Q&A with Deborah Muller of Schmattees

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“Desert wanderin’ for 40 years…Only to end up in Arizona.”

If you see this rueful observation on a t-shirt, you can guess the source: Schmattees, the purveyor of t-shirts that combine Jewish pride with a touch of self-deprecating wit. The company is the creation of Scottsdale’s Deborah Muller, a wife and mother of two (plus two rescue dogs) who is also a publicist with a background in fashion, publishing and show business in New York, L.A. and right here in the Valley. Phoenix magazine had the chance to ask Muller about her newest venture (answers have been edited for length):

Phoenix Magazine: Where did this idea come from?

Deborah Muller: The genesis of Schmattees—look at that, two words in and already an Old Testament reference—came about in a very funny way. I was at the DryBar in the Scottsdale Quarter getting my naturally curly Jewfro blown out straight for an event. Other clients were reading People and InStyle, so the only magazine within arm’s reach was Money. Within it was a fascinating and inspiring article about a young man designing and selling t-shirts online through print on demand. He found a creatively fulfilling job where he set his own schedule, didn’t have to worry too much about overhead and made enough money to buy his first house. Looking down one of the dozens of t-shirts I own and considering t-shirts are my daily uniform, I thought, “I can do that.”

PM: What does the name refer to?

DM: Schmattees is a playful take on the Yiddish word schmatta, which literally means “rags”, but has come to refer to the fashion trade, specifically New York City’s Garment District, where tens of thousands of Jewish immigrants took their first jobs as American citizens.

PM: Are you the writer of the sayings on the shirts? Have people offered you suggestions?

DM: Yes, I am. I grew up in a Reform Jewish family in Los Angeles, attended Sunday and Hebrew school, got bat mitzvahed in Israel and was an Alpha Epsilon Phi sorority member at UCLA. I estimate I’ve attended well over 100 bar and bat mitzvahs, brises and Jewish weddings and know the lingo of what Jewish people think, say, speak, feel, eat—and most importantly want to wear. People love to send me ideas or shout them out to me when I’m walking around town wearing one of my designs.

PM: In light of the recent surge of overt anti-Semitism and other bigotries, was there a greater social motivation behind your desire to see people proclaim their Jewish pride?

DM: First and foremost, Schmattees is a sort of “wink, wink, nudge, nudge” way to wear a cool shirt that telegraphs an “insider” message to other Jewish people. You can’t wear a “Jewish Geography Champ” shirt and not have someone ask which Jewish sleepaway camp you attended. Shirts like “If You Can’t Say Anything Nice, Say It In Yiddish”, “I Survived a Jewish Mother”, and “No More Mr. Nice Jewish Guy” make people laugh, not at, but with, the person wearing it. I am so proud to be Jewish and really want to make it cool for others to proclaim that same pride in a hip, fashionable, and fun way. With the unfortunate rise in anti-Semitic words and actions, wearing Schmattees is a one way to do that and not show fear in your cultural and religious identity. Wearing Schmattees is a great way to fight prejudice with pride and a sense of humor.

PM: Is it all t-shirts? Are other kinds of apparel available or planned?

DM: Schmattees short-sleeve and long-sleeve shirts and sweatshirts are available in youth and adult sizes.

PM: Anything for non-Jewish folks?

DM: Many Schmattees can be worn by anyone of any race, religion or gender. “Resting Kvetch Face” is a G-rated take on the popular Resting Bitch Face meme. “Hummus Is My Homeboy” and “I Got Them Falafeels Real Bad” are fun for foodies of all faiths. “Fancy Schmancy” is something many people don’t even realize is Yiddish in origin. My best-selling design is “Salty Like The Dead Sea.” My former neighbor who literally is a preacher’s wife picked up two for her upcoming trip to Israel.

PM: What’s been the highlight for the company so far?

DM: The highlight of Schmattees’ brief history was when a customer wearing her “I Survived a Jewish Mother” shirt appeared on the Jumbotron at the SF Giants game—on Mother’s Day!

Schmattees are available at www.shopschmattees.com and on Amazon.com

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