Leelanau News and Events

Get Bernie’s Look: The Original Sweater Mittens Are Made In Leelanau County

By Emily Tyra | Jan. 22, 2021

The nation has collectively delighted in Senator Bernie Sanders’ warm and functional inauguration day ensemble, as the many memes that continue to flood social media attest. 

Sanders’ showstopper brown and cream knit mittens — handmade from repurposed wool sweaters — were a gift from Jen Ellis, a teacher from Essex Junction, VT.

In the past she sold her “swittens” online and at craft fairs, but Ellis told the Jewish Insider she isn’t able to fulfill the overwhelming request for more Bernie-style mittens. “There’s no possible way I could make 6,000 pairs of mittens, and every time I go into my email, another several hundred people have emailed me,” she said in the interview. “I hate to disappoint people, but the mittens, they’re one-of-a-kind and they’re unique and sometimes in this world, you just can't get everything you want.”

Now enter Lake Leelanau’s own Baabaazuzu, where founders Sue and Kevin Burns have been making their own line of wool mittens from upcycled wool sweaters since 1993. Sue Burns, Baabaazuzu lead designer and CEO, created her first upcycled garment after her husband mistakenly put her favorite wool sweaters into the dryer. Sue dismantled her beloved wears and transformed them into her now international brand, which can be found in nearly 600 retailers across North America, Canada, Japan and South Korea.

The husband-wife business duo is finding themselves meeting the demand for sweater-mittens in the wake of Bernie’s trendsetting moment, which the senator told Gayle King on "CBS This Morning" was born of pure practicality: “In Vermont, we know something about the cold…we want to keep warm, and that’s what I did today.”

If that “there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing” attitude feels right at home with Leelanau locals, know the same 45th parallel that runs through the peninsula also defines the international border between Quebec and Vermont.

Also know that those looking for one-of-a-kind mittens similar to Bernie’s, and a way to support a Northern Michigan original, can check out Baabaazuzu’s latest collection.


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