The Best Sustainably Made Christmas Sweaters – Ugly and Otherwise!

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Written by Leigh Matthews, BA Hons, H.Dip. NT


Leigh Matthews, BA Hons, H.Dip. NT

Sustainability Expert

Leigh Matthews is a sustainability expert and long time vegan. Her work on solar policy has been published in Canada's National Observer.


I love sweaters and I love Christmas, so it’s only natural that I have a bit of a thing for Christmas sweaters, ugly and otherwise. The trouble is, these sweaters tend to be made cheaply, using synthetic materials, by workers paid low wages and toiling in unsafe working conditions. Unsustainable and unethical ugly Christmas sweaters aren’t going to single-sleevedly ruin the planet, but these seasonal specialties are a microcosm of a bigger problem posed by the fashion industry.

Table of Contents
  1. tentree Highline Intarsia Crew Sweater
  2. Patagonia Recycled Wool Sweater – Pine Knit in Northern Green
  3. British Christmas Jumpers Recycled Collection – Children’s Fair Isle Christmas Sweater
  4. Kiss Heart Hug – Organic Cotton Christmas Sweater with Santa and Rudolf
  5. Gothic Reindeer Christmas T-Shirt        
  6. David Attenbrrrrr! Ugly Christmas Sweater made with recycled fibers
  7. Ugly Christmas Sweater Shop – Bite Me
  8. Childstar Samantha – Meowie Christmas Cat Sweater
  9. In A Feminist Fashion – Eco-Friendly Feminist Christmas Sweater
  10. Nic and The Newfie Christmas Sweater
  11. Leona Beth Art Reindeer Christmas Sweater / Hoodie
  12. The Blue Genie Boutique Merry Poodle Christmas Sweater
  13. The problem with ugly Christmas sweaters
  14. Make it more sustainable – ugly Christmas sweaters that won’t wreck the planet
  15. Thrifting options for Christmas sweaters

What to do, then, if you love ugly seasonal sweaters as much as I do? Shop sustainably! That’s right, you can now get ugly (and attractive) Christmas sweaters made with sustainable cincmaterials by more eco-friendly companies. And, as always, going thrifting is a great way to minimize resource use while finding a unique ugly Christmas sweater at a bargain price.

Here are our top finds for the best sustainably made ugly Christmas sweaters, with a few more traditional Christmas sweaters thrown in for when you want to stay seasonal but tone down all those baubles and bright colors.

Want to know more about the trouble with seasonal sweaters and how to celebrate more sustainably? I discuss all that below too.


tentree Highline Intarsia Crew Sweater

Leaf Score

Highlight: A cozy winter sweater with a subtly seasonal design that’s perfect for a classier office holiday party or times when a more garish ugly sweater just won’t do. Made with recycled, organic, and responsibly sourced fibers by a climate neutral B Corp that plants ten trees with every purchase.

This gorgeous sweater from tentree is my favorite find from the company’s new winter collection. It is subtly wintery and looks fantastically cozy, with a slightly slouchy drape. It is available in sizes XS to XL and has ribbed cuffs and a ribbed hem. The fabric comprises 44% recycled polyester, 30% organic cotton, and 26% responsibly sourced wool with RWS certification.

The color is described as Oatmeal Pine Bark and the sweater features a gently striped two-tone design. It’s made with a reverse Jersey stitch, for all you knitters out there, and as with all tentree products, each sweater results in ten trees planted in a sustainable way to support local communities and the planet as a whole.

The best thing about this sweater, though, is that it’s not just for Christmas and is a timeless knit design made to last. This means you’re more likely to use it more than a handful of times, for many years to come. The trouble with most Christmas sweaters, as I discuss in the FAQs below, is that they’re typically only worn once or twice (total!) and require a lot of resources to make, even if made with recycled materials. With tentree, you’ll want to wear this gorgeous sweater all year round!


Patagonia Recycled Wool Sweater – Pine Knit in Northern Green

Leaf Score

Highlights: A cozy, classy Christmassy sweater that works all year round, year after year. Made from recycled wool and recycled nylon, Patagonia’s crewneck sweater has ribbed hems and double-layer cuffs for extra warmth.

