Outrageous vintage Christmas sweaters fly off specialty retailers’ racks.
Would-be entrepreneurs Kyle Kelly and Anthony Horvath II were partners in a toy helicopter kiosk in the middle of an upstate New York mall, doing all they could to bring attention to their product.
“We had this lively, high-energy kiosk and we wanted to be even that much more annoying and stand out even more, so we decided to start wearing ugly Christmas sweaters,” Kelly says. “After a little while, people kept coming up to us asking about the sweaters and we thought, ‘maybe we have something here.’”
By winds of fate, the two were matched up with a friend’s mom who was a huge vintage clothing dealer whose specialty included buying these ugly Christmas sweaters, which she would then sell to boutiques and smaller stores.
“We started with about 50 and stuck it on a kiosk in Buffalo as our test market and it was a home run,” Kelly says. “We expanded to a few places in New York and then a few other places, and it’s really taken off.”
Fast forward two years and the lifelong friends are now owners of Holiday Brothers, which not only sells ugly sweaters in several mall kiosks but is also a successful wholesaler of these vintage sweaters—so others can get in on the action.
Holiday Brothers themselves plan to have a dozen kiosks set up this holiday season, while its wholesale business will be responsible for many, many more, set up in places like California, Michigan and even Saskatoon, Canada.
Obviously, the ugly sweaters have a very short sales season and Kelly recommends that kiosks pop up in early to mid-November and remain open through Christmas. However, operators will find that the most popular cart in the mall will be theirs during the six to eight weeks that the sweaters are available.
“It trends on social media and is one of the most popular things people are talking about near Christmastime,” Kelly says. “It’s really taken off on Instagram. People love to post photos and vote on what truly is the ugliest sweater.”
Kelly said that the appeal of an ugly sweater is that it’s different and can create a lively conversation at a Christmas or holiday party among friends, family or office mates.
“When people buy this, it’s almost like the same as when they buy a Halloween costume,” he says. “It’s usually a one-time thing, bought to wear to a party or office, and it’s a lot of fun that will be the talk of the party.”
Since Holiday Brothers acts as a wholesaler, those who want to get in the business of selling ugly sweaters need only to buy the merchandise from them. There are no franchise fees to worry about.
“Once someone buys the sweaters, it’s theirs,” Kelly says. “They can name the cart or kiosk whatever they want—we’ve seen Fugly Sweaters, Aunt Barb’s Ugly Sweaters—they make their own rules.”
Still, for those who want to give it a shot, Kelly says they have the inventory, the business model and proven results in malls and retail locations across the East Coast to help. “We will help anyone get up and running. We are both full of energy and will do anything to make a cart succeed,” he says. “If it’s logistically possible, we are very hands-on and will go and help someone set up or give them design ideas and pictures. After all, the only way this will succeed is if we all work together.”
One important factor about the ugly sweaters Holiday Brothers sell is that they are not new and made to look like old sweaters, like some companies are currently offering. These are actual vintage sweaters that have been stored away in a warehouse for three or four decades.
“Those others have a shelf life. Many have inappropriate sayings and images, but you can only see reindeers humping so many times. Sweaters like that lose their appeal,” Kelly says. “Our true vintage sweaters last. These are already out of style so they won’t go out again.”
Plus, the “newer” vintage sweaters cost around $30, while Holiday Brothers’ vintage sweaters have a price point between $7 and $7.50 a piece. Since suggested retail is $29.99 and up, that’s a tidy profit per sweater.
“Most carts average around 1,000 sweaters per kiosk,” Kelly says. “The margins are amazing. It’s really a great opportunity for a short run.”
There’s certainly nothing ugly about that.
For more information on the company, visit HolidayBrothers.com.