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Christmas Sweater Depot Ups the Ante in Ugly Sweater Competition

By Patty Wetli | December 5, 2013 9:54am
 The ugliest ugly Christmas sweaters.
Christmas Sweater Depot
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IRVING PARK — There are ugly Christmas sweaters and then there are good-god-my-eyes-will-never-unsee-that-hideousness Christmas sweaters.

Joey Dunne specializes in the latter.

His Christmas Sweater Depot pop-up shop in Irving Park takes your average holiday cardigan or pullover and bedazzles it to the point of satire, adding ornaments, ribbons, bows, lights, sequins and one particular embellishment that can only be described as "creepy-faced Santa."

"If you need to win a sweater party, I have something for you," said Dunne, 33. "I'm filling a need, pushing the industry forward."

Dunne started selling his creations online two years ago after recognizing a void in the marketplace.

"I attended a lot of holiday parties five or six years ago. Everybody was wearing the same sweater."

He hand-drew a Lady Gaga "Just Prance" cartoon, which he heat-pressed onto T-shirts and sweatshirts, and a business was born. In 2012, Dunne sold several hundred of his original "Christmas Gangnam Style" sweatshirts and decided "to go all in" this holiday season with a brick-and-mortar storefront.

"Customers wanted to try on the sweaters to see if they fit," said Dunne, who grew up in Sauganash and now lives in Lincoln Park.

The shop at 4268 W. Irving Park Road has a far more extensive inventory than Dunne's website. Samples of available cartoon decals line one wall  — "Breaking Bad" and Miley Cyrus "Wrecking Ball" spoofs are this year's top pop-culture references — with the rest of the store given over to racks of ugly sweaters, most of which Dunne picked up at thrift stores.

If the cartoon designs put Dunne on the map, it's the option to have a sweater customized that sets his shop apart from competitors.

Although the sweaters can be bought and worn as-is, Dunne will gladly consult on a design that takes the garment from just-plain homely to seriously grotesque.

"I'll ask people what is the event and how nuts do they want to go," he said.

An almost tasteful red sweater with black sequined stripes, for example, can be made infinitely tackier with the addition of several metallic birds and red-and-green piping. Turnaround time is typically a single day — Dunne's friends help with the affixing of ornamentation.

As an incentive to lure customers into the store, Dunne said he's willing to negotiate on price.

"I really want this store to sell a ton of stuff," said Dunne, who also runs an Internet marketing consulting business. "I'm here to sell sweaters. Come in and get a deal."

A long-sleeved cartoon T-shirt will set shoppers back $10, with tricked-out sweaters costing as much as $72. The typical online sale averages $90, Dunne said.

"Sometimes people think I'm kidding," he said of reaction to his sideline. "It's lucrative."

With invites himself to a dozen ugly sweater parties this year, Dunne will be dipping into his own stock — a cartoon of a Christmas stocking-capped "Star Wars" Imperial Stormtrooper is his current favorite, though he's gone crazier with his sartorial choices in the past.

Two years ago, when his first season as an ugly sweater entrepreneur drew to a close, Dunne donned "one of the most absurd" sweaters he could find for a Christmas Day celebration with family. It happened to closely match a sweater worn, unironically, by his great-aunt.

"She was surprised," he said. "And I think confused."

Christmas Sweater Depot is open from 11 a.m.-8 p.m. daily through December at 4268 W. Irving Park Road.