Outerknown’s Sweater Mittens Are a Product of the Bernie Meme, But Also So Much More

Vermont upcycler Lise-Anne Cooledge is here to keep you warm this winter

Three pairs of upcycled mittens from Outerknown's Project Vermont. They're made of repurposed wool sweaters by Lise-Anne Cooledge and her team of crafters, and inspired by the Bernie Sanders mitten meme.
What will your sweater mittens look like? It's a mystery.

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It’s been almost a year since Senator Bernie Sanders set the internet on fire in the most innocent and unlikely of ways: by wearing mittens. Specifically, as we detailed in January, mittens made of repurposed sweaters that were gifted to him by a Vermont teacher. After he wore the practical, eco-friendly accessories to Biden’s inauguration, we mostly got lots of memes — some good, some bad — and naturally a sexed-up version for Halloween. And then the people of the internet moved on.

Outerknown, the sustainability-focused brand cofounded by Kelly Slater, has not moved on. Instead of hopping on the Bernie-meme bandwagon before the fad flamed out, they’ve been quietly building an initiative over the past year called Project Vermont that’s inspired by those original mittens. The company partnered with Vermonter and upcycler Lise-Anne Cooledge, opened up a space in the city of St. Albans, and are now selling goods Cooledge and her team have made from reclaimed fabrics, including blankets, pillows, totes, coasters and, of course, sweater mittens.

Cooledge did not make Bernie’s mittens, but if you followed that story back in January you may have come across her name. When the actual crafter Jen Ellis was inundated with requests for mittens after they went viral, she reached out to Cooledge, a fellow upcycler, who ended up fulfilling hundreds of orders for the so-called Swittens, as Reuters reported at the time.

Outerknown saw an opportunity here to continue its mission of becoming a fully circular company by 2030, something we discussed this summer. That goal, as the company’s former director of sustainability and sourcing told us, involves keeping the brand’s “products out of the landfill and in circulation — forever.” They’re taking a multifaceted approach, sometimes relying on innovative technology that pushes the boundaries of fashion, and sometimes, as with Project Vermont, returning to an economical way of living that has mostly been cast aside. 

As the brand notes, the idea was to send Cooledge and her group of scrappy upcyclers discarded materials which would then be refashioned into mittens, but also other goods. Project Vermont’s pillow slipcovers and coasters are made from the brand’s impossibly comfy Blanket Shirts, the totes are made from denim and military webbing, and the blankets are made from wool coats, pants and suits as well as Outerknown’s polar fleece. The mittens are of course made of wool sweaters, and the fun part is they’re all one-of-a-kind and you won’t know what they look like until they arrive. 

We’ll be ordering a pair, not because we want to match Bernie, and not even because we want to see more partnerships between savvy modern brands and eco-friendly crafters that lead to actual investment in American communities (though that’s certainly part of it). We’ll be ordering a pair because these mittens rule. 

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