ORLANDO, Fla. – MegaCon started Thursday at the Orange County Convention Center, and if you believe the conventional wisdom, this massive show is full of male-geared activities.
But look closer. You’re likely to find an equal level of genders perusing comic books, getting celebrity signatures and checking out the latest gaming systems.
A study conducted in 2015 on behalf of Eventbrite showed a near-equal number of men and women liked the kind of pop culture things you’d find at MegaCon.
It’s a fact the industries are finally paying attention to.
Ask Ashley Eckstein, she’ll tell you.
Eckstein, an accomplished actress who originated the character of Ahsoka Tano in the popular Star Wars animated series “Clone Wars,” created a pop culture fashion line that catered to women to fill a niche that was overlooked at the time.
“I wanted Star Wars clothes made for me so I could wear to promote the show,” Eckstein said. “And I just went shopping, you know like everyone else and I quickly came up empty-handed. And I thought, you know, this isn’t right. You know, I go to conventions and I see women everywhere. Why is there nothing for us?”
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“So I started doing my research. And I found out that at the time and, this is back in 2009, you know, 45% of all sci-fi and fantasy fans were women and girls, and 85% of all consumer purchases at the time were being made by women,” she continued.
So with zero business experience, and those two metrics, Eckstein started Her Universe in 2010.
“To basically say that this world, the stories that we love, are not just for men and boys, they’re not just for women and girls, they’re for everyone,” Eckstein said.
Now 13 years old, Her Universe’s pop-culture licensed clothes can be found in Disney’s theme parks, in stores like Hot Topic and on her own website. It doesn’t just cater to women either, but to children and men too.
During MegaCon this weekend, Her Universe will have a merchandise booth featuring clothes from properties like Star Wars, Marvel comics and entertainment, The Lord of the Rings and more.
It wasn’t easy for her.
“Everyone doubted me. They said it couldn’t be done. That there was no way I could possibly build a profitable business and sell the female fans,” Eckstein said.
“Female fans were an afterthought that you know, the stereotype was so strong, they didn’t even think they forgot about us. And so I didn’t even have research on my side. I literally had to go off of what I was seeing in front of me, which was female fans everywhere,” she said.
Mistakes also plagued her early efforts, Eckstein said.
“Lucasfilm (makers of Star Wars) told me no twice. And I realized that they weren’t saying no to my idea. They were saying no to how I was going about it. So I went away for about nine months and I did what they told me to do,” Eckstein said.
She got a very restricted license with Lucasfilm which allowed her to do conventions and build a fanbase. Armed with that, she was able to expand her license with Lucasfilm. Eckstein said Disney was also a big believer in her work, allowing her to sell her merchandise in the parks.
“I don’t think I would have grown the way that I did. And you know that a lot of credit goes to a group of key people in Disney merchandise and also Lucasfilm that believed in me and saw that there was opportunity,” Eckstein said. “So yeah, I mean, I think I feel very fortunate. I haven’t done this alone. I’ve had several champions behind the scenes.”
For women who are thinking about starting a business, Eckstein said it’s important to build a trusted core team of people who are smarter than you and can help you reach your goals.
“So building that support system of people that will keep you going on those hard days,” Eckstein said.
Just like more women are into geek culture, more women are also business owners. According to the White House, nearly half of all new businesses in the United States were started by women in 2021. Women-owned businesses employ more than 10 million American workers.
“But at the end of the day, you have to have that belief that your dream is going to come and you know, it’s a constant daily process,” she said.
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