Life Is Good
They lived in a van and sold T-shirts with “feel-good” messages. Today they’re still selling T-shirts – but now they’re making millions. Learn about the brothers behind “Life Is Good” clothing.
In 1994, brothers John and Bert Jacobs had been hawking their t-shirt designs on college campuses for 5 years. They lived on peanut butter and jelly, slept in their van and showered when they could.
According to the brothers, “chicks were not impressed.”
But that changed when brother John Jacobs drew a happy character wearing a beret, sunglasses and a grin. They called him Jake – and they felt he expressed their optimistic view of life. They put Jake and the phrase “Life Is Good” on 48 T-shirts –- which sold out immediately at a Cambridge, Massachusetts street fair.
And a star was born.
The Jacobs’s good-vibe message seemed to resonate with people. So the brothers hit the pavement, and convinced local retailers to sell their T-shirts. And sell they did. Demand for the product soared. And soon, Life is Good, “the little brand that could,” began spreading across America, in retail stores from coast to coast.
By 2000, they were a $3 million dollar company, but they knew they weren’t smart at operations and money. So they licensed the brand but held on to design and development. The relationship was good financially – they grew from $3 million to $40 million.
There was one problem. “The licensee was just interested in selling T-Shirts. Period,” said John. “We wanted more than that. For us the T-Shirt was always a vehicle for the message.” He and his brother wanted to create a larger lifestyle brand.
So the brothers borrowed $16.5 million to regain, “control of our baby.”
It was a lot of money – and a lot of debt. But the brothers knew what they were doing. They were so profitable they paid the debt down within just two years.
Today, life is REALLY good for the Jacobs brothers. Sales have exceeded $100 million. (No more sleeping in vans!) Today, the New England-based brand stays close to its roots, with an emphasis on simplicity, humor and humility. They even have a feel-good music station on the web, and sponsor a festival every fall.
John says his CEO title means “Chief Executive Optimist.” And he sounds like an old time capitalist when he says, “The most powerful tool for positive impact is a privately owned business.” But he and his brother have done more than just talk about making a difference, they’ve raised more than $9 million for children’s charities – their passion.
They said they learned the depth and power of their message from an 11-year old girl Lindsey Beggan, who was diagnosed with terminal bone cancer. As John Jacobs told Inc. Magazine:
“…[T]he remarkable part of the story with Lindsey is that she was wearing a Life is Good t-shirt or hat every time somebody wrote an article about her. One person interviewing her asked her did she understand her diagnosis… And she said, ‘Yes, I do.’ He said, ‘What does it mean?’ She said, ‘Well, I don’t think I’m going to live longer than a year.’ The interviewer said, ‘Well, I find it interesting that you’re wearing a shirt that says Life is Good.’ And she said… that before she was sick, she took her life for granted. It was a breakthrough for us because it was the first time that we clearly understood that sometimes it’s the most challenged people who appreciate life the most.”
John and Bert Jacobs exemplify a Why Didn’t I Think of That? Axiom: Pursue your passion. They created a lifestyle brand for optimists – and optimists have rewarded them for their message.
Life is Good. Now why didn’t I think of that?