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UC San Diego grads make an ugly Christmas sweater on a massive scale

Jun 27, 2023

Picture an ugly Christmas sweater that’s 250 times the size of a traditional holiday sweater.

Evan Mendelsohn and Nick Morton met when they were students at UC San Diego in La Jolla. They’ve since 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 San Diego-based business, Tipsy Elves.

The sweater — 30 feet tall and an expandable 30 feet wide — required 20 miles of acrylic yarn, 16 inflatable colored Christmas balls and 396 feet of garland. It weighs more than 400 pounds.

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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-size ugly Christmas sweater record to beat, said Tipsy Elves marketeer Shannon Menard.

“We are in the process of trying to get the sweater Guinness-certified with the addition of an ugly sweater category,” she said.

The company, headquartered on the 14th floor of a high-rise, 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, who was then an endodontist living in Northern California. So why didn’t they start manufacturing them?

Mendelsohn says 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 1989 comedy film “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.” Since then, ugly Christmas sweater cookies, cupcakes, ornaments and wine bottle cozies have emerged.

There’s even a National Ugly Christmas Sweater Day, which falls on the third Friday of December.

Morton was game to give the sweaters a try, so they did. He now commutes to San Diego each Tuesday and says he prefers Tipsy Elves to his dental 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,” Morton said with a laugh.

As their fledgling venture moved forward, they learned of local “Shark Tank” auditions in 2013. 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 Tank” 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 promotes their products. He recently gave singer Kelly Clarkson a Christmas sweater on her talk show.

The company motto, which the leaders call a manifesto, sums up 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 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.

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 said. 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 total sales, Mendelsohn said.

The sweaters are manufactured in China and Southeast Asia, but 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 in Point Loma. Staff members made a video as they attached the garland and ornaments.

The sweater is on public view through Monday, Jan. 2, at the Pendry Hotel’s Nason’s Beer Hall at 570 J St. in San Diego. It stretches across two walls of the pub but is so massive that Tipsy Elves had to get imaginative. Staff draped it across the room flowing from a giant gift box, which holds the rest.

Like so many ugly Christmas sweaters before it, this one will be donated to charity. Menard said it will be given to the San Diego Craft Collective at Liberty Station for recycling. ◆