Ken Halpern believes that a tastefully tacky ugly sweater can be high quality. No, he believes it must be.
Halpern’s digital shop, “Hanukkah Halpern” launched about four years ago. He moved from Madison to the Milwaukee area about a month ago, where he works a remote software job. His shop currently offers several sweaters – themed for out-of-state schools and, yes, one for Chanukah.
“I love sports, that’s kind of where the ugly sweater thing came into play,” said Halpern, referring to patriotic alma mater sweaters. He has designed sports
’ themed sweaters for six institutions, a combination of colleges and high schools.
Back in 2019, Halpern was tired of seeing tasteless tacky Chanukah sweaters: the scratchy feel, the over-pixelated designs, the same dominant blue with accents of whites and yellows.
“Over the years I’ve noticed that the Jewish culture – when it comes to sweaters – constantly has the same sort of cookie cutter designs and colors,” he said.
It’s quite rare to find a purposefully tacky sweater that is both high quality cable knit and well-designed, due to the difficulty of printing and pricing an illustrative design in mass quantities, he said. The ugly sweater Halpern was seeking didn’t exist, so he took matters into his own hands.
Halpern’s vision for an ideal sweater was hard to come by, even given custom options, he said.
“I want the coolest-looking thing, and I want it soft.”
Halpern knew what he wanted in a sweater, and he wanted even more for others to experience that.
“I like loud stuff. I wanted something completely different that encompassed the whole holiday. I wanted all the Chanukah items, the menorah, a dreidel, and a cool saying that really ties it to Chanukah, that speaks to you” Halpern said.
“The design itself has to give you that feeling that you’re a part of the holiday, and excited to be part of something bigger,” he said. “You want to look at everything, not just one part… every segment jives with each other, every object is placed in a certain manner for flow.”
“There’s an art and science to it. I wanted it to be classically wacky, tastefully tacky, and most importantly, family photo ready. Organized chaos at its best!”
It took Halpern about 27 iterations to reach his current Chanukah sweater design, he said. From there, he chose a fabric that could render the proper colors and high-quality detailed imagery without forgoing comfort.
“It’s not just business, it’s a passion,” he said. Halpern has sent his sweaters to a long list of Jewish celebrities, such as Jerry Seinfeld and Seth Rogen. He also sent a sweater to Ryan Turell of the NBA’s Detroit Pistons’ G League Team, Detroit Motor City Cruise, believed to be the first Orthodox NBA player.
He visited Detroit and got to meet Turell after a game.
“It was such a cool moment,” Halpern said.