Shannon Maldonado calls herself a “person who just loves creating things,” which is the CliffsNotes version of “shop owner, fashion designer, hospitality designer, influencer, curator, consultant”—and, for the last six years, the founder/ creative director of YOWIE, a lifestyle shop and design studio dubbed the “coolest shop in Philadelphia” by Bon Appetit in 2019.
Maldonado’s keen eye for joyful yet practical products—tissue box holders with multi-colored smiley faces on them, bodily lumpy mugs—decides which items will stock her brick-and-mortar YOWIE store in Queen Village, which she runs herself with the help of a two-person team; and it is what she brings to designing boutique hotels like Graduate Hospital’s The Deacon. She is shaping her South Philly location with the end goal of making people feel special.
“South Street was a place where I never felt like an “other.” It has always been this cool eclectic catchall for all types of people and feels full of surprises, even though I have walked the street thousands of times.”
In partnership with the Forman Arts Initiative, The Citizen reached out to Maldonado to find out more about how Philly has inspired her work—and what’s to come this year. This interview has been edited and condensed.
Morgan Nitz: You returned to South Philadelphia to start YOWIE. What did it feel like to “come home?”
Shannon Maldonado: It was humbling because, in many ways, I was starting over. I had to build up my friend group, and my small business colleagues, and people I could lean on for advice. Now that I have been back for almost six years it feels super comfortable and I want to be an asset to my neighborhood and city as much as possible.
MN: Queen Village is the home of your brick and mortar store and will soon be home to the new YOWIE H.Q. What does Queen Village mean to YOWIE?
SM: I grew up nearby in Pennsport so I have been walking to Queen Village since I was very young, whether shopping for fabrics on Fabric Row or hanging with friends on South Street after school. It has this very charming mix of old and new spaces and things that I find very romantic and it sometimes feels like its own small town within Philadelphia.
MN: Your Instagram (@hellowyowie) played a big part in the brand’s growth. Social media often makes the hard stuff invisible; what were the early days like?
SM: To be honest I have always been transparent about the hard parts of YOWIE and I think that’s why so many people resonate with it. I love what I do but I also tell people it’s very hard to run a creative business. The early days of YOWIE were very similar to the current ones—we just have more eyes on us now. From day one I have answered our emails, shipped every package, concepted every season and photoshoot and that is still true most days. Now I’m proud to say we just have a larger audience to support the artists and brands that we carry, which helps us invest in more products and artists over time.
MN: Something that makes YOWIE unique is its hospitality focus. How did you become interested in hospitality and designing curated hotel rooms?
SM: I used to travel a lot in my previous life as a fashion designer for American Eagle and I have always loved staying in hotels because it’s something I didn’t get to do much of growing up. There’s so much that interests me about hospitality—from the first time you open your room to the small notes that are sometimes left for you as a guest. So much of YOWIE’s growth can be attributed to the very human touch I give to our projects and shop vibe. I am constantly hand writing lists of places to shop and eat when customers visit our shop so it feels like a natural progression.
This story is part of a partnership between The Citizen and Forman Arts Initiative to highlight artists and creatives in every neighborhood in Philadelphia. It will run on both the FAI website and The Citizen.