Like many millennials, Generation Z “zoomers” and 20-somethings in between, Shani Weiss turned to TikTok when the coronavirus sent everyone into their home.
By viewing one-minute videos on the social media app, supplemented by watching YouTube videos, Weiss, 29, learned to operate an online apparel business, all while working as a senior associate at an investment company in Philadelphia.
With this self-taught knowledge, Weiss created Schlep and Schmoe, a clothing brand blending Judaism with popular culture.
Selling T-shirts and hoodies with catchy TikTok-inspired phrases and pop culture references, such as “I’m a Stan For Bubbie’s Brisket” and “Jew-wish,” Schlep and Schmoe has gained traction among young Jews.
But Weiss’ side-hustle clothing company wasn’t created just for the fun of it.
In May, after the most recent wave of violence in the Israel-Hamas conflict, Weiss sat down at her computer, ready to work her day job, but felt a disconnect. Weiss didn’t work with many Jews and felt her job was not a place to discuss politics. But when she looked at her phone during breaks, Israel was the only topic people seemed to be posting about.
“I felt like I was really living in two opposite worlds,” Weiss said.
She wanted to take action and was no stranger to advocating for Israel — she had formed the Israel activism group Dragons for Israel at Drexel University, where she studied finance and management information systems, before graduating a semester early in December 2013.
Feeling that posting on social media was “fleeting” and “divisive,” Weiss pivoted.
“I was thinking, ‘What is something I could do that is not necessarily just a reactionary action to what’s going on right now?’” Weiss said. “Well, one way that you could go about it is really instilling a great sense of Jewish pride in the next generation.”
Along with the wealth of knowledge she accumulated from TikTok, as well as from her six-month stint with a startup company in Israel after college, Weiss built the Schlep and Schmoe website and hired an outside printing company to print shirts to order, so Weiss didn’t need to worry about keeping inventory.
She reached out to Jewish TikTok users to share information about the business, and Schlep and Schmoe garnered attention after the Times of Israel published a piece on the brand last month. The company gained more than 550 followers on Instagram “without spending a single dime on marketing.”
Sales have been good, Weiss said, though sales aren’t everything to her.
“This isn’t something that I’m doing to make money,” Weiss said. “This is a way for me to give back to the Jewish community.”
Having grown up part of the Modern Orthodox community in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, Weiss said she’s always had a deep connection with her Judaism, but hasn’t always had the easiest time finding a space to express her Jewish pride.
At Drexel, which has a relatively small Jewish community — Jewish Federation estimates that 5% of the school’s approximately 23,600 students, or about 1,200, are Jewish — Weiss became involved in Hillel and Chabad on campus.
“All of those different experiences just allowed me to gain a deeper appreciation for Judaism, build a really great community and have a really positive relationship with Judaism and Israel,” Weiss said. “If I could give that back to just one other young Jew or Gen Z Jew, that would be a success to me.”
Beyond just helping others wear their Jewish pride on their sleeves, or more specifically, on the front of their shirts, Weiss hopes to help support Jewish organizations monetarily, locally and beyond.
To that end, Schlep and Schmoe is partnering with two organizations: It is donating 10% of sales to the Amit Emergency Relief Fund through Amit NewGen Philadelphia, “a group of up-and-coming leaders in the world of Jewish philanthropy,” and for an event for Just Cause Events, a New York-based organization combining entertainment for young professionals with fundraising. Schlep and Schmoe is donating two articles of clothing to raffle off at the event, with the proceeds going to One Israel Fund.
Weiss hopes Schlep and Schmoe will grow its offerings to towels and bags and also expand its reach in the community. Until then, she’s just excited seeing people wearing Schlep and Schmoe shirts.
“It’s just been a ton of fun, honestly, to see it out there and to see people reacting positively to it,” Weiss said. “And then to see people actually wearing the shirts — it brings me so much joy.”
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