Shana Xavier, founder of Meow-A-Days, makes cat toys that you won’t find in any Petco.
Few women make money with their penises. Meet Shana Xavier, a 26-year-old newlywed and “crazy cat lady” who created Meow-A-Days, an Etsy shop where she sells handmade, sex-themed pet toys. The biggest seller is a crocheted penis ($12-$14 each, or a Bag O’Dicks for $28.) Also among the 2,500 items she has sold online are crocheted breasts, tampons, and sperm. Although Shana had over 50 holiday orders to fill, she gave her hands a rest to talk to us on the phone from her home in Phoenix.
How long have you been crocheting?
About 10 years. I first learned how to knit [with two needles]; I would only make scarves and that was it with knitting. And then my friend taught me how to crochet [with a hook] in high school, and I just really connected with it. Like I’m obsessed. Even when I’m done crocheting orders, I’ll reward myself with crocheting. Primarily I’ll do it from home, but I take my yarn with me everywhere. I’ll bring it with me to bars and friends’ houses.
Have you ever gotten suspicious looks while working on a project in public?
I crochet a penis in a couple different pieces, and I figured if I was only working on one piece you couldn’t identify what it was. So I’m crocheting at a friend’s party, and there’s family there, and so a kid comes up to me and goes “Oh what are you making?” And so I’m thinking, “Oh I’m making a crocheted mushroom!” And she goes, “Oh. That’s a really weird-looking mushroom,” and I was like, “Oh no!” So I had to like put away the crochet. Last year I still had a part-time job working at this kind of insurance company, but mostly I was on the phone all day. So I could actually crochet at work. Sometimes my manager would walk by and one day she asked what I was doing. She didn’t care, so I told her. But she could tell…I wasn’t making blankets or anything.
Tell me how you went from crocheting scarves and hats to realizing you could make all kinds of stuff.
A hat is almost 3D-shaped. Once I learned how to do that I realized that you could kind of manipulate crocheting to make a 3D object. I would learn how to make art projects with it because I was a fibers major in college. I studied textiles, screen printing, fabric dying, weaving on a loom [at Arizona State University’s Herberger Institute School for Design and the Arts]. And then sometimes for gifts for friends or just for fun I would make, you know, little toys. I’ll crochet a 3D shape that’s hollow when I’m making it, and before I close it up and stitch it and finish the item, it’ll be stuffed. So the cat toys will be stuffed with organic catnip and stuffing and the dog toys are just a squeaker toy and stuffing.
You graduated with a very specific skillset and a business plan.
The Meow-A-Days thing wasn’t playing around — I had made a decision of exactly what I was going to do. People want nice things for their animals. I will buy my cats toys like whenever I’m out, even if I’m trying to budget. So I thought I could crochet pet toys. If this is the kind of thing I think would be funny for my pets to have, maybe it’s what other people will like…I kind of just thought, “What could be hilarious in a cat’s mouth?”
What was the first sex-related thing you made?
I think the penis was the main thing. The penis and the tampon. The penis, I mean, it just popped into my head — that would be hilarious, a pet walking around with that. Imagine someone coming over and then they see your pet playing with that on the floor. It’s just so weird. And then the [bloody] tampon — luckily this never happened to me — but I’ve heard horror stories of pets going into trashcans and bringing out treasures, and so I thought I would give the pets what they want.
Did the first penis toy turn out exactly how you wanted?
When I crochet I’ll come up with an idea, I write down the actual idea, so you know, I wrote down “Penis Cat Toy,” and then I will research, so I had to Google ‘penis’ [laughs] to get drawing ideas or look at cartoon penises, kind of see what style I wanted, you know? I wanted to get the exact shape. Then I get to sketching. And then after I sketch it then I kind of in my mind translate that to crochet. So I’ll start crocheting it, and maybe I’ll you know, I’ll back up a couple times if it’s not doing the shape that I want, and I’ll write down exactly what I’m crocheting in terms of the pattern. So I’ll write down what stitches I’m doing, how many stitches, and from there I have a pattern and a completed project that I can repeat.
In your repertoire, is a penis easy or difficult to make?
The more I make an item, the more I pick up the muscle memory. With the penis it’s my easiest one because that’s the highest seller so it’s something that I’ve memorized at this point; I can crochet it without even looking at it.
So how long does it take you to make a penis?
I’ve gotten it down to I think a half hour.
Are you kidding me? [she laughs] That’s so good! And now you make your living solely on Etsy?
I opened Meow-A-Days in 2010. And in 2011 I opened Handmade Monster because I had some ideas that were like a little more, I guess, family-friendly. So I wanted to have a separate shop where I could have cuter things that people wouldn’t be offended by.
Have you had any negative reactions to your Meow-A-Days inventory?
Yes and sometimes they’re kind of my favorite [laughs a lot]. It doesn’t happen that often, but once in a while someone feels like the absolute need to email me that I’m a terrible person. One woman said that I was being sacrilegious because I sell a penis with a Santa hat on it as an ornament.
Since Santa has a lot to do with religion.
I said, “Hey, thanks for the tip.” It was polite and whatever. And one other time, this is when I first started—I think it was for a MSN Australian article—some woman said I was promoting bestiality because the penis pictured in the cat’s mouth [laughs].
Give me some ideas of toys that you’d either like to make or are prototyping.
There’s some I’ve just had to scrap. One example is a syringe; something [pets] maybe got out of the trash. But the issue with that is I don’t want any hard pieces on it, and I don’t want any metal on it, obviously. But the needle part, I can’t crochet that unless I wanted to do this thick needle, which would look awkward. So stuff like that I’ll kind of get stuck on.
Ever attempted a yarn vagina?
The best part about that is it’s on my to-do list because my dad suggested crocheting a vagina.
He is a self-proclaimed feminist and he didn’t think it was fair that I’m only selling penises. But right now, I just—to come up with a new pattern is a really long process for me, and I got married last year and I just have a lot of things to do that are slightly before a new pattern.
Was your dad as enthusiastic about Meow-A-Days from the beginning?
Oh completely, yeah. My mom, too. I grew up with humor—we grew up watching Ren & Stimpy all together.
That toy eyeball of yours is so Ren & Stimpy.
I didn’t put this together until later, but there’s an episode of [Nickelodeon cartoon] Rocko’s Modern Life where, I think it’s Rocko that goes to the movie theater and his eyeball falls out or something, and a baby grabs his eyeball and starts sucking on it. Cartoons have a really long-lasting influence, apparently. I’m going to keep that in mind when I have kids.
Have you ever had a really bizarre customer request?
There was one that was just kind of fun to do—they wanted a rainbow Bag O’Dicks, so they wanted to get a bag of five or six cat toy penises that were all bright colors. And early on I had a customer — this was 2010 — he wanted me to make crocodile-shaped cat toy for his pet Steve Purrwin [Steve Irwin, TV’s crocodile hunter, died in 2006]. And he had another cat named David Meowie, like David Bowie, and he asked me to make the baby from Labyrinth. So I made a crocodile and a 10-year-old baby wearing a red striped shirt.
But no one’s ever asked for a pierced nipple or anything?
Um, I don’t think so! Oh I’m sorry, yes—someone once ordered a giant penis, like a foot-and-a-half-long dog toy. So that was really fun to make. I love a challenge.
Please tell me you have pets.
I have a cat named Pixie who loves the jellyfish toy, and a tiny pug named Yoshi who loves the squeaky toy eyeball and the poop with corn.
Images via Etsy