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This is the fourth profile in a series on Conscious Commerce 

On Christmas Day 1998 The Boston Globe ran a story called “Looking Out for Lindsey,” about an 11-year old girl fighting a rare and often deadly form of bone cancer. While she had seemingly little to be optimistic about, Lindsey drew strength from a message sewn into the blue hat she wore on her bald head – Life is Good.

Days later, brothers and Life is Good co-founders, Bert and John Jacobs heard Lindsey’s story on the radio. They were inspired and moved by her optimistic outlook. Because of Lindsey’s story and countless others that came pouring in over the year, the Jacobs’ established The Life is Good Kids Foundation, dedicated to using its goods as a vehicle to spread optimism. (More on Lindsey later.)

Today, Life is Good is a $100 million global lifestyle brand whose Life is Good Kids Foundation partners with national childcare organizations to positively impact the quality of care delivered to the most vulnerable children. Life is Good donates 10% of its annual net profits to help kids in need– more than $11 million thus far.

What sets Life is Good apart is that it does not stop at giving money – any company can do that and in fact, most do – it’s the action that backs up the donation, leveraging its employees, stores and customers to make a difference.

During its Fall 2015 #GROWtheGood national tour, the founders and employees hit the road to host events which yielded $1 million for kids in need through organizations such as Pencils for Promise, St. Jude’s Hospital, Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation, Dream Courts and its own Life is Good Kids Foundation.

While Life is Good is spreading the power of optimism, the Life is Good Kids Foundation is spreading the power of optimism to kids who need it most. The 501(c)(3) nonprofit supports over 6,000 childcare professionals across the United States and Haiti. The Kids Foundation is run by Chief Executive Optimist, Steve Gross who is a clinical social worker and a pioneer in the field of using playful engagement and relationships to overcome the devastating impact of early childhood trauma.

“Addressing the emotional health of children is not always at the top of people’s minds,” says Lauren Sorenson, Community and Content Manager. “But it’s something we are passionate about.”

While Lindsey’s was one of the first stories to inspire Life is Good, the company continues to receive what it calls “fuel letters,” stories from people who draw positivity and optimism from the brand message. It’s these people who provide Life is Good with the motivation (the “fuel”) to keep helping.

Happily, Lindsey overcame her cancer and met up with John and Bert again on the road in 2015, at which time she produced the very hat she wore throughout her treatment. (see video below).

The company, which has long eschewed traditional advertising, relies on its festivals, events and philanthropic endeavors to shape and promote the image of its brand.

Of course, it costs money to be charitable. Does the pursuit of social good conflict with the pursuit of profit at Life is Good? Do customers know (or care) that when they buy a T-shirt, mug or beach towel that a portion of the sale will eventually help children?

There does not appear to be a conflict between the internal social and commercial goals at Life is Good, as is the case with other companies profiled in the Conscious Commerce series. That’s due to its top-down nature, where charitable initiatives are baked into the company ethos from its founders or senior executives.

In a presentation at the 2015 International Retail Design Conference, Fitch Design said that retailers must reconcile their philanthropic works with business demands, partly because Generation Z (ages 14-19) are the most socially conscious generation ever, and will by 2020 will be the largest group of consumers worldwide. Together with Gen X and Y, they will overwhelmingly drive global retail, forming deeper bonds with retailers whose beliefs and actions align with their own.

Life is Good embraced this concept early on.

Indeed, in a May 2014 Fortune article, Life is Good founder John Jacobs says that, “Customers are looking for businesses that exist for a reason, and with social media today, transparency and authenticity are a must. People will build your business up if they believe in you, and they’ll tear you down in a heartbeat if they don’t.”

Also in this series 

Gardener’s Supply Driven by People, Planet and Profit  

Dogeared Jewelry Makes Good Things Happen

For Lush Cosmetics, Charitable Giving is Great Business

Socially Conscious Commerce