Imagine the Statue of Liberty wearing an ugly Christmas sweater.
On second thought, don’t imagine that. Instead, picture an ugly Christmas sweater that’s big enough to fit Lady Liberty — 30 feet tall and an expandable 30-feet wide that’s 250 times the size of a traditional holiday sweater. (Although slipping it over her crown would be a real stretch).
Evan Mendelsohn and Nick Morton met when they were students at UC San Diego. They since have followed their dream of creating what they believe to be the world’s largest ugly Christmas sweater as a big way to celebrate the 10th year of their iconic business, Tipsy Elves.
The sweater required 20 miles of acrylic yarn, 16 inflatable colored Christmas balls and 396 feet of garland. It weighs more than 400 pounds.
Tipsy Elves wanted to break a Guinness world record. While there is a biggest sweater category (60 feet tall in Peru) and a largest gathering of people wearing ugly Christmas sweaters (3,473 in Kansas in 2015), there is no giant-sized ugly Christmas sweater record to beat, explains Shannon Menard, Tipsy Elves marketeer.
“We are in the process of trying to get the sweater Guinness certified with the addition of an ugly sweater category,” she says.
The San Diego-based company didn’t start out on such a grand scale. Mendelsohn was an attorney with Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton when he impulsively called his former college roommate in 2011 and announced he had a crazy idea.
Ugly Christmas sweaters had become quite the rage, he told Morton, then an endodontist living in Northern California. So why didn’t they start manufacturing them?
Mendelsohn explains that they had attended themed events at college and were into wearing fun clothing. “I’d been to a few ugly Christmas sweater parties. Those were starting to emerge.”
Ugly Christmas sweaters have been around for decades. Clark Griswold and his fictional family popularized them in the campy 1989 comedy “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.” Since then, ugly Christmas sweater cookies, cupcakes, ornaments and wine bottle cozies have emerged.
There is even a National Ugly Christmas Sweater Day, which falls on the third Friday of December.
Morton was game to give it a try, so that’s precisely what they did. He now commutes weekly each Tuesday to San Diego and says he prefers Tipsy Elves to his dental work career because he specialized in treating patients in pain.
“Creating products that make people laugh and put smiles on people’s faces is exactly the opposite of doing root canals,” he laughs.
As their fledgling venture moved forward, they learned of local “Shark Tank” auditions in 2013 and thought, why not? They created a faux Christmas tree set, corralled friends to join them as ugly sweater models and honed their pitch and sales figures.
In the end, “Shark” panelist Robert Herjavec offered them $100,000 and his expertise in exchange for 10 percent of the company. They took the deal. Nine years later, Herjavec still actively promotes their products, as Kelly Clarkson can attest. He recently gave the singer a Christmas sweater on her talk show.
The company motto, which they call a manifesto, sums up the Tipsy Elves’ mission: “We make the most outrageous clothes known to mankind in order to make your life more fun.”
In the past decade, Tipsy Elves has expanded far beyond Christmas sweaters to making holiday-themed pajamas, jumpsuits, ski wear, T-shirts, leggings, blazers, onesies, shirts, dresses and appalling apparel for just about any occasion.
Holidays have expanded to include Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Easter, July Fourth, Halloween, Thanksgiving and Hanukkah. In the spirit of fun, Tipsy Elves has added ugly Christmas presents for gift exchange parties, Ugly Christmas party games and activity ideas to its website.
Sweaters have become interactive with beer pong games, Velcro ball toss targets, bottle opener attachments, patches of sequins that flip from nice to naughty, a Christmas stocking that can be stuffed, a movable Santa’s beard, LED lights that tell a story, and more.
“Now sweaters are just a fraction of our products,” Morton says. Thanks to Halloween, October has become one of Tipsy Elves’ biggest months.
The company has grown to 45 employees and more than $200 million in lifetime sales, Mendelsohn says.
It is headquartered — not in a downtown storefront (although occasionally they’ve opened a pop-up store), but on the 14th floor of a high-rise.
While the sweaters are manufactured in China and Southeast Asia, the office is filled with garment racks loaded with design samples. Three creative designers work full time brainstorming ideas while others handle graphics, photography and online marketing.
This season’s giant Christmas sweater was decorated in borrowed open space at Liberty Station. Staffers made a video, posted on Vimeo, as they attached the garland and ornaments.
The giant sweater is on public view through Jan. 2 at the Pendry Hotel’s Nason’s Beer Hall at 570 J St., which traditionally decorates for the holidays. The bar offers Christmas-themed drinks, and servers dress for the occasion.
The sweater stretches across two walls of the pub but is so massive that the Tipsy Elves had to get imaginative. They draped it across the room flowing from a giant gift box, which holds the rest.
The Statue of Liberty never will be clad in this garish sweater, thankfully. Instead, like so many ugly Christmas sweaters before it, this one, too, will be donated to charity.
Menard says it will be given to the San Diego Craft Collective in Liberty Station for recycling.