Melody Anderson is the founder of Twin Cities’ based Polar Mitts, “the warmest mittens you’ll ever wear!”
I first learned about Polar Mitts when I saw a basket of these gorgeous Scandinavian-style mittens in one of the shops I love in Grand Marais. I took a picture of the tag, looked them up online and discovered they’re a Twin Cities family business.
Melody and I talked on the phone recently, and I’m excited to be able to feature her and their business here on Twin Cities Outdoors:
What’s the Polar Mitts story?
MELODY: It was 20-some years ago, and I wanted my girls to grow up knowing how to sew. So we bought some fabric to make a jacket over one of the school breaks. And before we even started on the jacket, we decided to make mittens out of the scraps.
My best friend, Judy, who’s a school teacher, saw them and said, “Teachers at my school would love these! You have to make more.”
So I got some more fabric—we still hadn’t sewn the jacket, although we eventually made it—and made a dozen pair or so. Judy took them to school, and before school started they were all sold. She said, “The teachers want more!”
And then another school heard about them and said, “Oh we want some, too—send some over here.” And so we did that.
Then we started thinking that maybe we should try to do something with this.
I kept a bag of mittens in my car and was at the Mall of America one day. I walked into a store—I think it was called Into the Woods…it’s no longer there. I asked the store owner if I could show her my mittens. She said yes, so I laid them out on the counter and she chose about 20 pair of them and bought them!
So we started to look into getting labels printed and coming up with a name
Our kids were in college at the time in Wheaton, Illinois. A friend had heard that Nordstroms liked to buy local products, and their buying office was in Brookfield, Illinois at the time.
So when we were visiting our kids, we made an appointment with Nordstrom’s buyer. She bought $7,000 worth of mittens for their stores—we were floored!
At that time I was buying whatever fabrics I could find from retail stores, but I couldn’t reorder them. I could never count on getting the same fabrics. So I starting going to national fabric shows to learn about where to source fabrics…who are the jobbers…what mills are out there?
Eventually we found Glenoit Mills, that’s now Monterey Mills—they’re headquartered in Wisconsin. We also work with a fabric broker out of Los Angeles. We’re able to get most of our fabrics here in the US, but have to go overseas to find some of them.
Polar Mitts is a True Family Business
MELODY: I still sew every item. I do everything on two industrial machines in our home—16-20 thousand items a year!
My husband, John, was a CPA and controller before going full-time with Polar Mitts. Now he does the fabric cutting and handles the financial end of business. He also turns mitts inside out, puts the lining in and gets them all smoothed out. I couldn’t do it without him!
Our daughter-in-law, Jen, handles the website and does craft festivals around the five state area. She’s carved out her own business as a seller for Polar Mitts at these kinds of big events, and also through her Etsy store.
As our kids grew up they all helped in the business in one way or another. Now they have their own careers and are longer involved. But my mom, who’s 94, lives with us a few months out of the year. When she’s with us she likes to trim threads and do other simple tasks as she’s able.
Product Line and Sales Channels
MELODY: Most of our sales are to the northern half of the US, although we occasionally get a sale from Texas or Florida or California. They seem to come from all over, regardless of the weather.
We sell through our website, in a lot of Scandinavian stores throughout the US, lots of mom and pop gift shops, Bachmans and the General Store in Minnetonka. Some sell both in their retail store and their online store.
People would buy them and tell us, “These are the warmest mittens I’ve ever worn. They’re my favorite mitten!” And they come back for more. That’s why we say, “These are the warmest mittens you’ll ever wear”—because people tell us that.
“These are the warmest mittens I’ve ever worn. They’re my favorite mitten!”
There are a lot of women who have a neurological issue called Raynaud’s. We started getting testimonials from them telling us how painful their hands are when they get cold. But they’ve found our mittens, and these are the mittens that work for them. It’s a good feeling that you’re able to help out these people.
We eventually added headbands (that are adjustable with velcro), hats and scarves. Mittens are still the best sellers.
They’re wind-resistant, but not waterproof or windproof. When kids play out in the snow, they’ll eventually get wet, especially in the wet, snowman-type snow. They’re very versatile, though—great for walking the dog, watching hockey games, winter walking and hiking.
They’re also easy to care for. The faux animal products should stay out of the dryer, but the rest are dryer-friendly—and all our products are machine washable.
How are you involved in the community?
MELODY: We always give a bag of product to a friend who’s involved in work with the homeless. And I send some every year with a friend who has a ministry in the Ukraine.
We give 10% of all our pre-expense profits to charities. We give to our church, World Vision, the Salvation Army, we sponsor a child…there are a number of different organizations we’ve chosen to give to.
We feel that God has blessed us and it’s our responsibility to give back.
(All photos courtesy of Polar Mitts)