The Original Life is Good Tee

By: Bert & John Jacobs


bert and john jacobs

Bert & John Jacobs, 1994


In the early days, we were known for throwing parties for our friends after returning from a roadtrip. We’d supply the beer and a few tales from our travels, and in return our friends would give us feedback about new T-shirt designs that we taped up around the room. Instead of including blank paper for their feedback, we let them write what they wanted on the walls, right next to the drawings, which added to the fun. 

Watch: How we came up with the original tee

A great crowd showed up for one memorable party.  We were both enjoying the chance to catch up with friends, so we hadn’t made time that night to look over the comments on the walls.  When we got up in the morning, it was clear that one loose, simple sketch of a bohemian guy with a giant smile had stolen the show. There were dozens of notes around that drawing, and one of them jumped out at us. A girl at the party had drawn an arrow pointing to the face and wrote, “This guy’s got life figured out.”  We thought that was pretty cool.  We also thought it was pretty long, so we distilled it into 3 simple words, “Life is Good”.

Two days after the party, we printed forty-eight “Life is Good” T-shirts for a street fair in Cambridge, MA.  We laid the shirts out on our card table, like so many times before, and hoped for the best.  

Within a few minutes, a big dude with a Harley tattoo walked up to our table, smiled at the shirts, and bought an XL. Boom!  Next was a chatty, young schoolteacher whose face lit up when she told us her latest goal was to make every hour in her class “happy hour.”  Those first two customers couldn’t have been more different from each other, but they bought the same shirt. That was just the beginning. We sold the shirts to college students, policemen, waitresses, skateboarders, hippies, and businessmen. They were the easiest sales we ever had.  People “got it”, and they bought it.  No explanation was necessary. The steady trickle became a frenzy, and in less than an hour, we were sold out. We had been selling T-shirts for five years. We had experienced good days and bad, but we had never seen anything like this. Forty-eight T-shirts sold in less than an hour. We literally sold the last two shirts off our backs. We were shocked, fired up and scared to death all at the same time.

The simplicity of the message was magnetic to seemingly everyone who walked by.  “Life is Good” said more with three words in one hour than all our elaborate pitches, messages and designs had said in five years. It was the answer to our puzzle from so many conversations in The Enterprise. We had found our rallying cry for optimists, and those three simple words would change our lives forever.

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