Patagonia’s recycled wool sweater in the Pine Knit pattern in Northern Green is a great choice for a sustainable Christmas sweater. The design is subtly festive but totally works beyond the holiday season, making for a more sustainable garment overall.

The fabric comprises 70% recycled wool, 26% recycled nylon, and 4% other fiber (likely elastane, for a bit of stretch). This sweater is a 7-gauge Jersey knit in a fisherman’s stitch, making for a super cozy yet refined look.

Patagonia designs and makes its products to be more durable, which is why this sweater has fully fashioned armholes and hand-linked finishes at the cuffs and hem. The cuffs are rib-knit and double-layered to help retain warmth and keep you cozy.

While this sweater is marketed as a men’s sweater, it is available in sizes small through XXL and can easily be a cute Christmas sweater for folks of any gender.

The sweater is made in Vietnam under fair working conditions. Patagonia is a founder of 1% for the Planet and is a certified B Corp.

Before buying this sweater new, check the worn wear outlet to see if there’s a bargain find secondhand!


British Christmas Jumpers Recycled Collection – Children’s Fair Isle Christmas Sweater

Leaf Score

Highlights: Made with 100% recycled yarn (cotton and polyester), this Fair Isle style children’s sweater is a fun tangerine color and super soft! Get matching sweaters for the whole family!

The British Christmas Jumper company offers a fabulous range of Christmas sweaters with some classic Fair Isle designs, more modern knits, and those verging on ugly. The collection (view here) includes sweaters for kids and adults, including this bright and merry orange Nordic inspired Fair Isle jumper for children aged three and up. There’s also a matching version for older kids and adults.

All of these sweaters are knit in the UK using super soft 100% recycled yarn. The blend comprises 60% regenerated cotton and 40% recycled bottles (PET). The cotton comes from waste cuttings from pre-consumer cotton textile production, shredded and blended with fibers created from recycled plastic bottles. The fiber blend is then spun to create new yarn, all without the need for extra dyes.

These Christmas sweaters are machine washable (use a microplastic filter) and much more sustainable than virgin synthetics or conventional cotton.


Kiss Heart Hug – Organic Cotton Christmas Sweater with Santa and Rudolf

Leaf Score

Highlights: A Christmas sweater that’s a little classier than most, this cozy find is made with an organic cotton outer and fleecy lining comprising recycled polyester. It carries GRS, OCS, and Oeko-Tex certifications!

Kiss Heart Hug’s Christmas sweater boasts a gold and white or black and white ‘Make a Wish’ print featuring Santa and his reindeer. It comprises organic cotton and recycled polyester with some elastane for the ribbed cuffs, collar, and hems. The brushed fleece inner layer is a blend of organic cotton and recycled polyester, making this a really cozy sweater that’s also more sustainable and classier than most Christmas sweaters.

Available in black, bottle green, and white, and in sizes XS through 3XL, this sweater has side seams and raglan sleeves. The blank garment is sourced from Pakistan and the seller prints the sweaters to order, helping to reduce waste from overproduction.

The sweater is certified by GRS (Global Recycled Standard) and OCS (Organic Content Standard), and is also OEKO-TEX Standard 100 certified and PETA-Approved Vegan.

The seller is offering LeafScore readers 10% off until December 14th. Use code THXLEAFSCORE at checkout.


Gothic Reindeer Christmas T-Shirt        

Leaf Score

Highlight: A cheeky gothic skeleton reindeer Christmas t-shirt for the reluctant seasonal celebrants on your gift list. Made from 100% GOTS certified organic cotton, this tee is a great choice if you’re Christmassing in a warmer climate or tend to run hot.

If you’re more of a T-shirt fan than a sweater lover, check out this hilarious gothic reindeer skeleton Christmas tee from FreeWill Shirts. It’s made with 100% organic cotton and is available in sizes Small to XXXL. The unisex fit means you’ll want to size down if you’re after a slimmer fit.

While I was suspicious about the ‘organic’ nature of the cotton for this shirt, I checked with the seller and confirmed that it is genuinely GOTS certified organic cotton, meaning this is just a great bargain on a festive organic cotton tee!


