An unexpected outcome of President Joe Biden’s inauguration last month was the rise of a new meme.
You’ve surely seen it: Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders sitting cross-legged in a folding chair, looking slightly disgruntled but also incredibly warm in a puffy coat and woolen mittens.
Sanders got his pair from Jen Ellis, a teacher in his home state. The internet went crazy over them.
Those memes presented a business opportunity for artisans around the country, including Alaska.
“I thought it was really funny,” said Claudette Barber, of Claudette’s Traveling Boutique in Soldotna. “I won’t lie, for being a businesswoman, I thought it was a great business opportunity.”
Barber makes upcycled wool mittens, lined with polar fleece and decorated with appliques.
Her sales didn’t change much with the memes: Mittens have always been a steady seller for her. Like Vermonters, Alaskans were already attuned to the mitten hype, she said.
“The mittens up here are perfect because they really, besides from being cute, they’re really probably the warmest mittens you could ever wear,” she said.
Barber is one of several Alaska mitten makers. Jennifer Bidwell owns Alaskan Mittens in Fairbanks.
“I sold quite a few pairs that day, or that weekend,” Bidwell said. “Usually it slows down in January, February. But this year, it’s kind of staying steady.”
She thinks that has something to do with Sanders, though she’s not entirely sure. Her shop posted a photo of the senator the day after the inauguration, captioned “Bernie has the right idea.” Blue Door Antiques, a Fairbanks store that carries her products, made a similar post.
Wool sweaters are hard to come by at Alaska second-hand stores. Bidwell stocks up when she’s in the Lower 48.
“Every time I go Outside, I bring back two duffle bags of sweaters,” she said.
Kristal Achenbach makes wool mittens for her business Always Stitchen in Wasilla. Like the Sanders meme makers, her customers seem to love mittens because of how they look.
“I think a lot of people buy them from me because they’re cute,” she said. “And then the second thing would be, ‘Oh these are so warm.’”
What makes a good mitten, she said, is layering the felted wool and fleece to create more warmth and block the wind. Her mittens also have small pockets.
All three mitten makers said Alaskans already love their mittens. Are they having their moment everywhere else, too?
“Once people, if they decide they want to try a pair, they’ll love ’em,” Barber said. “So it may become a fad. I hope so.”
As for the memes, there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight.