Michelle McKee

Michelle McKee and the Hillsborough t-shirt she sells.

Six years ago, Michelle McKee went on a hunt for a t-shirt for her 3-year-old son, Isaac. She had hoped to find a shirt that conveyed her pride for Hillsborough. It didn’t go well.

“I was surprised and disappointed with the lack of options,” McKee said. So she took matters into her own hands. McKee, who works in the nephrology division of medical affairs for a pharmaceutical company that is focused on rare diseases, teamed with a friend to design an image for a t-shirt that reflected her love for the quaint Orange County town.

McKee was so pleased with the finished product, she gave t-shirts to family members and friends. The design was as instant hit. “I am often surprised that 6 years later there is still such a demand for my design,” she said. Her design can also be found on hoodies, sweatshirts, and hats. She formed Eno River Designs and made her business official.

She is also surprised that six years later she still doesn’t have a website or even a Facebook page dedicated to her product, instead relying mostly on word-of-mouth marketing, “which is a tremendous compliment in today’s fast-paced, technology-driven world,” she said.

But just because she doesn’t use Facebook, it doesn’t mean her products don’t make their way into Facebook posts and discussions. 

“A former customer posted on the Hillsborough Community Facebook page that she wanted to replace her old, tattered Hillsborough shirt that she had bought years ago from a “very nice lady” at a Last Friday Art Walk,” McKee said. “This led to various comments/posts and friends tagging me to connect me with this lady. I was so flattered when this customer told me how happy she was to connect again with me. This led to more conversations on the Facebook page and a rather large order of shirts from the various people (new customers) who had read the thread.  I am always amazed.”  

She said she and her shirts have also been discussed on NextDoor, which has led to neighbors and friends connecting me with new customers.

Prior to the pandemic, McKee would sell her shirts at Hillsborough’s Last Friday Art Walks, at the Eno River Farmers Market, among other special events around town. Her hats can now be found at Majestic Home and Outdoor Decor just north of downtown Hillsborough on Churton Street.

Typically, McKee will order t-shirts, hats and other items in small batches based on the number of requests. She uses a local embroiderer and a printing company that started out in Efland, but has since expanded and moved operations to Burlington.

“I never thought this would go as long as it has. Truly never. But it really resonates well with with the locals,” McKee added. “I think is a nice product and I keep my costs down to charge $20 per t-shirt. I’ve been criticized for not, you know, charging more, but honestly I don’t do it because it’s not for my primary income. I do it because I enjoy it and none of this is paying the mortgage.”

To place an order, Michelle McKee can be contacted at mckeetarheel@yahoo.com.