Things are getting’ pretty ugly around the holidays. The Ugly Sweater party has gone from ironic cool kid novelty to suburban holiday party staple, and everyone wants to be on the guest list. Most eager are manufacturers and retailers, both of whom are amping up their involvement to offer all sorts of newness to the Ugly Sweater (and now Ugly Accessories) category. Suddenly, tacky is hip.
It’s all good, kitschy fun but it’s also big business. UglyChristmasSweater.com reaped $40,000 in sales when it launched in 2012, according to CNN Money. The next year, the site’s revenue jumped 300%, and it was up 275% the year after that. This year, they’re on track to sell $5.5 million worth of ugly sweaters.
Retro Festive, an online site that launched with “tacky Christmas giftware” in 2009, has shifted into “ugly sweaters and accessories” with great success, says owner Tyler Schwartz.
“We’ve grown 20% annually and this year we’re adding a crafting section with pom-poms, felt, foam stickies, etc. at our pop-up shop. People want to customize their sweaters and accessories. We offer eggnog and Christmas cookies—so it’s a shopping event in itself. People say this craze will play out, but I disagree. The motifs will just change with new pop culture references.”
Retailer Charming Charlie, which has 300 accessories stores across the country, noted this as a growing trend and is considerably expanding its presence this year.
“We’ve always done holiday jewelry and small giftables, but this year we’re adding the Ugly Sweater for the first time in five to seven styles as well as a fun holiday tote program,” says VP Executive Creative Director Eric Samuel Green. “This novelty tote business features holiday references like the snowman, reindeer and evergreen tree [with pom-poms]. We think these are not only great gift items, but great bags to take to parties to carry and shuttle your presents around.”
Stage Stores has expanded the category from last year too. “We tested Soxland’s Ugly Sock Kit online and decided to take it to brick and mortar for Fall ’16. We received tremendous reaction from the customer last year as well as from those all over the office,” says Shanita Payne, Buyer, Fashion Accessories. I think it’ll be a home run. It’s cute, cheerful and can be a great holiday activity for the family. What better way to get in the holiday spirit than decorating socks around the table? At least they don’t add to calories like cookie decorating can!”
Bob Soltys, president of jewelry company Danecraft, notes quite a bit of success with “the crazy holiday stuff,” both Christmas and now Halloween.
“Last year was more of a test for most of our accounts and it was successful, plus we learned what worked and what didn’t. We sold some of the craziest things possible, like reindeer antlers with lights (one of our salespeople actually wore them to an out-of-town meeting—we have no pride when it comes to getting orders!). Best of all is that it doesn’t cannibalize our traditional holiday motifs.”
Danecraft also has a DIY kit so consumers can make their own ugly pins for their their ugly sweaters. “We’re proud of these. Now when a retailer says this is ugly, our product development team can say, ‘Thanks! We do our best!’”
The Accessory Collective recently launched MAKE ‘EM UGLY! Do it yourself holiday scarves as well as sock, scarf and hat kits (retailing for $12, $20 and $14 respectively).
Patty Leto, SVP GMM of The Doneger Group, notes that the feel-good element of thematic merchandise has popularized the trend, and people want to have friends over for holiday themed parties.
“Holiday themed sweaters have been around for a couple of years and now it’s in every category,” Leto says. And while she notes the trend might be at its peak, it’s having a great run. “Stores saw how successful it is and many are pulling together really terrific shops.”