David Attenbrrrrr! Ugly Christmas Sweater made with recycled fibers

Leaf Score

Highlights: Handmade in the UK, using recycled water bottles and recycled acrylic, this limited edition, ugly Christmas sweater features everybody’s favorite environmental scientist, David Attenborough! The back reads, ‘Stay cool’, with a map of the world.

This amazing ugly Christmas sweater is one of a limited (less than 1,000) run and is made by hand in the UK using entirely recycled materials (90% recycled plastic water bottles and 10% recycled acrylic yarn). It features a classic ugly Christmas sweater design with the face of environmental scientists David Attenborough on the front and a seasonal and climate-change pun – ‘David Attenbrrrr!’ On the back of the sweater, you’ll find a map of the world and ‘stay cool’.

This cozy sweater is designed and manufactured in Great Britain and has ribbed and elasticated neck and cuffs. It’s machine washable (use a guppy bag or other microplastic filter) and available in sizes XS to XXL.

The sweater is delivered in biodegradable packaging and the maker says they donate 50% of profits to charity, though it’s not clear which charities (I’ve asked).


Ugly Christmas Sweater Shop – Bite Me

Leaf Score

Highlights: A well-made, 100% certified organic cotton ugly Christmas sweater. This cheeky gingerbread person design comes from a company that’s cleaning up its act and trying to be more sustainable.

When the thrift store is all out of bargain finds, where better to go for an ugly Christmas sweater than the Ugly Christmas Sweater Shop? This popular store acknowledged its own impact on the environment back in 2019 and has started to shape up, releasing a collection of organic cotton ugly Christmas sweaters that now make up 20% of its catalog (view here).

I’m excited to see more sustainable sweater choices from this company, given that its other goods are still largely manufactured with virgin synthetic materials and conventional cotton.

For now, though, you can choose from five sweater options in the organic collection, all of which are unisex and most of which come in sizes that the whole family (from one-year-old’s up) can wear. Given my toddler’s current love of biting, I’m especially fond of the cute ‘Bite Me’ gingerbread person ugly Christmas sweater, which comes in sizes:

  • 1-year
  • 2-year
  • 3-4-years
  • 5-6 years
  • 7-8-years
  • 9-10-years
  • 11-12-years
  • 13-14-years
  • XXS
  • XS
  • S
  • M
  • L
  • XL
  • 2XL
  • 3XL
  • 4XL.

Made with GOTS certified organic cotton, these sweaters won’t make you sweat like standard synthetic ugly sweaters and are instead cozy and comfy for the whole family.


Childstar Samantha – Meowie Christmas Cat Sweater

Leaf Score

Highlights: Organic cotton and recycled polyester Christmas sweater with cattitude. Made in England and Fair Wear and PETA vegan approved. Sold by a carbon positive seller and shipped plastic-free.

This cute Christmas cat sweater has some serious cattitude. Meowie Cat apparently likes ‘throwing shade at inferior beings’, making it the perfect fit for more grumble-inclined seasonal giftees.

The cozy and super soft sweater comprises 85% organic cotton and 15% recycled polyester and is printed with eco-friendly inks by a Living Wage employer in the UK. The sweater is PETA approved vegan and Fair Wear certified and the seller ships everything plastic-free. You can even request that the seller gift wrap the sweater and include a handwritten message of your choice.

The seller is super responsive to questions and is also carbon positive, planting a tree for every sale and maintaining a forest through Ecologi.

Be sure to order by December 7th for delivery to the U.S. in time for Christmas Day!


In A Feminist Fashion – Eco-Friendly Feminist Christmas Sweater

Leaf Score

Highlights: For the feminist on your gift list, this sweater is made with organic cotton and recycled polyester and features an eco-feminist design. Available in eight colors and sizes S to XXL.

Who says there isn’t a Christmas sweater for everyone? If you lucked out with the office eco-feminist for Secret Santa this year, check out this sustainable Christmas sweater from In A Feminist Fashion.

The sweaters comprise 80% organic cotton (OCS certified – label checked with the seller) and 20% recycled polyester in a French terry knit for soft coziness. The design features set-in sleeves, a rib collar and cuffs, and is available in eight colors and sizes S to XXL.

