An imperfect, lopsided smiley face is the signature image of Happy Jack, a clothing brand created by New Jersey teen Jack Nathan that encourages people to express their emotions: good, bad and everything in between.
“The mixed emotions smiley face embodies (Happy Jack’s) whole message: You can have all these different feelings, and they’re totally valid,” Jillian Laconti, a textiles and apparel freshman, said.
Laconti is an ambassador for Happy Jack, which strives to end the stigma around mental health. Happy Jack ambassadors promote this message at 13 universities across the United States, with four students advertising the brand at UT.
Laconti said Happy Jack is far from just a hoodie, T-shirt, hat or doodle.
“I know it’s promoting the merchandise, but I also think it’s promoting a mindset of being who you are and going through the ups and downs,” Laconti said.
From his fraternity house at the University of Denver, Nathan painted to ease his own anxiety and depression. This personal coping mechanism inspired him to start Happy Jack to help others. By March, he had bought a heat press, filed for an LLC and established happyjacksworld.com.
“When you wear a piece of Happy Jack, you’re literally wearing a piece of him healing himself and finding himself,” said Matthew Delseni, creative director for Happy Jack.
With the support of his family, fraternity brothers and friends nationwide, Nathan launched Happy Jack on June 3 and donated $1,000 of his initial profits to the Child Mind Institute for mental health resources. He died one month later, at the age of 19.
“(Nathan) was doing the best he’s ever been, which is also what hurts a little bit more,” said Jack Baer, a Happy Jack ambassador and human dimensions of organizations junior. “But knowing he was in the best place possible is also reassuring.”
Laconti, Delseni, Baer and Stella Scheier, a communication and leadership freshman, grew up with Nathan and his family in New Jersey. At UT, they said they promote Happy Jack primarily through social media and through their involvement in Greek life and other UT organizations.
“He was like an older brother to me,” Scheier said. “He was so selfless and always looking to make other people laugh.”
Nathan’s mother, Bradi Harrison, is running Happy Jack alongside family and friends. She said she chose Happy Jack ambassadors who knew or were inspired by her son.
“When I speak to the ambassadors, it’s not how much clothing we can sell, it’s about how many lives we can affect and how many people we can embrace,” Harrison said. “I love these kids. I will treat them all like my own children.”
Scheier’s family hosted shiva, the Jewish mourning ritual, for Nathan.
“That day, it was pouring rain for so much of the day,” Scheier said. “The second the sun came out, floods of people poured in to show their support for Jack.”
To stay true to Nathan’s personality and philosophy, his family requested everyone wear Happy Jack merchandise to the funeral.
Even the rabbi replaced his traditional yarmulke with a Happy Jack memorial hat.
“My mom wore one of Jack’s first rainbow tie-dye sweatshirts,” Laconti said. “I wore a bright purple shirt. It was very powerful being in a room with all of his work.”
Nathan drew a smiley face with a Sharpie on every single Happy Jack order, so Harrison said she does too.
“We just want to do everything the way he would have wanted,” Harrison said. “If that takes me two hours to draw smiley faces with a Sharpie, I’m (going to) do it.”