Before “ugly sweater” parties became all the rage, John Kaplar liked to show up at holiday events donning prancing reindeer and jingling stockings. “I’m the guy who likes to dress up for parties,” says Kaplar, 29.
Still, it wasn’t easy finding holiday sweaters that fit his 6’ 4” foot frame. “I was frustrated with the lack of tacky sweaters in men’s sizes,” says Kaplar, who used to search the women’s section at places like J.C. Penney or Walmart for festive tops. “I was forced to wear vests.”
In 2009, he started designing his own holiday apparel, which he sells on his website, Skedouche.com. (The name was inspired by a phrase in the movie Kung Fu Panda.) The site now sells a few dozen different designs for men, women, children and dogs, with prices ranging from $49.99 to $82.99. Traffic around this time of year, says Kaplar, is anywhere from 1,000 to 30,000 hits a day. Meanwhile, sales have doubled every year since the launch.
Celebrity fans have helped the kitschy cause. Last year Jimmy Fallon gave away two Skedouche creations during his 12 days of Christmas Sweaters. Barbara Walters wore one of the designs on her program, “The View.” It was lime green with candy canes. Zach Galifianakis’s character dons one in the movie The Campaign.
Other sites, Tipsy Elves and JingleBallz.com among them, also hawk irreverent sweaters. Still, Kaplar thinks there’s plenty of demand to keep him in business. In addition to using Facebook ads and Google AdWords, Kaplar promotes his sweaters via such events as the Ugly Sweater Run, which is in eight cities this year, and the Christmas Crawl – a tacky sweater bar crawl in Washington, D.C.
Designing and selling sweaters could easily consume all of Kaplar’s time. For now, however, he works on military software by day, and runs the company out of his Virginia home on nights and weekends. During the holidays, he takes time off from work and brings in a couple employees to help fill orders. Not surprisingly, most sales are related to Christmas and Hanukkah, but Kaplar has expanded into St. Patrick’s Day – another big holiday for gaudy garb.
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Skedouche accepts orders between October and March. The rest of his year Kaplar spends designing and stockpiling sweaters for the next season. Though the site sells more traditional – but no less tacky – designs, best sellers tend to be on the racier side. “I run all my ideas past my fiancée,” says Kaplar. “If she thinks I’m crossing a line, then I know it’s going to be a huge hit.” Suffice to say, some of these designs probably shouldn’t be worn to Grandma’s house on Christmas Eve.