The viral mitten-makers behind Sen. Bernie Sanders’ viral inaugural style moment is returning to the spotlight, courtesy of Outerknown.
The California-based label launched a capsule collection of upcycled goods made in partnership with Lise-Anne Cooledge, the Vermont crafter whose crafting group made the now iconic mittens the former presidential candidate sported at President Joe Biden’s swearing-in ceremony.
“The mittens have a unique look, and I think people couldn’t help but notice them and wonder what they were,” Cooledge said, noting that friend and fellow knitter Jen Ellis created the Senator’s signature pair. “Bernie is all about circularity—and they have a circularity story.”
The New England artisan creates mittens from discarded sweaters destined for landfills—a mission that grabbed Outerknown’s attention. All of the materials the company uses in its range of men’s and women’s apparel are made from fibers that are organic, regenerated or recycled.
Outerknown connected with Cooledge in January following the debut of Sanders’ meme-fodder accessory on the public stage, looking to merge her talents with its sustainable vision. The company decided to open a space in St. Albans, Vt. housing scraps, remnant materials and discarded trims from its own operations that Cooledge and her team of artisans could use in a collection.
“While many were interested in the memes of Bernie in funny locations wearing his mittens,” Outerknown was inspired by Cooledge’s home-grown circular process, CEO Mark Walker told Sourcing Journal. “We were blown away to learn all the things Lise-Anne was already making from waste and used clothing,” he said. “We went from meeting once a month to once a week and decided to ask Lise-Anne if she would make a collection of Outerkown products made from waste.”
Project Vermont recently debuted on the company’s website, featuring sweater mittens, totes, blankets, pillows and coasters made from upcycled fabrics and priced from $48-$350.
The pillow covers and coasters are made with cast-off plaid fabrics from the brand’s best-selling Blanket shirt, while the Elizabeth market tote is made with fully upcycled denim. Just four limited-edition patchwork blankets—handcrafted from wool coats, pants, suits, sweaters and backed with plush recycled polyester polar fleece—are available for sale. The products should ship from Vermont in time for the holidays, Outerknown said.
Project Vermont represents a step toward Outerknown’s goal of full circularity by 2030.
“Together we found mutual passions and realized that this was much bigger than mittens,” Cooledge said. Calling her own operations “small but mighty,” the artisan believes in Outerknown’s vision of bringing together individuals to build a “bigger and mightier” collective in service of upcycling goods that might otherwise be trashed. “A lot of circularity is about being in the community and connecting the different communities together to reach your goals,” she added.
Project Vermont follows previous circularity-focused initiatives at Outerknown. In October, it launched Outerworn, an on-site platform that allows shoppers to resell their pre-owned wares and purchase used products and a fraction of their retail price.
Since pro-surfer Kelly Slater launched Outerknown in 2015, the company has focused on sustainable sourcing. But like its conscious contemporaries, the outdoor-leaning label has been discussing “where to go next,” Walker said.
“We really started talking about the next progression or evolution of sustainability to circularity,” he added.
In recent seasons, Outerknown has reconsidered its material blends and designs with end-of-life in mind. Simple disassembly makes repurposing fabrics easier after garments have reached the limit of their usefulness, Walker said, while crafting goods with even more focus on durability ensures that they remain a part of shoppers’ wardrobes for as long as possible.