Arts & Culture

Spotlight On: Carin Agiman, Founder of Geltfiend

Talking to the designer about her heritage, inspirations, and goals Read More

By / November 27, 2013

California girl Carin Agiman, 28, grew up feeling like Hanukkah always took a backseat to Christmas in American culture. Cue Geltfiend, a Hanukkah apparel company, created by Agiman, that’s “taking back Hanukkah one sweater at a time!” From the Catskills sweater to the Crown Heights sweater, Agiman’s sweaters, reminiscent of classic Jewish neighborhoods, bring festivity and cheer for us Jews starved for some holiday fun.

I spoke with Agiman about the inspiration for Geltfiend, the feeling of celebrating a “second best” holiday, and Hanukkah’s potential.

Happy Hanukkah! Now hop on over to Geltfiend and get your first ever tricked out Hanukkah sweater (or bow tie).

Tell me about yourself and how Geltfiend originated.

I was born in Texas, we moved around to Israel and back, but I’ve been in California since I was 10. My parents are both Israeli and growing up, especially the first few years in Texas, I remember feeling very conflicted because there was a lot of Christmas going on; you know, as a kid seeing all of the bright lights and the gifts, it was all very testing.

My parents were a little scared of American culture in general because they never knew if something was religious or not. They aired on the side of caution, but would change their mind pretty much every two years. There were years we celebrated Valentine’s Day or Halloween, but some years that they weren’t sure. So I grew up always feeling like holidays could be a lot more awesome. Basically, I feel like we as Jews have sort of given up on being festive because we’re turning into this world where Christmas is such a huge deal. Walking into a non-Jewish friend’s home and seeing everything all decorated, smelling like pine trees- the whole thing was very tantalizing. So when the ugly Christmas sweater trend started happening, and I kept getting invited to these parties, I still wasn’t totally comfortable wearing Christmas stuff. I mean, I wasn’t even allowed to watch movies with the word Christmas in the title, so I’m still very shell-shocked that way. When I would look for a Jewish sweater, the versions I’d come up with last minute never looked very right. They weren’t ugly enough to be hilarious and not nice enough to be cute.

So last year I decided I would actually move forward with it, but I had no way to pay for production, so I launched the Kickstarter campaign and was just immediately shocked by how many people really connected and cared about it. It was this huge wave of support, and it was the most awesome thing ever.

Do you create all of the designs?

Yup! And this year we added bow ties, which was a fun project. I do all the designs and I work with a manufacturer and go through the whole sampling process. The manufacturers obviously aren’t Jewish, and sometimes you get a really fun mistake that is clearly not what we were going for. The first year the “Gelt Maker” sweater only had seven candlesticks to it.

How did you get into fashion?

I had originally gone to school for architecture and was going to go into an art program. I somehow ended up doing administrative work and made my way into a CPA office. I thought ‘OK. Maybe I’ll do accounting,” and I ended up doing accounting for a fashion company here in Orange County. I think being involved in that process, and getting to be creative even though my specific role wasn’t creative, was very inspiring. You see, it’s so much more tangible. I think a lot people are intimidated by creating something and seeing it all the way through to production, but getting to see that process firsthand helped. I was able to put that part of it together, and since Geltfiend, I’m actually no longer an accountant, I’m the marketing manager. But I’m hoping to make Geltfiend a full time thing sometime soon.

How did you think of the title names for the sweaters? Have you been to these neighborhoods?

I was looking for iconic Jewish areas. I have been to Borough Park and neighborhoods in Brooklyn, but not enough to say I’m super familiar with it. I have people in my family that are very religious, and I feel connected with that, but I also come from a Sephardic Jewish background. My parents come from Romanian and Turkish Jewish ancestry, so we don’t have any legitimate Hassidic people in our family, more just the generic Haredi Israeli type.

Was it at all important for you to have cross-cultural appeal?

I like the idea. It’s not a direct market, but I love being able to laugh at each other. I am a very secular Jew, I’m not religious, I have a lot of non-Jewish friends, but I love the idea of all of us taking part in each other’s cultures and traditions. But I also love giving Jews something to be proud of. I just think that we’re going to have a much harder time keeping the children engaged and keeping ourselves focused on our holidays without a little more fun. There have been several years that I rushed through lighting the Hanukkah candles to get to that Christmas party that’s happening afterward. And I would love for that to be a little bit different—where our occasions are just as special and meaningful and as cool as everyone else’s.

Growing up, what was Hanukkah like for you?

It’s hard to describe this without sounding like I’m throwing my mom under the bus; but she didn’t grow up doing a lot of that stuff and making that big of a deal. You know, you always light the candles and say the blessing; maybe there’s a few songs you sing, and you kind of call it a day. There was one particular Hanukkah song in Hebrew we used to sing every year, and it had a line that said, “Every mom makes sufganiyot for their kids” and the inside joke in my family is that after that line she would always say, “Not me!” and move on to the rest of the song. So my family didn’t make Hanukkah a big deal; we didn’t have extended family in the area, so it was just us, avoiding looking at Christmas lights.

How has the reception been to your sweaters? Have you had any critics who’ve suggested you’re promoting the commercialization of Hanukkah?

The reception has been really great. Actually, I haven’t received any negative feedback. The only feedback I have gotten is, “Why did you have to include Christmas trees in the Catskills sweater?” But that wasn’t my original goal. If people take them as Christmas trees, it is what it is. I just want it to be fun. I don’t want everybody taking themselves so seriously. I have tons of non-Jewish friends that have been buying the sweaters and wearing them and getting a really big kick out of it.

What are your future plans for Geltfiend?

I have a whole bunch of ideas I would love to see happen next year—possibly branching out of apparel and getting into some Judaica items because I think that’s an area that is lacking. You walk into must Judaica stores and you see a whole bunch of stuff that looks like it hasn’t been updated since 1980, and they’re still churning it out of the same Chinese factory. So my goal is creating high quality, interesting fun items for holidays. It’s tough because we have so many wonderful holidays, but for Hanukkah there’s always gifts involved, so there’s a market for it. I want Geltfiend to be a place people can turn to for items that are interesting, thoughtful, colorful, and unique.

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