WALNUT CREEK, Calif. — Every holiday season, Carin Agiman pawed through her closet, searching for something to wear to her friend’s ugly sweater party.Having no luck, Agiman, who is Jewish, glued felt menorah cutouts and blue sequins to a white thrift store sweater. But the clumsy DIY look never quite matched the breadth of bright sweaters with reindeer and snowmen. And it certainly didn’t show off Agiman’s Hanukkah pride.
"It was fine and passable, but I knew there was so much more potential for a great Hanukkah sweater," says Agiman, 27, of Berkeley, Calif.
Last February, Agiman cut the kvetching and left her accounting career to design stylish Hanukkah sweaters for the hipster Jewish set.
The sweaters, which she sells on her website, Geltfiend.com, have a retro, East Coast sensibility. Think Urban Outfitters meets "Mad Men." They’re sweet enough for your Bubbe but hip enough so even your fashionable goy friends will want to wear one.
"I’ve always been inspired by vintage sweaters," Agiman says. "And, when it comes to Hanukkah, I was personally very tired of blue, white and silver. I wanted to incorporate red into a Hanukkah sweater."
She did with the Spinmaster, a men’s cardigan with a dreidel design and wood buttons. The V-neck Geltdigger is cream with brown and mustard geld coins covered in menorahs and Stars of David while the mustard-colored Crown Heights, named after the New York area with a large Orthodox Jewish population, features a boat neck and snowmen in Hasidic garb.
"Humor is such a big part of understanding someone’s culture," says Agiman, who in September raised $200,000 on Kickstarter.com in order to launch Geltfiend.com. "Being able to poke fun at yourself and not take yourself so seriously is such a big part of this project."
San Francisco filmmaker Tiffany Shlain wore one of her Geltfiend sweaters to a Contemporary Jewish Museum event earlier this month and says admirers of the sweater approached her all night.
"They’re ironic and funny and so well-designed," says Shlain, the 42-year-old founder of the Webby Awards. She owns two and recently bought one for her husband. Her 9-year-old daughter wants one, too. "I’m telling everybody about them."
There are currently five designs for men and women, with a price tag of $60 or $65 each. Agiman plans to add more sweaters, she says, in addition to other Jewish holiday products, like wrapping paper and adult onesies.
"As Jews we’re used to being left out of mainstream American holidays," she says. "This is a good way for us to highlight our own cultural perspective and experience and participate more fully."
Chaim Mahgel, owner of Afikomen, a Judaica shop in Berkeley, says there is a small but dedicated segment of Jews who will "appreciate and get" the sweaters.
"There are a lot of products to bring the festive spirit into the home and workplace now," says Mahgel. "I’ve seen people spend up to $100 on paper goods, wrapping paper and decorations. Why not sweaters?"
Agiman has sold 1,000 sweaters so far and says the response has been "overwhelmingly positive." Even non-Jews are getting into the spirit, which is fine by Agiman.
"If that means a bunch of non-Jews wearing Hanukkah sweaters then I think it’ll make up for years of Jewish people going to holiday parties in Christmas sweaters."