Optimism has been good for Bert Jacobs, who along with his brother John, co-founded Life is good in 1989.
The lifestyle and clothing brand, built around Jake – a smiling, somewhat crudely drawn elongated smiley face with a huge grin and a jaunty beret – started with the pair peddling T-shirts on the streets of Boston. It has grown from the two brothers sleeping in a van while they sold T-shirts door-to-door on college campuses to a $100 million business built around the idea of spreading optimism.
And while the company has always been a major contributor to children’s charities, raising over $9.5 million for various children’s causes, it recently formalized its commitment by announcing that it will now donate 10 percent of its net profits to help children in need through The Life is good Kids Foundation.
Life is good was not founded with the idea of giving back as Jacobs said that when they started, he and his brother were just trying to make a living. Instead, in 1995 when Life is good was nearing $1 million in sales, Jacobs said he noticed that the company was receiving a large amount of mail from customers facing challenges. Letters came from people battling cancer, parents who had lost a child, and other customers facing adversity.
“At one point it just hit us like a ton of bricks that these people facing adversity were the people who embraced the idea that life is good,” Jacobs said. “It’s counterintuitive, but we do a lot of T-shirts about backyards, barbecues, and simple pleasures like that, so when we hear from someone who has been in a hospital for a long time, it’s easy to understand why they would appreciate our message.”
That message of optimism has spread beyond the company’s signature T-shirt to a music festival and a deal with Hallmark that began in October 2012. The company, said Jacobs, will soon announce a deal with a major food and beverage producer and plans ventures in publishing, entertainment, and other areas.
“We’re 19 years as a clothing company, but we don’t really care about clothing,” Jacobs said. “The clothing is a vehicle for the message. The growth of our organization comes through broadening the vehicles for the message. We need to find new ways to say that life is good.”