Barbara Shaw knows what her customers want to buy. Well, she knows what she wants and, by default, she figures someone else must want the same products. This simple, tried-and-true model has sustained her inventive brand of Judaica, both online and in her popular store on Emek Refaim Street.
Shaw, originally from Sydney, Australia, has been living in Israel for 31 years. She is the product of what she describes as a traditional Jewish upbringing. The child of Holocaust-survivor parents, Zionism was a thriving fixture of the home. Shaw is not a trained designer. She received a BA in art history and a master’s degree in commerce. After getting married in Australia and not seeing a future for Jewish children’s education, she and her husband decided to make aliya.
“I came to Israel for Zionist reasons; to bring up children in a place where the Jews were the majority,” Shaw explains. “I have two children. My husband is a journalist who works in film and television. We were a bit starry-eyed when we first came. We arrived without jobs or anything, but somehow we got on our feet.”
Shaw tried her hand at a few different types of employment. But when friends came to visit and she went to look for gifts for them, she couldn’t find what she wanted. So she decided to start making it.
“I don’t have a background in design,” she says. “My approach has always been from a marketing point of view. I think in terms of what I need and what I’m looking for because chances are someone else does, too. That’s been my approach to every product. When you arrive in a new place things are different you have to reinvent yourself; I don’t think I would be doing anything like this in Australia. I wouldn’t be making aprons with kangaroos and koala bears. But here, I feel that my mission is to reinterpret Judaica to make it relevant and fun, and put it into everyday living.”
Shaw’s products are reasonably priced yet maintain a high level of quality. She saw that there was a hole in the Judaica market for quality, well-designed products that were not high- or low-end, but rather somewhere in the middle. The results have been resonating with customers.
Around the time of the Second Intifada, Shaw and her husband went back to Australia for a year and a half; she left her burgeoning business and life in Israel behind. But they felt that the Jewish homeland was burning and they needed to come back. At that point, Shaw questioned what she had been doing.
“I thought with my training and level of education, I should be in hi-tech,” she recalls. “Then my mother passed away and I went to a gallery and just felt so alive.
I realized that this is my passion and this is what I want to do. So I started from scratch in 2008. I was more computer savvy, more experienced and more confident as a person. That’s when I opened my store on Emek. Everything went much faster and much better because I was in a very different place.”
At one point, Shaw had an in-house designer, but now she works with outside designers on a freelance basis. She collaborates with different people in various areas. This yields a variety of designs that have become signature to her product style.
“The beauty of being small is that I can be very nimble,” she adds. “If I have an idea in the morning, I can have the product done in the afternoon.”
With printing techniques and technology that she describes as a combination of low tech and high tech, Shaw is adept at creating products customers covet.
She admits that some of the digital printing is fairly hi-tech and unique on the market. There is really no one else who is doing the type of digital printing on Judaica that Shaw is doing; it results in beautiful gradations of color. The digital printing is Israeli technology, which she utilizes proudly.
“It’s very gratifying to produce things here,” she states. “My production place is in Givat Shaul. My push now is more and more online, since that’s the direction of the world. I started selling on Amazon, which has taken off and gone very well. Being older than most people in the business, it’s surprising. I’m still struck that I can manage it. I’m 62. It’s exciting. What satisfies me enormously is to be able to start something from scratch, to make a living, provide work for people and conduct a business in an ethical way.”
Shaw has a range of people working for her: young, old, Arab and Jewish. She admits that while she is not anticipating becoming unbelievably wealthy from selling her products, she is certainly comfortable and providing a living to a number of people. Customers come into her store and the Yiddish strikes a chord with them; like her tote bag emblazoned with the word “schlep.” People chuckle and Shaw gets a buzz.
Her products comprise a wide range; everything from baby clothes to mugs to aprons. The store is small, packed with merchandise, and very successful.
“Customers keep coming back because we provide good service,” Shaw says. “We have a unique range of products; it’s not what you see everywhere. You have to ask yourself, why would someone buy from me? The reason is that I have things that no one else has.
In a day when everything looks the same and souvenirs from different countries even look the same, people are looking for integrity, uniqueness and practicality.
Something that reflects in a deep way the concept.
That’s increasingly difficult to find today. Everything has a mass-produced look. A lot of souvenirs are made in China, even in Israel, a lot of menorahs are made in India. I think that manufacturing is important and small business is extremely important. I have that philosophy. There is a deep joy in making things with your hands.”
Shaw’s newest item is a book called My Jerusalem. It’s a travel book that also functions as a sort of coloring book for adults. She came up with the concept on a trip to London, where she saw something similar in a fun travel guide to the city. She realized that there was nothing like that on Jerusalem.
“I saw a concept and knew that there is a trend worldwide of cartoons and coloring books for adults,” she adds. “I felt that there is not a whole lot on offer for Jerusalem in that regard. Something fun, practical, not political and with recommendations of all of my favorite restaurants and music venues.”
The result is a different, whimsical approach to a typical travel book; one that can be easily used by Jerusalem residents to rediscover their city, or by first-time visitors. The book is something lighter, but still filled with range of content on critical issues such as where to find Jerusalem’s best falafel. Shaw approached a young artist who provided the book’s design. She recently commissioned the text to be translated into Mandarin, which she hopes will happen within the next month.
“The reason for that is that the Chinese are one of the fastest growing tourist groups in Israel and there is practically nothing on the market for them,” she explains. “I’m at a stage in life where I’m a bit capricious and what I feel I want to do, I do. If I like it, chances are that someone else is going to like it.”
“What I do is my form of Zionism. I hope it goes out into the world and is a good representation of what Israel is about and Judaism is about.”
For more information on Barbara Shaw and her products: www.barbarashawgifts.com/