AKRON, Ohio – Vicki Vespoint pulled on her boots and parka and headed into the winter weather in search of ugly Christmas sweaters.
You know the kind – the ones so hideous they make babies cry. So disgusting they evoke groans from adults. Threads revolting enough to earn the top prize at the company’s annual Ugly Christmas Sweater contest. But bah humbug! The Grinch must have gotten to the thrift stores before Vespoint and snapped up the most outrageous for himself.
“Every day people ask about them,” said Amy O’Brien, manager of the Clothes Mentor, a store in Akron, Ohio, that buys and sells stylish, gently used clothing. “We can’t keep them in. The more stuff that’s on them (like blinking lights and garland) the quicker they sell.”
Ditto at many other secondhand stores.
Because of the season and the popularity of parties that require guests to wear ugly sweaters, employees at Goodwill of Akron, which has 13 retail stores and an outlet in the five-county area, know that the demand will increase around the holidays. To prepare, they stockpile the seasonal clothing until that time. Even with that, the pickings are slim so close to Christmas Day.
By the way, said Janet Morrison, she and other folks who work at Goodwill don’t typically call the sweaters “ugly.”
“We just call them Christmas sweaters because beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” she said, laughing.
Because Vespoint, of Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, planned to give two ugly sweaters away as gag gifts at a New Year’s Eve party, she was looking for pre-owned items, rather than new, expensive apparel available at department stores. And during a visit to the Village Discount Outlet on Waterloo Road in Akron, she found that what they had was, well, too pretty.
“They about wiped us out,” said Delorse Lumley, retail manager at the store, said of her customers. “There was a lady in here who decided to glue cotton balls on a red shirt to make a snowman.”
But did she win a prize for ugliest sweater?
“I don’t know, but she should have,” Lumley said. “I’m sure it was atrocious.”
After days of looking, Vespoint was at her wits’ end. That is, until a friend told her about a man in Akron with a warehouse stuffed with 600 sweaters.
Troy Zulich has a successful e-commerce business, so when an Akron woman, whose name escapes him, found him on the Internet, she asked if he was interested in buying her stash of sweaters. It seems she, her family and high school students she hired were in the business of embellishing dull sweaters to make them good and ugly to sell. But she was ready to liquidate and move on to something else. So Zulich, who has an MBA in finance, reasoned he could sell them on eBay.
Zulich has about 80 reasonably priced sweaters on the auction website, a fact that Vespoint didn’t realize.
Zulich doesn’t generally open his warehouse space to the public (though he will today). Vespoint called him and asked if she could see his wares. He agreed.
Inside the warehouse, Vespoint rummaged through boxes stuffed with neatly folded sweaters. Some were garnished with stuffed animals, hot-glued to the chest. Others sported garland, beads and glitter.
“Try this on, honey,” she encouraged her husband, Jim, who had been chuckling from the moment he entered the upstairs room.
Asked to point out a particularly ugly sweater, Zulich strolled to the side of the room where he keeps the items for sale on the Internet, and pulled out a beauty – a little number with snowmen that had 6-inch protruding felt noses.
The Vespoints groaned.
After a 45-minute search through boxes, Vicki Vespoint finally settled on a knitted vest and a Christmas tie for a lucky gentleman and a hideous red sweater, complete with a stuffed Santa, for a lady friend.
“I love, love, love this,” she said, holding up the sweater. “It is very tacky. I’m thrilled.”
Now that Christmas sweaters are getting hard to find, Goodwill’s Morrison believes there is a new trend about to raise its ugly head – the Christmas skirt.
“Yes, people are repurposing Christmas tree skirts into actual skirts to wear,” she said.
So, don’t throw out that ugly skirt beneath your tree. Instead, attach a stuffed animal, garland and a zipper, and you will be the belle of the Christmas ball.