Wauwatosa teen discovers 'ugly' can be beautiful business
WAUWATOSA -- From a basement in his family's Wauwatosa home, a high school student has cornered the market on a Christmastime obsession with ugly.
"It jingles first off," 18-year-old Jack McCarthy said, holding up a red sweater vest festooned with bells and white faux fur at the neck.
"It's got a lot of beads, some fluff action, a nice collar."
The Marquette University High School student's obsession revolves around Christmas sweaters so tacky, some people find them beautiful.
Then those people pay him lots of money.
A fact he learned three years ago after selling his first garish sweater.
"We sold it on eBay and it went for about $50," he said. "We were surprised sweaters would have that kind of market."
Inspired by his eBay revelation, Jack McCarthy started building a stockpile.
He visited every flea market, thrift store and yard sale he could find across six different states.
The result is a basement stacked floor to ceiling with crew necks, cardigans and turtlenecks adorned with every sign of the season imaginable.
Each of those sweaters is carefully photographed and listed on his website -- ultimateuglychristmas.com -- where people gladly pay $20 to $50 apiece.
The more ugly, McCarthy has learned, the more people will pay.
"The more colorful, the more action, the more eye-popping things -- that's our definition of ugly," he said.
When teenage boys take to the basement for hours at a time, moms start to worry.
While her son is now shipping out sweaters at a pace of 40 a day, there was a time Cathy McCarthy was not sure this would pay off.
"There were moments where I was concerned there was more stock than we would get rid of and I would never get my basement back," Cathy McCarthy deadpanned. "I've settled with the idea that it's okay if I don't."
Since selling that first one three years ago, Jack McCarthy has made a small fortune and learned plenty about business.
His mom hopes the money will help defray the cost of his college education.
Even if it means she loses her basement in the process.