There's wearing your heart on your sleeve, so why not wear your love of tacoson your chest? Thanks to the Etsy store Xenotees, you can celebrate tacos fashionably—as well as pizza, cats, and bold, graphic designs.
Xenotees is the brainchild of Philly-based artist Noëlle Burke. Her eclectic Etsy shop is full of giftable, useful home goods, and t-shirts. Best known for her punny and comfy "cat nap" pillows, Burke also sells matching tee sets for families, BFFs, and anyone who feels the urge to twin. We chatted with Burke to learn more about the inspiration behind her shop, the origin of the name Xenotees, and the latest strange custom request she's gotten.
How did Xenotees get started?
"Starting in 2004, I decided it was time to print my own designs. I was bouncing from one horrible job to another while also helping my husband Neil run a contract screen printing business. I had many years of art school under my belt and a lot of sketches waiting to break free, so it just made sense to give it a shot.
"Luckily Neil was showing his work at a gallery called Cinders in Brooklyn, and they offered to sell some of my designs. The shirts I dropped off sold well, but I didn't really do much more until I found Etsy in 2008. After I had established a few staple t-shirt designs, I added in canvas tote bags, tea towels, scarves and eventually, pillowcases."
What is the story behind the name?
"I wish more people asked that question! When I was tossing around ideas in the early 2000s, dreaming of the day I might possibly be my own boss, I was thinking about the prefix "xeno". It means strange, and I thought, 'Hey, I make strange t-shirts,' so I put them together and they had a nice ring [together]. I like the sing-song-y nature of the name. Even though it may allude to a shop that only carries clothing, I feel like it is still odd enough to inspire enough intrigue to attract new customers."
Have you ever received any weird custom requests?
"How much time do you have? Yeah, so many. The latest strange one was to make a shirt that says 'Pizza Texans and a whole bunch of Jesus!!!'. Everyone has an idea for a shirt, which is totally fine–I just can't be the person to make all those shirts. That's not to say my customers haven't given me amazing ideas to pursue in the past. So keep 'em comin'!"
Where do you create your products?
"Everything is designed in-house and screen printed and sometimes sewn, in my Philadelphia studio. (I sew the giant tote bags and giant cat head pillows myself.)"
Do you have a favorite Etsy store (besides your own, of course!)
"That's a difficult question! I will have to go with this incredible shop from Paris called BigStuffed. I've been obsessed with Dana's work for a while now. I just want one of everything she makes Crafterall is also insanely good. She handcuts EVERYTHING—even in this age of CNC! I'm a long-time fan of Marnie's work."
What do you do for inspiration when you're stuck?
"Go back to the masters! I have some cherished art books that never let me down. I mean, if you look at ANYTHING Maira Kalman has done, you can't help but be inspired. Will Barnet is also a fave- I just love his aesthetic. Of course, I could go on and on about favorite artists, but basically I look at art books (or go to a museum) and then sift through my stacks of sketchbooks to find some of my forgotten ideas. After that, I'm usually ready to roll."
What celebrity would you like most to buy one of your products?
"That's a tough question. All of them? Probably a famous cat lover- like Gary Oldman, Ian Somerhalder, Snoop Dogg, Martha Stewart, Ricky Gervais, Drew Barrymore, or Norman Reedus."
How do you imagine people using your products at home?
"My hope is that my creations bring whimsy into people's day-to-day lives. Bringing a little bit of joy to mundane tasks like drying dishes, or making the bed. That's definitely how I feel when I use the products I make. I also love when people share their Xenotees on social media."