The blank garment is made in Bangladesh and the design is printed in the U.S. The seller prints on demand, helping to reduce overproduction and waste.

If you’ve been looking for a Christmas sweater featuring a uterus, you’re welcome!


Nic and The Newfie Christmas Sweater

Leaf Score

Highlights: Lighter weight Scandinavian-inspired classy Christmas sweater made with organic cotton, recycled polyester, and rayon. Handmade, under $40, and limited to the winter season only, so get yours now if you love the design!

This Etsy seller reveals a limited run of seasonal sweaters every December, and they sell out fast! For 2023, the design is a repeat of the 2017 design and is pale red with deer and forest foliage in white. The super cute Scandinavian-inspired sweater is made with organic cotton, recycled polyester, and rayon and is a lot lighter than most chunky knit Christmas sweaters that can literally make you sweat.

The sweater is available In sizes S to 2XL and you can choose brown paper branded gift wrapping to make Christmas a little easier and more sustainable too. Get yours now if you’re smitten with this year’s design!


Leona Beth Art Reindeer Christmas Sweater / Hoodie

Leaf Score

Highlight: A rare Christmas hoodie with a cool handprinted watercolor reindeer design. Handmade to order with organic cotton and recycled polyester, this is a much more stylish sustainable Christmas sweater and definitely not ugly.

Leona Beth makes beautiful art and is a top Etsy seller. Happily, she creates seasonal pieces too, including this gorgeous reindeer print winter hoodie.

The hoodie comprises mostly ring-spun organic cotton with some recycled polyester. There’s also a touch of spandex in the heather gray colorway. Keep your hands cozy in the side seamed pockets and your head cozy in the jersey-lined hood.

The seasonal sweater is available in six colors and in sizes XS to 2XL, with a slim cut intended for women. Each sweater is made to order, meaning no overproduction and waste.


The Blue Genie Boutique Merry Poodle Christmas Sweater

Leaf Score

Highlights: This incredible poodle Christmas sweater is made mostly using organic cotton with some recycled polyester and the design is printed using vegan-friendly Oeko-Tex approved inks. The seller also ships plastic-free and carbon-neutral where possible!

If you love Christmas and love poodles, check out this amazing sustainable Merry Christmas Poodle Sweater from the Blue Genie Boutique. The materials comprise 85% organic cotton and 15% recycled polyester, making for a breathable and more comfortable sweater than those made with pure polyester or acrylic.

The seller ships plastic-free and uses green printing techniques where inks are Oeko-Tex and vegan. The seller also strives to use carbon-neutral delivery where possible.

This amazing sweater – ugly is in the eye of the beholder – is available in unisex sizes S to 3XL. Size down for a slimmer fit.

I’ve give this one ⅖ leaves because the seller is new to Etsy, with no reviews, and we haven’t bought this sweater, so can’t verify it has a GOTS label. I’ve reached out to the seller to confirm certifications and will update the review and score as needed.

The problem with ugly Christmas sweaters

Once upon a time, ugly Christmas sweaters were a hand-knit gift given by a well-meaning relative or friend. These unironically hideous homemade garments were to be endured for the day (or the time it took to take a photo) and were then quietly tucked away out of sight until the next year.

These days, though, you’re more likely to be invited to an ugly Christmas sweater party than you are to receive a sweater that is genuinely handmade with love. And the trouble with the trend is that it’s created a market for new sweaters made with synthetic fibers. According to Hubbub, a UK-based nonprofit, Britons buy around 12 million new Christmas sweaters each year, and 40% only wear a new sweater once. This makes ugly Christmas sweaters one of the worst examples of fast fashion.

These new sweaters are decidedly not hand-knit with love. Instead, they’re typically created using cheap materials and low-cost labor in poor working conditions in countries like Bangladesh and Cambodia. The sweaters are also poor quality, meaning that they often don’t hold up well to be sold secondhand. Instead, after one or two wears most ugly Christmas sweaters end up in landfill.

