Sassy shirts fit Jewish hipsters to a ‘T’
Shiran Teitelbaum was out running errands recently when a random guy stopped her.
“He asked, ‘Are you Jewish?’ And he said he is, too,” she recalled.
Teitelbaum shouldn’t have been surprised, given that, at the time, she was wearing a white sleeveless top with the words “Shvitz It Out” written in bold, black letters.
It’s one of a series of T-shirts she has created with her friend Alice Blastorah as part of their clothing business, Unkosher Market. Other edgy designs that mix Yiddish with a dash of sass include “Kiss My Tuchis” and “Matzah Ballin.’ ”
“I feel like the shirts are cheeky and transgressive,” Teitelbaum said. “There’s something about it that’s not kosher. It’s straddling a line.”
The shirts were inspired when one of her closest friends converted to Judaism last summer, and Teitelbaum threw her what she called a “Jewchella” party. Unlike Coachella, the epic music festival in Indio, this was a small affair: a half-dozen girlfriends and a menu of bagels and cream cheese. Teitelbaum and Blastorah also brought handmade T-shirts for all of the guests, each with a unique Jewish message, such as “Not in the Tribe But Dig the Vibe.” The shirts were so popular that the pair thought they might be on to something.
Teitelbaum, 29, who is Jewish and grew up in Agoura Hills, and Blastorah, 27, a Toronto native who recently moved to Los Angeles and is not Jewish, weren’t necessarily looking to start a business. They both have full-time jobs on the Westside with a large advertising agency, where the two are creative partners — Teitelbaum is a copy editor, Blastorah is an art director.
But according to Teitelbaum, “In advertising, everyone has a side project. And if they don’t have a side project, they are thinking about side projects. In the end, it makes you a better creative.”
In fact, she and Blastorah had tossed around ideas in the past, such as funny wine labels. But when the Jewchella party guests — all in their 20s and dressed in white muscle shirts with hand-cut sleeves — posted pictures of themselves on social media, people started asking where they could get the shirts. It was too much enthusiasm to ignore.
Shortly after, Unkosher Market opened a shop on Etsy, the online retailer specializing in artisan clothing and gifts, adding new slogans, including “Vodka + Latkes ” and “Totes Koshe,” as in, totally kosher.
“[The shirts] did well,” Teitelbaum said. “Every week I would sell a handful of them.”
But the shirts weren’t premade, and fulfilling orders was a pain. Plus, the pair thought they could improve on the shirts’ design and quality. So they closed the Etsy shop and reconvened.
They found a local private label vendor who would produce the shirts in Los Angeles exactly as they wanted them, in prewashed jersey cotton. (The company’s website boasts that the fabric is “sewn in Los Angeles with 100% cotton and 100% chutzpah.”) They also took on a third partner, Glenn Feldman, 60, a Toronto-based attorney who happens to be close friends with Teitelbaum’s dad, former journalist Sheldon Teitelbaum, and who was an early fan of the designs.
Now that Unkosher Market has been relaunched, it has about 1,400 followers on Instagram, and the number is growing. Teitelbaum tries to keep the page fresh with new tag lines like, “WWLDD What Would Larry David Do?” and “You Are The Bamba To My Bissli.” The latter refers to two popular Israeli snack foods and is immediately familiar to anyone who has spent time in the Holy Land. (Teitelbaum, whose mom is Israeli, spent many summers as a kid with relatives in Holon, near Tel Aviv.)
According to Teitelbaum, orders are coming in from New York, Indianapolis and Texas, to name a few. At $48 a pop, the shirts aren’t cheap, but having them made locally means paying a bit more, Teitelbaum explained. And they arrive in the mail ready for gifting, wrapped in crisp black tissue paper with an Unkosher Market thank-you note insert.
Right now, the only place to purchase the shirts is online at unkoshermarket.com, but
Teitelbaum and Blastorah are talking to several boutiques in Los Angeles, New York and Toronto about carrying them.
They’re also planning designs for new audiences. “Next is baby,” Teitelbaum said. Think matching shirts for mother and child or, for example, “Snip Snip Hooray” for the bris boy.
Teitelbaum even reported getting requests for designs with three-quarter-length sleeves from some potential Orthodox customers. Sweaters are a more likely possibility that could satisfy that fan base in the future, she said.
Ultimately, Teitelbaum said, the business is trying to target people who, like her, identify as cultural Jews.
“For me, [Judaism] is being raised in a Jewish family,” she said. “It’s not going to synagogue. It’s not a religious thing at all.”
So when, for example, you click on the “Totes Koshe” design on the website, you get this message: “It’s Shabbat. You’ve decided to stay in and pig out on challah while binge watching Larry David. Now that’s Totes Koshe.”
The shirts are “loud and proud,” she said. “But they are funny, which makes them seem like you are being sassy a bit. We are trying to make shirts that younger Jews identify with and show that they are proud of their heritage. Because there are not a lot of brands that do it in a way that’s cool.”