These red-sweater mittens make us want to curl up with hot chocolate and watch one of the classics. Swag mittens are fleece-lined mittens upcycled from sweaters. They are individually sewn in Minnesota with a carbon footprint smaller than a squirrel’s on a snowy evening.
From our own jaunts on the internet, we learned that “swag” comes from the Scottish slang word “swagger.” Originally, the word described the swaying walking style of certain Scots. Years later, it describes the warm-wearing style of certain mittens.
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In a small room with materials neatly stacked in cubbyholes, college student Sarah Vandelist is cutting sweaters into 12 pieces of cloth that she will stitch together on the sewing machine her mother taught her to use two years ago in high school. For Sarah, Sundays are for sewing: Every week, she makes the trip from her college dorm to her one-woman sustainable factory to make mittens.
Sarah is participating in a sustainability movement on the rise: upcycling. She sources old sweaters no longer in use and turns them into fleece-lined mittens – a product that’s maybe especially useful in her native Minneapolis, but also applicable everywhere.
For Sarah, making Swag Mittens is about more than keeping hands warm. She’s interested in building a new kind of business: one that doesn’t settle for upcycling as its only ethical factor, but takes sustainability as a thread that affects every part of the enterprise.
Rather than print catalogues or marketing materials, Sarah communicates with her customers completely online. And though she said that the most challenging part of her business has been the time it takes to make the mittens individually, she is committed to her low-carbon, locally-sourced method of production.
Swag Mittens started as a way for Sarah to make Christmas gifts for her friends. Now she’s turning her instincts into a way to think about how businesses get born and grow in a way that matters.