A tacky Christmas sweater could help make life beautiful for Coast dogs and cats

Ugly is in the eye of the beholder. Take Christmas sweaters, for example. Call them tacky, call them ugly — Brandt Russo thinks they’re pretty awesome in their own way.

With the popularity of tacky Christmas sweater parties, he saw a way to meet a need while helping a good cause — in this case, the Humane Society of South Mississippi.

Naughty Elves Ugly Christmas Sweater & Vintage Finds Pop Up Shop opens Monday, Nov. 27, at 2646 Bienville Blvd. in Ocean Springs, right next to Alan Belcher MMA Club (the former Razor Sharp Nutrition location). Through Dec. 20, Russo will offer sweaters, sweater vests, sweatshirts and some T-shirts with both florid and subtle holiday themes. And if Black Friday sales swallowed up most of your cash, don’t worry: Most of his offerings fall within the $8 to $25 range.

Russo is a kickboxing instructor next door at the MMA Club, but he also enjoys scouring yard and estate sales for vintage gold.

“My dad and I are kind of like those ‘American Pickers’ guys,” he said. “We go to garage sales to bond.” He’s found both the ridiculous and the sublime at sales across the Mississippi Gulf Coast as well as at resale shops in the New Orleans area.

Another passion is helping animals. His mixed-breed canine companion, Dorothy, is a rescue, and he wanted to find a way to help other pets.

“I asked, ‘How can I make a bit of money and invest in the Humane Society?’” he said. The space came available, and the idea for the pop-up shop began to form. Ten percent of each purchase will be donated to HSSM. In addition to sweaters and other holiday wear, he has a collection of Christmas-centric retro items that could become stocking stuffers.

This past week, he was busy stocking the walls with sweaters covered with gold embroidery, appliques, bows and pompons. Not all of the sweaters are tacky; some are more traditional, with Fair Isle patterns and reindeer, or other subtle designs.

“Look at this one,” he said, removing one red and gray sweater from its hook. “This one was made for Carter Menswear in Gulfport. I mean, it’s made to last. It’s Shetland wool.”

Russo was wearing a Garfield Christmas sweatshirt, circa 1994, on this particular day. It’s a family piece, you might say.

What might be the shop’s piece de resistance is an already decorated fleece zip-front sweater. An enterprising previous owner added her own pizazz with green garland, a sprightly sprig of mixed plastic greenery pinned like a corsage, red bows and small silver Christmas tree balls.

“I just love this. Somebody went to the trouble to make this even more extra,” he said.

And for that tacky Christmas sweater party, Russo’s throwing in some lagniappe: a pre-wrapped white elephant gift with every purchase.

Naughty Elves Christmas Sweater & Vintage Finds Pop Up Shop will be open 10:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday until Dec. 20.

Tammy Smith: 228-896-2130, @Simmiefran1