. I definitely have to give credit to Dave Filoni and his crew for writing such a great character.
Fan Q: Is the relationship between Ahsoka Tano and Anakin going to keep developing as far as development of the characters are concerned?
Ashley Eckstein: I think we’ve seen it from the beginning of the series until now – how much closer they’ve become. She’s very much Anakin’s little sister. I saw the crazy music videos that were developed in the beginning where people thought their relationship was more than purely platonic, but I think we’ve all seen now that their relationship is really like brother-sister, really close. It’ll be interesting. I say that this is my personal opinion, Ahsoka, I think she would be shocked if she knew what happened in the future. I think she only sees the good in Anakin. She does question his actions and what he does quite often but just the thought of his being married to Padame and him turning to the Dark Side,… I don’t even think she’d believe it. I don’t know what is coming up in the future, but it will be interesting to see what she does find out, how she reacts… I don’t know any of that. I’m like you guys as a fan. I’m anxiously awaiting for the scripts to see what happens. But I like the direction that it’s progressed. And I think that what we’ve seen from Ahsoka that she’s become less of a side-kick and more of just one of the gang.
SFM: Well, now, I know you get this question a lot but what do you think is the ultimate fate of your character? Did she escape the Order 66?
Ashley Eckstein: You know, I don’t know and that’s the honest answer because I don’t think it’s decided yet. Our show as it continues in future seasons that we didn’t even know if we were able to do, now we’re getting to be able to tell more and more stories. I think that her fate keeps changing. However, I am emotionally attached to Ahsoka and the thought of anything bad happening to Ahsoka makes me sad without a doubt. Whatever happens will be the right thing for the overall Star Wars story and I trust Dave Filoni from the bottom of my heart. Anything that I would have come up with wouldn’t be nearly as good as what they come up with.
SFM: The character of Ahsoka is such a good role model for girls and on the flip side, in the real world, you are also doing the same thing with Her Universe. Thank you for being such a strong leader and for setting a great example for “geek” girls.
Ashley Eckstein: Thank you. Well, here’s my thing. I am just humbled that Dave Filoni and George Lucas gave me this opportunity to play this character and Ahsoka is such a positive role model for girls that I feel like I need to do the character and the organization of LucasFilm justice. I don’t want to let them down because there is a huge opportunity with this character that I didn’t create and I’m not writing but they are doing such positive things with her that I feel like I have to just uphold what they’re doing on the creative side.
SFM: Thank you for all that you do for Star Wars and for geek girls everywhere! Thank you for creating Her Universe. We’re so glad that the issue is being addressed.
Ashley Eckstein: Thank you. Well, we’re trying! Like I said, there are certain stereotypes that we’re never going to win but we can at least try.
SFM: Exactly right! Thank you very much for talking with SciFi Mafia, Ashley!
Stay tuned for a chance to win a Her Universe “Flaunt Your World” purple wristband from SciFi Mafia and Eckstein’s Her Universe!