For Brothers Behind Life Is Good, the Logo Is the Message

PHOTO: Bert and John Jacobs, the co-founders of the clothing company Life is good.
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Why are these men smiling? Well, their smiles are worth more than $100 million.

That's the estimated annual revenue of the clothing company Life is good. These smile moguls are brothers Bert and John Jacobs, the -- and these are their real titles -- chief executive optimist and chief creative optimist of the company.

But the smiles could just as well represent the company's spirit. "We don't care about t-shirts and we don't care about clothing," Bert Jacobs said in an interview with ABC News Correspondent John Berman. "But the clothing and t-shirts are a great vehicle for a message, and that's what we do more than anything, is try to spread good vibes."

The Jacobses embody this emphasis on vibes over financial figures. When asked how many products the company made, Bert Jacobs said, "I have no idea. … I'm not very good with numbers."

Life is good sells around 600 products, most centered on a goofy, big-mouthed, beret-wearing stick figure named Jake.

Jake started as a doodle by John Jacobs in 1994, a tale told by his brother in a recent commencement address.

"My brother went to work with crayons and a magic marker, and he drew the very first Jake," Bert Jacobs said. "My brother had obviously done a tremendous job with this. I will point out, he's still my business partner. That was 16 years ago, and he hasn't done a damn thing since."

The brothers went from hawking t-shirts from the back of their Plymouth Voyager to creating a brand now worth over $100 million. The Life is good motto is, "Do what you like, like what you do."

People might think of the brand as catering mainly to Birkenstock-wearing Phish fans, but that's not the whole story.

"That's one demographic," said Bert Jacobs. "But you have every walk of life … everybody who sees the glass half full."

"We do know a lot of poorly groomed mongrels, though," added John Jacobs.

Given the recession, life has been less good for many people, in many ways. The Jacobses think this makes their products and message more relevant, not less.

"It's not like people abandon optimism," Bert Jacobs said. "In fact, optimism, we've learned, is at its most powerful during trying times. … People need something to help them keep their chin up. And you know, buying a t-shirt or hat isn't going to break a household."

Bert and John Jacobs are the youngest of six kids raised outside Boston, on -- no joke -- Sunnyside Road.

When asked if she thought the two boys would amount to anything, Joan Jacobs, their mother, replied with a laugh, "No."

Describing his parents, Bert Jacobs said, "They were always optimistic, so they led by example. … The second thing is probably the best thing any parent could do for their child. They let us live our lives."

With all the success and optimism, what gets the Jacobs brothers down?

"The one thing that gets me down is that capitalism has a bad name," said Bert Jacobs. "And maybe it gets what it deserves, but these days there's a lot of young, growing companies that are doing good things. … We really believe that capitalism is a powerful tool for positive social change."

The brothers raise a huge amount of money for a foundation to help at-risk children called the Life is good Kids Foundation.

The annual Life is good Festival recently raised over a million dollars for programs to support 20,000 children.

"You can't lay a four-year-old down on a psychiatrist's couch and ask them how they're feeling about losing their parents or witnessing violence," said John Jacobs. "But if you allow them to play physically, they can sort of regain that confidence, self-esteem."

Watch the full story on "Nightline" tonight at 11:35 p.m ET/10:35 CT

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