By: Luci Hagen
Photo by: Brendan Smialwoski
At the presidential inauguration, Senator Bernie Sanders was photographed watching with a beige coat and cozy brown and white patterned mittens sitting on a foldout chair in a rather perfect position, legs crossed. Peculiar things such as this always seem to skyrocket in popularity. Soon, the photo was made into creative memes posted all over the internet. The Senator could be seen photoshopped into the Game of Thrones chair, with the cast of Friends, on a bench next to Forrest Gump, and at Hogwarts. These ridiculous images fueled the movement, and soon people on the internet were doing everything from making Inaugural Sanders’ bobbleheads to creating a Snapchat camera filter where you can have a mini Chairman Sanders on your shoulder in a photo. People were even trying to crochet themselves their own pair of the famous winter wear. But how did Sanders even acquire these mittens we’ve all come to know and love?
Sanders got his fashion statement from a second-grade teacher named Jen Ellis who lives in Vermont. Along with teaching, she runs a casual side business of using old sweaters and fleece made of recycled plastic to create the mittens. Sander’s daughter in law, Liza Driscoll, was the director of the preschool that Ellis’ daughter attended. So Ellis and Senator Sanders had the connection even though they never had met. She was a firm believer in Sander’s policies towards education and would have voted for him if he had been the Democratic nominee, but when she heard he would no longer be in the race she decided to spontaneously make him some mittens. Sanders loved the mittens and wore them on multiple occasions, one of those times was while campaigning in 2019 when a photo of him lending the same pair of mittens to University of Pittsburgh Medical Center worker Alex Cutler went viral as well. This prompted Ellis to make ten more pairs and send them to the campaign much to the appreciation of the campaign staff. Now with the mittens more popular than ever, an opportunity for charity work was found through the Sander’s mitten craze.
Sanders and Ellis have worked together to turn this mittens frenzy into a charity fundraiser, raking in 1.8 million from the Sander memes. Sanders also took advantage of his internet fame to create merchandise he named “Chairman Sanders” including sweatshirts and t-shirts that he is selling on his campaign website. The apparel sold out in the first thirty minutes of being released. We can only hope for more to be produced. The money from the Chairman Sanders merchandise is being donated to Area Agencies on Aging to fund Meals on wheels throughout Vermont, Vermont community action agencies, Feeding Chittenden, Chill Foundation, senior centers in Vermont, and Bi-State Primary Care for dental care improvements in the state. Because of the surge to purchase or duplicate the mittens, Jen Ellis has received thousands of emails from people asking for their own pair of mittens. She of course would never have time to handknit the overwhelming order, so she partnered with the Vermont Teddy Bear Company to make the recycled mittens to sell online now named “Vermont Swittens.” Part of the proceeds will be put towards the Make a Wish Foundation in Vermont. It is heartwarming to know that Sanders and Ellis are putting the money from the mittens towards good causes.