Eckstein at the 2019 Her Universe Fashion Show, the most recent to take place in person. | Source: Her Universe/the Pop Insider

It’s been two years since Comic-Con International: San Diego (SDCC) graced the halls of the San Diego Convention Center, which means it’s also been two years since talented, fan-fueled designers have gotten to show off their skills on stage at the Her Universe Fashion Show, an event that has become an SDCC staple.

Following one year without a fashion show and last year’s virtual version of the event, the show is heading back to San Diego this Thursday, July 21.

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This year, Her Universe founder Ashley Eckstein will co-host the show with her friend, drag icon Nina West. Eckstein and West became friends because of their mutual advocacy for mental health awareness which Eckstein says will — as usual — be centered in the show. And Eckstein, as she told the Pop Insider, could not be more excited about being back in person.

“I think everyone is really craving the sense of community and community in person,” she says. “You know, a hug means so much more now than it ever did before. And the chance to hear applause and get that immediate feedback. I mean, the stakes are just higher. And not so much from a competition standpoint, but even from a mental health standpoint. It’s like we’re craving that feeling of electricity in person. “

That feeling ties in directly with the theme of this year’s show, which is “Coming Home.” As Eckstein explains, this is a reflection of how it feels to be back at an in-person SDCC and an in-person fashion show and will especially shine through in the designers’ video diaries.

“It’s become very, very clear to me that for our mental health, we need to get out and connect in person. And I’m just excited to do that at, really, the mecca of conventions,” Eckstein says. “I don’t think anyone would argue that San Diego Comic-Con is the ultimate fan experience. It really is home to us all, and it’s like all will feel right when we are finally able to come together in person, in San Diego.”

The winners of last year’s online fashion show — Teighlor Johnson, Skyler Barrett, and Vivien Lee — will get a chance to experience that in-person magic, too, serving as judges for this year’s show. They’ll be joined by industry experts Elena Vrska and Mallory Leveille. This panel of judges will ultimately select one winner from the 26 finalists’ original, fandom-inspired designs, while the audience will vote on a second winner. Both winning designers will get to design a collection with Her Universe for Hot Topic.

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Throughout the show, attendees can also expect plenty of surprises, including Eckstein’s outfits — For now, she’s tight-lipped about what she’ll be wearing to the show, but her looks are always show-stoppers.

The 8th Her Universe Fashion Show will kick off at 6 p.m. PT on Thursday, July 21, at the Manchester Grand Hyatt Hotel Harbor Ballroom. Doors will open at 5:15 p.m. and the show is free to attend for anyone with an SDCC badge.