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'Doctor Who' takes U.S. fashion by storm

Most people in America might not be familiar with the words Tardis, Dalek, or the Doctor, but that number is shrinking as more people embrace the classic British science fiction show turned U.S. cult-hit "Doctor Who." That means U.S. fans are clamoring now more than ever for show-themed T-shirts and accessories, and are even turning to DIY their own until stores can meet demand.  

“’Doctor Who’ is the single most emerging property we saw at [San Diego] Comic-Con,” Cindy Levitt, Vice President, General Merchandise Manager for the store Hot Topic told TODAY.com. “There were so many DIY outfits; so many great dresses, knitted caps, and 20 different Tardis’!”

BBC America’s top rated show has become a pop culture hit in the United States since it returned to TV in 2005, causing an increase in demand for merchandise. According to BBC Worldwide’s EVP of Home Entertainment and Licensing Soumya Sriraman, the ratings for season 6 in the U.S. were the best yet and the season was the number one downloaded series on iTunes, beating out shows like “Modern Family” and “Glee.” “Doctor Who” also made history in July by becoming the first British TV show ever featured on the cover of Entertainment Weekly. 

Sriraman told TODAY.com that the product development and branding plan for the show has taken more of a concentration on fashion here than in the U.K. as they work to grow the brand. Hot Topic along with online retailers Her Universe and ThinkGeek have all seen an increase in consumers asking for "Doctor Who" products.

Actress Ashley Eckstein, founder of Her Universe, has been surprised by the interest fans of her company have shown in the British classic.

“I never thought I would see it [‘Doctor Who’] grow this much,” the 30-year-old entrepreneur told TODAY.com. “Girls would come up to me saying they wanted ‘Doctor Who’ shirts and I didn’t know how I could make it work logistically with the BBC in London.”

Luckily Eckstein didn’t have to cross the pond to try to get the rights to make “Doctor Who”-themed T-shirts, BBC America approached her.

“Ashley was a natural choice. She has a pulse on this demographic and on knowing what girls want,” Sriraman said. “We knew from our research that ‘Doctor Who’ was drawing in a lot more women.”

When Her Universe started selling “Doctor Who”-themed T-shirts they completely sold out the first day and they’re not the only one seeing a huge response from fans. “Doctor Who” is one of ThinkGeek’s top brands and the only one where items are bought by just as many women as men, according to the website's press manager, Steve Zimmerman.

Zimmerman believes a British influence on U.S. pop culture and products is not new, citing examples like the “The IT Crowd” and “The Office”.

“Either we're enjoying the British version of the shows or are remaking it in our own way, the influence is still there,” he said. “The fact that a show like ‘Doctor Who,’ which has such a long legacy, is doing well here is great for helping to increase exposure to science fiction as a whole.”

With the premiere of season 7 on BBC America this Saturday, “Doctor Who” fever is sweeping the nation. At the New York City premiere screening at the Ziegfeld Theater last week, there was a large number of fans dressed like the Doctor or his companions, and even more sporting T-shirts with sayings from the show. One girl excitedly talked about finding her T-shirt at Hot Topic which led to a growing crowd that wanted to chime in about where they bought their T-shirts from and what store had the best variety.

According to Sriraman, “Doctor Who” has become the second most requested brand behind “Star Wars,” beating out science fiction favorites like “Star Trek” and “Battlestar Galactica.”

“We’re going to continue to grow this brand which has been around for 50 years,” she said. “We see no signs of stopping it from becoming mainstream.”

Lisa Granshaw is a producer for TODAY.com is a proud Whovian who is counting down the hours to the season 7 premiere.

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