The average American throws away 81 pounds of clothing annually, with those clothes typically ending up buried in landfill, slowly releasing methane, a potent greenhouse gas. When they do break down, and also if they’re washed at home, these sweaters tend to release microplastics from acrylic, polyester, and nylon. These microplastics end up in rivers, streams, and the ocean, harming wildlife for years to come.

Most ugly Christmas sweaters are made with acrylic, which is one of the worst offenders for microplastic pollution. This synthetic, petroleum-derived fiber releases nearly 1.5 times as many microfibers per wash as polyester and nearly five times more than a poly-cotton blend, according to a study out of Plymouth University. That’s a staggering 730,000 fibers every time you wash an acrylic sweater.

What if the sweaters are made from recycled materials, then? That should be better, yes?

Well, sort of.

Are recycled fiber sweaters eco-friendly?

The trouble with many ‘eco-friendly’ Christmas sweaters is that they’re often made using synthetic fibers from post-consumer recycling streams. While this sounds good, the reality is that this plastic recycling is already well used for things such as plastic bottle manufacturing and other industries.

The more fashion brands adopt recycled plastics in their wares, the greater competition there is for this plastic. That means higher prices and a greater chance the bottled water industry and other longstanding purchasers will turn back to sourcing cheaper virgin plastic.

A great example of this issue came to us in the form of the Brita ugly Christmas sweater. Proudly proclaiming that filtered water helps save the oceans from the scourge of plastic bottle waste, Brita released a Christmas sweater made with recycled plastic. The trouble was, this sweater wasn’t made with plastic recovered from the oceans or waterways. Instead, it was made with regular postconsumer recycled plastic that could have been used to make plastic bottles!

While it’s still not ideal, it’s far better for fashion brands to source recycled fibers from plastic recovered from waterways and oceans. This ocean plastic will still release microplastics into the environment, but its use can help keep virgin resources in the ground and help clean up waterways to some degree.

It’s also worth noting that while some brands release ugly Christmas sweaters as fundraisers for charitable initiatives, these sweaters are almost always made with new synthetic materials. If you like the charity, why not find a thrift store bargain or skip the sweater and instead make a donation with the difference?

Make it more sustainable – ugly Christmas sweaters that won’t wreck the planet

If a Christmas sweater is an absolute must this year, there are more sustainable ways to shop. More eco-conscious options include:

  • Skipping the ugly Christmas sweater entirely
  • Finding a genuinely vintage ugly Christmas sweater instead of buying new
  • Choosing a Christmas sweater made with natural fibers
  • Finding a winter sweater you’re more likely to wear a lot, even outside of the festive season and for years to come
  • Upcycling old sweaters, socks, and other garments to make your own ugly Christmas sweater!

Making your own sweater or browsing through thrift stores online and in person are also great seasonal activities. Buying new seems pretty soulless relatively.

Thrifting options for Christmas sweaters

There’s no shortage of ugly Christmas sweaters in thrift stores worldwide ready to find a new home. Find a new to you sweater at Poshmark, Etsy, Ragstock, and Goodwill, or browse at your local thrift store to make things even more sustainable.

Etsy has some fantastic Christmas sweater options, including new ugly sweaters and classier cozy choices made with more sustainable materials and slogans. Etsy is also a great place to find vintage Christmas sweaters, meaning you can give an ugly 90’s Christmas sweater a new lease on life Act fast if you spot a vintage sweater you love – most are one-offs, never to be seen again!

Some of my favorite Etsy finds as of December 1st, 2022, include:

  • Vintage 90’s Birdhouse crew neck Christmas sweater in a super cute blue – View on Etsy
  • Vintage Fair Isle Snowflake Mock Neck Christmas Sweater (made with acrylic, wool, and polyester – oversized and gorgeous!) – View on Etsy
  • Genuine Vintage 90’s Christmas Holiday Snowy Landscape Crewneck Sweatshirt (pale blue and in great condition!) – View on Etsy
  • Vintage Winter Scene Christmas Sweater (large cardigan with blue and white stripes and appliqued beading – fabulously vintage ugly Christmas sweater and under $20!) – View on Etsy

Ragstock also has an impressive collection of vintage ugly Christmas sweaters, vests, cardigans, and so forth (view on Ragstock).

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