Life is better: How an optimistic clothing brand thrived during the pandemic

So instead, Life is Good took offense: they created more shirts, not less. They hired staff by the dozens.

Two years later, it’s clear that this bold move worked. Annual revenue doubled between 2019 and 2021, reaching $150 million, and online sales increased by 75%. The number of employees has almost doubled since 2018, reaching 276. Bankruptcy is now only a vague memory.

“Believe it or not, we were saved by optimism,” Jacobs said.

Smart business, too. Life is Good’s success in the pandemic era can be attributed to logistical difficulties that have allowed the company to avoid the misfortunes of others, including supply chain disruption and labor issues. ‘work. As the stock market crashed and companies sought federal help, Life is Good turned positivity into capital and money.

At the onset of COVID, Life Is Good began creating clothing graphics in a faster turnaround, sometimes in less than a week. Staff of Pat Greenhouse/Globe

Here’s how.

It started with the type of clothing the company brought to market. Life is Good has traditionally enjoyed comfortable t-shirts (also tank tops, hoodies and hats) decorated with a stick figure named “Jake” and optimistic themes, such as music and hiking. During the initial lockdown, consumers wanted clothes that matched the moment or at least distracted from pessimism.

The team began designing lightweight COVID-era graphics in a faster timeframe — sometimes in less than a week — and “sales have been explosive,” said President Tom Hassell. Bored Americans gobbled down tees emblazoned with “quarantinis” (a play on “martini”) and another parodying the canceled 2020 baseball season as “the longest rain delay in history.” They honored “scrub superheroes” and encouraged people to “wash their paws” next to a golden cartoon pup. One simply said, “Science: It’s like magic, but it’s real.”

Armed with stimulus checks and savings from the pandemic spring, consumers were eager to spend. Many bought record quantities online, then in person as physical businesses reopened across the country. Comfort was also in style, and t-shirt sales increased by 47% between March and May 2020, according to Adobe Analytics.

The influx of orders revived Life is Good, and Jacobs found solace in the unity the shirts offered in dark times. It reminded him of feelings after 9/11 and the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013.

“There was an energy and a temper where the country felt like we were together,” he said.

Also beneficial: a shift to local production that helped Life Is Good avoid the big supply chain disruption.

Just three years ago, the company used foreign manufacturers to print shirts, which were then shipped and distributed in the United States. Now, staff members are ordering massive amounts of blank inventory from Life is Good’s expanded facilities in Hudson, NH and Lawrence. (Three million pieces of blank garments are stocked in warehouses today, up from 500,000 in 2019, Hassell said.) Employees print designs on the blank garments, deliver them to nearby distribution centers and ship them, either directly to consumers or 50 independently. owned by Life is Good retailers nationwide.

It’s less chaotic and expensive than coordinating with factories in distant countries and waiting for completed orders to arrive, Hassell said. Several similar garment companies, on the other hand, are still supplying finished goods from South Asia, where countries are burdened with factory closures and shipping delays at crowded ports.

“Our way, we avoid most supply chain issues and control our own destiny,” Hassell said.

Overall, the strategy has proven successful for Life is Good. The company continued to produce more models than ever before – around 250 each month, compared to 100 before the pandemic. Sales have slowed from the 2020 boom, but remained high, as customers turn to joyous messages amid a rhythm of dismal news: the Russian-Ukrainian war, the growing presence of gun violence and – for many – the threat to the right to abortion. (Shirts that say “Wag On,” “United We Stand With Ukraine,” and “Everything Will Be Alright” sold especially well this year.)

Entries for the Life Is Good t-shirt art contest are displayed on this wall at the company’s offices in Fort Point. Staff of Pat Greenhouse/Globe

Yet today, the threat of a recession looms over the economy and households are battered by the high costs of basic necessities like food and gasoline.

The cost of doing business has also increased for Jacobs and Hassell. Prices for cotton – the lifeblood of Life is Good products – top $1 a pound, well above the usual rate of $0.60 to $0.80. The company is absorbing much of the rising costs, rather than raising the prices of its garments. This reduces profits.

Still, the pair at the helm of Life is Good are confident in the product: a quality t-shirt that should make you smile. And they have already survived financial ruin.

“The reality is that the idea that optimism is powerful is timeless,” Jacobs said, “in good times and bad.”

Diti Kohli can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @ditikohli_.

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