Friday evening a letter from Her Universe founder Ashley Eckstein went out via email. In it was the news that retailer Hot Topic acquired the Her Universe brand.
I was not expecting that.
Maybe I should have though.
Her Universe started as a t-shirt company for women. After Ashley Eckstein, voice of Ahsoka Tano from The Clone Wars, realized how difficult it was to find women’s Star Wars shirts during the promotion of the show, she took matters into her own hands. FANgirl Blog founder, Tricia Barr, was on hand at Celebration V back in 2010 and saw how quickly women gravitated to what Ashley had to offer. Retailers were still seeing Star Wars and other properties as male, so it wasn’t so easy to get her product out there at first.
Later the company came out with Battlestar Galactica, Warehouse 13, The Walking Dead, Doctor Who, Nerdist Industries, Studio Ghibli, Star Trek and Transformers apparel. Over the past six years Her Universe has expanded beyond t-shirts too – offering sweatshirts, cardigans, jackets, skirts, dresses, hats, scarves, and, for a time, jewelry.
Of course this wasn’t a one-woman operation. Ashley’s original business partner, The Arcana Group, is a company with e-commerce and souvenir /apparel design and manufacturing capabilities as well as a client roster that mainly focuses on music, theater, and entertainment. That shirt you bought after seeing Wicked or Shrek the Musical? That was Arcana.
Together they sold Her Universe apparel through booths at comic and pop culture conventions, online via Reed Pop Supply Co. and ThinkGeek, in pop-up shops and then more consistently at Disney Parks – eventually adding The Disney Store’s website, and with an online/in-store combo at Torrid, Hot Topic, and Kohls. Naturally the Her Universe-branded e-commerce site that’s been the home of Fangirl of the Day since 2013 has been a player as well.
The relationship with Hot Topic has arguably been the most integrated though and has played a role in expanding the brand. Back in 2013 Her Universe offered Hot Topic-exclusive Star Wars items for May the 4th that included the Japanese tea towel-art dresses and a Denise Vasquez-designed Boba Fett tank. Soon after they released a collection referred to as Doctor Who by Her Universe for Hot Topic. Having products in fairly accessible stores provided a way for Her Universe fans to get to see the product in person and try it on to figure out sizing without having to worry about shipping costs for returns. Early on heruniverse.com’s comparatively high ground shipping prices were a barrier.
Not only has Hot Topic sold Her Universe pieces through their website and stores for several years, but the two have teamed up for the Her Universe Fashion show since its inception. Beyond the retailer’s contributing elements to the show itself, winners have been able to design a capsule collection with Her Universe that’s sold through Hot Topic. You can get a sense in the Hot Topic YouTube series “Marvel by Her Universe” (especially in Episode 1 & Episode 2) of the level of participation from the retailer. And If you listen to the Galactic Fashion podcast’s episode interviewing 2015 winners, Leetal Platt and Kelly Cercone, you’ll get another inkling of the kind of input and value the Hot Topic team gives.
So the boon to Her Universe’s infrastructure has been there all along. Now that integration can become a daily part of Her Universe’s operations instead of on a special collection basis. Benefits from this acquisition will include: better plus sizing, offering designs to European customers, the ability for Ashley to spend more time developing the Her Universe community and Her Universe Press, Ashley Eckstein’s continued overseeing of the brand, and Her Universe retaining product distribution outside of Hot Topic.
The letter from Ashley also mentioned being able to offer some men’s fashion. As she stated in her Facebook Live chat the day the news was announced, she recognizes there is already a lot of men’s fandom apparel and that’s why she’s only interested in adding men’s fashion pieces that aren’t really being done. Ashley and the Her Universe brand message is one of inclusion and equality. She may not have referred to it, but it’s also good to get more fashionable geek apparel items out in the market in general to show other designers and retailers there is a call for it.
Other news from the chat included:
- Star Wars activewear for next year
- Studio Ghibli fashion collection for the holidays
- Star Trek workwear collection with ThinkGeek
- Alice in Wonderland designs in the works
- more of pockets on dresses
- the Her Universe design team is staying on
- designs and quality to improve
- a Dave Filoni-designed Ahsoka shirt coming for the holiday season
- Spider-Man on the design agenda
- a Naboo dress and collection that has been designed and might be available in the spring/summer timeline
While many of the fandom collections are meant to be accessible for a temporary amount of time, Eckstein also encouraged fans to speak up if they feel like items are selling out faster than they’re able to get to them.
So in the end this seems to be a natural progression for the growth of Her Universe. From the press release, the letter, and the Facebook Live chat the brand will be retaining a degree of autonomy. At this point the only thing I wonder is if this will prove to be a market expansion or a double-down on juniors’ sizing and style from both Her Universe and Hot Topic. Items such as allowing the brand to work with more than one retailer, the Star Trek workwear designs, and my own hope lean towards the former. Time will tell and I look forward to finding out.
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