Updated: Mar 22
The Vermont Teddy Bear Company and Vermont Mitten Company
STORY BY BENJAMIN LERNER
PHOTOGRAPHY COURTESY THE VERMONT TEDDY BEAR COMPANY
When Bernie Sanders was photographed at the Presidential Inauguration in January 2021 in a pair of cozy handmade mittens, it took the internet by storm. In the months that followed, “Bernie Memes” proliferated and spread to every corner of the social media universe. The Vermont-based schoolteacher who sewed the famous “Bernie Mittens,” Jen Ellis, was subsequently inundated with requests for her trademark mittens. After Ellis realized that there was no way that she could meet the sudden demand, she reached out to The Vermont Teddy Bear Company and asked them if they could help her make the mittens. According to The Vermont Teddy Bear Company’s Creative Brand and Design Manager, Cassandra Clayton, this sparked the beginning of a wonderful partnership. “She showed us all of her secrets, and we founded the Vermont Mitten Company with her. It’s been a lot of fun working with her. She definitely goes out of her way to make sure that all of the mittens that we make are up to the ‘Bernie Mittens’ standard.”
Incorporated under The Vermont Teddy Bear Company umbrella as the Vermont Mitten Company, Jen Ellis’ iconic mittens are now hand-crafted in the same factory where The Vermont Teddy Bear Company’s bears and stuffed animals are made.
“Jen Ellis made the original mittens (that she gifted to Bernie Sanders) by hand,” notes Clayton. “It was very important to her that all of her mittens remained handmade. Her attention to detail and passion for quality was very much in line with The Vermont Teddy Bear Company’s values. We also share Jen Ellis’ passion for sustainable practices. We use recycled materials to make the stuffing for many of our bears and stuffed animals, and she makes all of her mittens from ‘upcycled’ wool from used sweaters.”
Available in three different colorway options, each pair of Vermont Mittens is distinctive and unique. Clayton elaborates: “Given the fact that each pair of mittens is made from a different upcycled sweater, we don’t have exact control of the specific pattern of each pair. Knowing that, we created general categories of mittens for our customers to choose from.”
The “traditional-pattern” mittens are available in blue, gray and black, and are reminiscent of traditional sweater knit patterns. Additional colorways include “autumn-colored” mittens in red, brown tan and orange; and “pastel-printed” mittens with bright and vivid colors, floral prints, or abstract geometric patterns.
“Part of the fun of our Vermont Mittens is that you never quite know what you’re going to get,” notes Clayton. “Bernie Sanders is one of a kind, and so are his mittens! Only he has that exact type of pair, and we think our customers deserve nothing less. It adds an amazingly special touch to the mittens, and it makes them even more memorable.”
Bears That Care
The Vermont Teddy Bear Company offers several other collaborative product lines, supporting philanthropic causes. Clayton says that although she loves all of The Vermont Teddy Bear Company’s product lines equally, the “Bears That Care” line is especially close to her heart.
“Every bear that we make for our ‘Bears That Care’ line is part of a charitable partnership where we work with an outside organization.”
When Clayton first came to The Vermont Teddy Bear Company to work as a designer, she played an active part in the creation of the “Bears That Care” line, including the Limb Loss & Limb Different bears. Today, the “Bears Bears That Care That Care” collection includes eight different bears, such as the Rainbow Bear, which benefits the LBGTQ+ advocacy organization True Colors United, and the Hope Bear, which benefits the American Cancer Society.
“Each bear is different, and each bear represents an incredibly important cause,” notes Clayton. “Working with the organizations that we partnered with to design the bears was an incredibly meaningful process. We were able to make a positive difference in the world by donating a portion of the proceeds directly to our charitable partners, and it feels great to be able to do that.”
The Vermont Teddy Bear Company also has a strong partnership with the Make-A-Wish® Foundation of Vermont. “We have worked with them closely for many years,” says Clayton. “The depth of our partnership reached a new level this year, because they actually moved into our factory. We donated the space to them, so they are only paying $1 per year for rent. They’ve become a magical part of our factory, and we’re honored to be able to give them the space that they need for their organization. We’re also excited to launch our Make-A-Wish® bear in collaboration with them as the next bear in our ‘Bears That Care’ line!”