Anyone with an internet connection and a Reddit account will know that the star of this year’s presidential inauguration was not a president. It was a man and his mittens. Yes, Bernie Sanders absolutely shattered the internet on January 20th with his DMV-ready sartorial choices, and he left behind a meme-sized crater and a world clamoring for his one-of-a-kind sweater-turned-mittens.
The original Bernie Mittens were unavailable for most of January and February — the creator was busy shaping the future as a school teacher — so Chad Schumacher, CEO and Founder of Allegory Goods, took it upon himself to fill the void with the Bernie Mittens Project. The best part? He’s donating a huge portion to teachers as a gesture to give back to the creator that started it all.
We caught up with Chad to hear his heartwarming, and handwarming, story. Here’s what we found out.
IGG: What’s the story behind the Bernie Mittens Project?
CHAD SCHUMACHER: I think we can all say that 2020 was a really rough year politically. It really seemed like we couldn’t agree on much of anything. Then we had a moment in the political world where we all could just come together and giggle about some mittens at the inauguration. It was really meaningful to me, really impactful.
So I wanted to do something about it. I heard that the original maker, Jen Ellis, wasn’t going to make any more mittens because she’s a teacher in Vermont, and she’s too busy teaching to hand stitch thousands of mittens. And we were like, hey, maker community, let’s step up. Let’s do this right. Let’s stand in for Jen and do what we can.
So we launched the project within a couple of days of the inauguration just with a sketch of what we were planning to do. Then we got to work trying to pull together some prototypes and put the prototypes out. After a few days, we had a crazy whirlwind week. We hit our crowdfunding goal in like six days. We sold about 900 pairs of mittens. And then that weekend, Jen announced her partnership with Vermont Teddy Bear, and we felt like that right thing to do here was to not be competing with the original maker, so we turned our project into a limited edition and capped it at about 1,000 pairs of mittens. It allows us to still do our thing and honor our backers while making sure that by the time Jen gets her project up and running, we can be cheering her on and be her biggest fans as well. There are still a few left for folks who want to jump in, but the project is almost finished!
IGG: What about the mittens themselves? How did you get the design exactly right?
CHAD: The original mittens were made from four different recycled sweaters. So that’s why when everybody says, “Hey, I want a pair of Bernie’s mittens,” even if they can get a pair of Jen’s mittens, those are made from different sweaters for the most part. So you’re not going to get the exact same pattern. And I wanted to be “inauguration Bernie” for Halloween, so I wanted to have some that are exactly spot on.
We did some research and figured out a way to have custom woven fabrics made with recycled yarn, and that would allow us to still honor the reclaimed sweater concept, but reproduce the exact look of Bernies pair of mittens. In order to do that, we hired some hand knitters and researched all the pictures on the internet to figure out what the patterns were on his mittens. You know, reverse engineer them by looking at all the pictures they could find of Bernie wearing them on the campaign trail. Such a fun and goofy couple days.
We got each of our hand knitters to focus on different parts of the mittens and they sent us the samples, and then we put the prototypes together and passed on what they learned and documented to our partner who makes custom knitted blankets. It’s a New York based company named Binghamton.
IGG: And you’re donating one-third of the profits to Donors Choose?
CHAD: The whole thing is a tribute to Jen, the maker in Vermont. So this is a way to honor her. And we’re makers, so we understand what she’s giving up by turning down an inbox of 15,000 orders. She basically walked away from what I want to say is something like half a million bucks because she said in order to do that, it would mean stop teaching her kids. And she loves teaching kids. That’s huge. That’s somebody who knows what’s important to them.
I think a lot of teachers are that way. They’re not getting rich. In a lot of cases, they’re paying for their school supplies out of their own pocket. And they’re doing a job that’s much harder than better-paying jobs. They’re doing it because they want the next generation to benefit from that work.
So we want to honor Jen. We’ve all had a few teachers who made a big difference in our lives growing up. It just seemed like the right connection to go ahead and find a way to get back to teachers.
IGG: What’s next for you after the Bernie Mittens Project?
CHAD: After George Floyd’s death, we wanted to do something to mark the importance of the moment. So we came up with the idea of creating a pen that’s made from reclaimed wood we obtained years ago from the steps of the Alabama state capitol building. And as you may know, those steps are where Martin Luther King gave his famous speech where he said, “The moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” So we put an arc-shaped inlay from the wood from the Capitol building in the pen, and we’re calling it the Arc Edition Pen.
And as part of the project, we partnered with GoodKids MadCity, an organization on the South Side of Chicago that helps youth navigate one of the communities in Chicago most impacted by gun violence. We helped them come up with a fundraising plan, and now we’re going to help them raise money by donating a portion of the Arc Edition sales to them. We’ve also helped them create a Patreon so that they can get ongoing monthly revenue to support them for the long term. Definitely check them out — they’re a great organization. That’s what’s on the horizon for us.
Want to support the Bernie Mittens Project? Check out their Indiegogo campaign page or learn more on their latest Instagram Live session. And don’t forget to check out Chad’s latest project, the Arc Edition Pen, and the affiliated GoodKids MadCity organization.