Both Ross and Funk, who are in their early 30s, were familiar with Life is Good when they were younger. “I mean, when that stuff was going on, I definitely thought it was lame,” Funk admitted. “Now it’s kind of fun to realize that about ourselves. The almost corny bumper stickers that give you a positive message, it’s a good thing to embrace. There’s a reason that it exists.”
In the fashion-oriented good vibes space, Online Ceramics is the obvious frontrunner, with the foresight to realize, in 2016, that there was room to reinvent something that had once seemed passé. “There’s always been positive-message shirts, for sure. But it didn’t really feel like a hip thing to do for a long time,” Funk said. “In order to be stylish, it had to be like, ‘I know more than you,’ or ‘I’m tough,’ or something. We were just like, ‘Wait. No one’s really doing this in a hip, modern way.’”
There are other current brands that stylistically stand out as more obvious descendants of Life is Good. Take Madhappy, which is less ironic and—in opting for a direct-to-consumer minimalist approach over shaggy DIY aesthetics—also reads as more corporate.
Madhappy was started by two brothers, plus two of their friends. When I spoke to 26-year-old cofounder (and one of the brothers) Noah Raf, the brand was in the midst of celebrating its fifth anniversary. Much like Life is Good, they consider themselves driven by mission more than apparel. “We’re trying to build an entire lifestyle brand around the wide spectrum of mental health: the good, the bad, the ugly, the in between,” Raf said. A “Local Optimist” or “Treat Yourself Like Somebody You Love” sweatshirt will set you back $165 and $155, respectively.
If mental health issues were once stigmatized, it’s now de rigueur to discuss them openly. In a way, Madhappy can feel as if Life is Good has been run through the filter of present-day therapy speak. “This younger generation I think is really just in touch with how they feel,” Raf said. “We’ve been trending towards a place of more rawness. Hence why TikTok is so big.” LVMH, the French fashion conglomerate that owns Louis Vuitton and Dior, was so confident in the potential that it gave Madhappy a $1.8 million infusion in 2018.
With these new brands getting so much love, I wondered if vintage Life is Good merch was carrying any cache, even ironically. There are plenty of listings on eBay and even Grailed, but none that actually seem to indicate that it’s a hot commodity.
I consulted the writer Jonah Weiner, who often features vintage ’90s tees in Blackbird Spyplane, the style newsletter he runs with his partner, Erin Wylie. It’s also written in a patois of goofy, self-aware enthusiasm that captures the ethos of this particular moment. (“Miss us with those WASHED ‘Norman Rockwell Saturday Evening Post’ scenes of cozy throwback domesticity, baby, THIS IS the tableau we are trying to inhabit!!” he recently wrote of the Celestial Seasonings Sleepytime Tea Bear.)