Life has been very, very good to Bert and John Jacobs — more than $100 million worth of good. And they owe it all to a happy stick figure named Jake.
The brothers, who started the Life is good Inc. T-shirt business with “no business acumen and no money” in 1994, credit their success to the unrelenting optimism of the human spirit.
When the Jacobs graduated from college in the early Nineties, they “started hawking T-shirts” on the streets of Boston, related Bert Jacobs, chief executive “optimist” of the company in a presentation at the National Retail Federation this week. They soon bought an old van and traveled to colleges around the country, selling their wares to students in dormitories. They slept on the inventory and kept their cash in a box under the passenger seat.
During their down time, Bert said, the brothers would discuss various topics, one of which was the prevalence of bad news in the media. “What does it do to our psyche if we only focus on what’s wrong?” he related. His brother’s answer was an illustration of a smiling face along with three words: Life is good. The brothers created 48 T-shirts sporting the logo and sold them all within 45 minutes, and a business was born.
It wasn’t long before Jake was eating ice cream, riding mountain bikes and hiking, and sales soared. In 1994, sales hit $87,000 and, by 2000, the company had reached $3 million. “And we still hadn’t written a business plan,” Jacobs said. In 2008, the most recent figures reported, volume was $118 million. The key, Jacobs said, is that Jake “celebrates life” and “takes pleasure in the simplest things.”
Although the formula was set, when the terrorist attacks of 2001 hit, Jacobs said that for the first time, “the ‘Life is good’ message was questioned.” A meeting was called and an employee in the shipping department suggested the company run a national fund-raising event. So, a T-shirt was created with a simple American flag illustration with all the proceeds — $207,000 in 60 days — going to the United Way.
Since then, Life is good has embraced the charitable side of its business and has committed to helping children in need. So far, more than $4 million has been raised at festivals around the country and through donations.
Jacobs told NRF attendees that there were several lessons he could impart based on his company’s success. “It’s OK to ask questions,” he said, noting the youngest people in the company often have the best ideas. “It’s OK not to know where you’re going.”
He also recommended business executives simplify their lives and everyone take one hour a day to “unplug” from all the distractions that rule them. “It’s like rebooting your system.” He said to take some tasks off the plate and concentrate on doing the remaining things better.
Jacobs also said instead of blaming others for financial misfortune, “focus on solutions — anybody can complain.”
He said success will come from being innovative and retailers need to find ways to “stop people on the street” by providing some sort of entertainment to their potential customers.
“Celebrate the good things you’ve done,” he concluded. “You’ll be a better leader that way.”
The annual Veuve Clicquot Polo Classic in Pacific Palisades this weekend drew Kate Hudson, Tracee Ellis Ross, Laura Dern and more. See pictures of the star-studded event on WWD.com. (📷: @chelsealaurenla) #wwdeye
In his new book “Hollywood Royale,” Andy Warhol’s Protégé Matthew Rolston celebrates the Eighties revival of Hollywood glamour. Featuring more than 100 portraits taken by Rolston from 1977 to 1993, the book contains photos of icons like Michael Jackson, Cyndi Lauper, and @drewbarrymore, pictured here in 1991. “Hollywood Royale,” out today, will be accompanied by an exhibition opening at Los Angeles’ Fahey/Klein Gallery on March 1. #wwdeye
"Nowadays when life is not so happy with everything going on in the world, I think people come to me for a little bit of whimsy and color and fun." - Designer Rebecca De Ravenel on her cult-favorite jewelry line. (📸 : @vsteves) #wwd40
“Everyone is talking about how the retail industry is struggling, but I think it’s an incredible time because brands who are doing something different and innovative are setting themselves up for the future,” said @adamgoldston, who founded the luxury athletic brand @apl with his brother @ryangoldsten. The Goldston’s are part of WWD’s 40 under 40: a group of industry notables. See the rest of the list on WWD.com. (📷: @vsteves) #wwd40
@eyeswoon blogger Athena Calderone debuted her first-ever cookbook, “Cook Beautiful,” which is heavily centered on the presentation and visual expression of food. Pictured here are her miso glazed carrots from the book. Get the recipe on WWD.com. (📷: @johnny_miller_) #wwdeye
“It’s passion that helps get anybody to a certain point and it’s what’s propelled me,” said Kith founder @ronniefieg, one of WWD’s 40 under 40: a group of industry notables who are changing the face of retail, fashion and beauty. Fieg, who opened a Manhattan flagship on October 7, began his career at age 13 as a stock boy and salesman for footwear chain David Z. “I think staying true to [my] beliefs, hard work and passion have gotten me to where [Kith] is today.” See the rest of the 40 at WWD.com. (📷: @vsteves) #wwd40
25-year-old @samweaving is about to break out this fall, starring in Netflix’s horror film “The Babysitter,” fittingly out today on Friday the 13th. That’s not the only place you’ll be seeing her, though — Weaving’s got a role Showtime’s “SMILF” and another alongside Frances McDormand and Woody Harrelson in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.” Though she’s got a full plate at the moment, there’s one role she’s got her eye on: Marilyn Monroe. “I’m a little too young at the moment, but it’s on my bucket list,” the actress told WWD (📷: @dandoperalski) #wwdeye
BFF's Poppy Jamie and Suki Waterhouse celebrated the launch of their bag line Pop x Suki at Nordstrom last night. "The line is really about our friendship, and how we are so different but complement each other," said Waterhouse. 👯 (📷: Katie Jones) #wwdeye
After designing the new @louisvuitton and @bulgariofficial flagships and a @chanelofficial boutique opening in Japan, @petermarinoarchitect has another project on his plate: The Lobster Club. Located in the Seagram Building, it’s the famed architect’s first restaurant project in New York, serving up modern Japanese brasserie-style cuisine. Bronze hues, bespoke material detailing, blush and chartreuse tones and a heavy emphasis on Picasso can be seen throughout. Mark your calendars for Nov. 1 for the much-anticipated opening. (📷: @clint_spaulding) #wwdeye