Aimee Millwood wanted a way to connect with people around the world who felt a connection to Israel, regardless of their religious or political affiliation.
When she saw kids coming back from Birthright with a huge love for the country, and only a lame shirt from the shuk to show for it, she knew she had to do something to change that. So she started designing her own line of T-shirts and totes featuring Israel.
Things took off quickly from there.
I chatted with Aimee earlier this week.
Tell me a little more about what inspired you to start Mashu Designs.
There are many people who are anti-Israel, and it’s important we band together to show our love for the country. In some countries it’s not always easy, and wearing an “I love Israel” shirt may not be the best choice, so we wanted more subtle designs that were also more modern, so young kids would want to wear them out.
I’m not Jewish (currently eight months into the process of converting in Israel—so that will hopefully change soon!), but I’ve always felt connected to Judaism and Israel. From a young age, I wanted to come here. When I came, everyone always asked me what I was doing here if I wasn’t Jewish, and as I traveled internationally and talked about my love for Israel, people who were anti-Israel politically would constantly challenge me. It frustrated me that when it comes to any other country, people can just love the country for the people, the culture, the atmosphere, the feeling you get when you stroll through the streets at night. But when it comes to Israel, it’s so fraught with politics that as soon as I said I loved the country and wanted to live here, people associated me with political choices.
How did you come up with the name “Mashu”?
Mashu Designs comes from the Hebrew slang saying “Mashu mashu (משהו משהו),” which literally means “something,” but more means something special, unique, or cool.
What is your background? Where are you from?
I was born in Hawaii to non-Jewish parents, grew up most of my life in Atlanta, and went to school at UC Santa Barbara. My whole life I was surrounded by Jewish friends, and they really helped teach me the meaning of home and family. This inspired in me from a very young age the wish to raise a Jewish family of my own, which led to me coming to Israel to convert. My whole life, all my Jewish friends came to Israel for the summer or on programs or birthright, and they described it so awesomely it was my dream to come here. I pictured it the way other people picture Paris or Rome. Of course, when I arrived, I was in for a big surprise. Tel Aviv is definitely not Paris. But I fell in love with this country of contrasts; it challenged me and comforted me at the same time. I fell in love with the people and couldn’t see myself living anywhere else.
What’s in store for Mashu in the future?
We’re currently working on partnerships and expanding our designs. We did a great partnership tote with What Jew Wanna Eat to support LGBT Israeli and Jewish youth. We’d love to do more, and a few are currently in the works. We always want to curate a very small selection of designs rather than grow horizontally and stock tons of different designs and products. We really want to be curators of the best designers and designs we best feel represent what we’re doing.
It’s really our hope to support Israeli charities and foundations and create more designs that go to support various causes. We want to fight BDS by making it easy for people to choose how they support Israel. I like to say, “Choose a design, choose a cause.” Not everyone feels the same about Israel, so for those who may not agree with everything Israel does but still want to support Israel, we want to make it easy so they can choose the causes they care about. Right now, most of our designs go to support the young artists who created them. Fifteen percent of profits go to support a cause, whether that’s the young artist who created the designs, a charity, etc.
Check out Mashu Designs for more information and to purchase any of the T-shirts and totes featured.