Hot new T-shirts make matzah ballsy statements

Unkosher Market’s street fashion puts hipster spin on Yiddish ahead of Hanukkah

Renee Ghert-Zand is the health reporter and a feature writer for The Times of Israel.

An edgy T-shirt from Unkosher Market. (Courtesy)
An edgy T-shirt from Unkosher Market. (Courtesy)

When an item on a celebrity website about your new fashion line has more shares than one about Kim Kardashian’s baby bump, it’s a sign you might be on to something big.

At least that’s the hope of the creators of Unkosher Market, a Los Angeles-based online T-shirt venture. It seems customers worldwide are hungry for the company’s simple, sleeveless, white tops with black lettering. To be precise, it’s the shirts’ edgy, humorous sayings putting a hipster spin on Hebrew and Yiddish words that they crave. Who says it’s not in good taste to walk around with “Matzah Ballin,’” “Kiss My Tuchis,” or “You Little Horah” emblazoned across your chest?

Unkosher Market is the brainchild of Shiran Teitelbaum and Alice Blastorah, creative partners who moved recently from Toronto to LA and work together in a large advertising firm. The two women, both in their late twenties, initially printed up some of these T-shirts for a party they were throwing for a dear friend who was converting to Judaism.

For that event, there were three options for guests to choose from: “Already Chosen” (for the Jews in attendance), “I Choose to be Chosen” (for the friend converting), and “Not In The Tribe But I Dig The Vibe” (for the non-Jews, like Blastorah, accustomed to the trappings of cultural Judaism).

Unkosher Market's way of saying 'Totally Kosher'. (Courtesy)
Unkosher Market’s way of saying ‘Totally Kosher’ (Courtesy)

As would be expected these days, photos of the T-shirts were uploaded to Instagram. The public started showing interest, so Teitelbaum and Blastorah decided sell some on Etsy, the peer-to-peer e-commerce site mainly for handmade and vintage items. Copywriter Teitelbaum came up with some additional sayings to print on the shirts, and art director Blastorah tweaked the design.

“At that point the shirts were hand-cut and digitally printed. We were making them quick-and-dirty and made-to-order,” Teitelbaum said in a conversation with The Times of Israel.

Fans of comedian Jessie Kahnweiler might recall that she wore one of Teitelbaum and Blastorah’s “Totes Koshe” shirts in her “Jessie Gets Arrested” video about white privilege. The shirt makers had no idea that Kahnweiler had bought it off their Etsy site until they started seeing the video posted everywhere on social media.

Unkosher Market creators Shiran Teitelbaum (left) and Alice Blastorah. (Courtesy)
Unkosher Market creators Shiran Teitelbaum (left) and Alice Blastorah. (Courtesy)

With Kahnweiler’s and dozens of other orders pouring in, it became clear to the partners that they could go even bigger. It was time to go full-steam ahead into the shmatta business. It was at that point, about a year ago, that they brought in Montrealer Glenn Feldman, the former CEO of retailer Kitson, as a third partner.

For months, Teitelbaum and Blastorah spent their free time coming up with more wording for attention-grabbing (Teitelbaum calls them “sassy and chutzpadik”) phrases, refining the lettering, and designing the pattern and hang tag for the shirts—which they decided to manufacture locally.

“Our fabric is sourced and sewn in Los Angeles with 100% cotton and 100% chutzpah. Deal with it,” they announced on their website.

Unkosher Market, which officially launched just three weeks ago, currently offers seven different shirts, with the top-selling one turning out to be the one saying, “Shvitz It Out.” Apparently one grandmother bought a bunch of them for her grandchildren to wear on a family trip involving a lot of hiking—and presumably also a lot of sweating.

“Shvitz It Out” happens to also be Teitelbaum’s personal favorite. Naturally, she wears it when she exercises.

“I’m really getting into Class Pass,” she said, referring to an unlimited monthly pass that lets you work out at a variety of gyms and fitness studios in your location that she has found very convenient given the long and unusual hours she works.

The most popular t-shirt from Unkosher Market. (Courtesy)
The most popular T-shirt from Unkosher Market. (Courtesy)

Teitelbaum is well aware that Unkosher Market is not the first venture to sell T-shirts with clever or transgressive Jewish slogans. She does, however, think that her T-shirts stand out in terms of aesthetics.

“What we have is funny writing that meets really good, minimalist design,” she said. “We have nice branding going on.”

Teitelbaum has been floored by the amount of media attention and fan mail the new venture has been receiving. They’ve been hearing from customers all over the US and Canada, as well as from Israel. Customers from the UK are buying the shirts, but say they are reluctant to wear them in public because of the perceived anti-Semitic climate in Europe. Orthodox Jewish women, who don’t wear sleeveless shirts for modesty reasons, have been asking whether Unkosher Market would consider making a three-quarter-length sleeve version.

‘What we have is funny writing that meets really good, minimalist design’

The creators aren’t sure whether they will do that, but they are thinking of possibly doing sweatshirts. They are also starting to plan a men’s line, and possibly a line for babies, too.

With the current women’s line selling like hotcakes—er, latkes—initial stock has almost run out. More T-shirts are expected in soon, just in time for Hanukkah gift buying.

“We hadn’t intentionally planned the launch to coincide with the big shopping season, but happily for us it worked out that way,” said Teitelbaum.

This year, Unkosher Market’s T-shirts could very well supplant ugly Hanukkah sweaters as the must-have holiday item. But just be forewarned that with the shirts selling at $48 apiece, you’ll be shelling out some serious gelt.

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