The Heart & Soul of Happy Jack
If you’re enjoying some spring weather in the Seaport this month, you might notice some hand-drawn smiley faces welcoming you into a bright, airy space on Fulton Street. Enter the world of Happy Jack, a pop-up gallery, boutique and community space created to honor Mental Health Awareness Month—and the life and work of Jack Nathan.
Here, Jack’s mother, Bradi, along with one of Jack’s friends, Parker Leavy, takes us behind the scenes of the brand and into the heart and soul of the Happy Jack mission:
For someone who hasn’t heard of the brand before, what is Happy Jack?
Bradi: Happy Jack is our son, Jack Nathan. It is also a brand/community that Jack started to help kids who, like him, struggle with mental illness.
The name Happy Jack was given to Jack by the casting director of a Pampers print ad that Jack had done as a baby. Jack’s gaping smile was infectious.
Why did Jack create Happy Jack?
Bradi: Jack was searching for his purpose in life. He was always very existential. It dawned on him that he could parlay his passion of painting and design into a business to help others. He simply said, “if I could just help one person, if even for a moment, than it will all be worth it.” After his first week of merchandise sales, Jack donated a thousand dollars to the Child Mind Institute and vowed to “add more zeros to that number.” (And we have).
Happy Jack ambassador Parker Leavy: I wanted to get involved with Happy Jack because of the person behind it. Jack and I were born three days apart and were best friends. Jack was a loving person who could make the whole world feel his presence and laugh. Everybody looked up to him. For his energy, how bold he was, and how funny he was. I don’t think too many people knew he was struggling with anxiety and depression like I do myself.
How did your family decide to continue the work Jack began, after his passing?
Bradi: Jack left us suddenly and accidentally on July 3, 2020 ,at the age of 19. His passing was unrelated to mental illness. Continuing Jack’s brand, mission and legacy never felt like a decision. It was just simply something that we knew inherently that we would do. We believe we have a sense of responsibility to help the millions who suffer with mental illness in sharing Jack’s story. Jack was open and honest about his struggle with anxiety and bouts of depression. He encouraged everyone to do the same
What can visitors to the Happy Jack pop-up in the Seaport expect to see?
Bradi: Jack always dreamed of having a gallery or pop-up storefront. The Seaport is such an iconic neighborhood; the building, the space and the surroundings are “so Jack.”
Everything was a canvas in Jack’s eyes. In the space, you’ll see his paintings on chairs and tables. You will see that he painted a Louis Vuitton bag, a Goyard wallet, and a PlayStation—and how he cut up his personal wardrobe to affix the pieces to a skate deck and a painting. He was creative to his core. The designs on the apparel, for sale in the shop/online, were all created by Jack as well.
We partnered with Active Minds to create a wall that invites you to write your answer to our question, “How do you really feel?” Reading these shared thoughts is reason enough to visit the pop up. Next to the interactive installation, we have a wall of paintings created by Jack’s dear friend Eli Bucksbaum. These paintings are up for auction on the HappyJacksWorld website in our continued effort to donate to the Child Mind Institute.
What has the response to the Happy Jack space, and Jack’s story, been like?
Bradi: There have been many tears shed in the space. Everyone feels connected somehow. As a mother. A son. As one who personally wrestles with mental illness or has been touched by it. The space evokes so much emotion and desperately needed awareness. We’re so grateful to have been given this opportunity by Howard Hughes to honor our son.
How did the dedicated Happy Jack community—online and on college campuses—evolve?
Bradi: The night Jack launched HappyJacksWorld, he sent a personal text to everyone in his contact list. He was forthcoming about his mission and grateful for the opportunity to “make this world a better place,” as he put it. Shortly after, he enlisted his friends to represent the brand on college campuses. It spread like wildfire. Jack made talking about ones mental health “cool,” for lack of a better word. We now have 50 brand ambassadors across the college campuses.
Parker: Jack personally asked me to be a brand ambassador for Syracuse University. Around 50 of his closest friends act as ambassadors and sell Happy Jack clothing with a discount code, and share Jack’s message with their friends or followers. I support the mission by thinking of Jack in my down times and doing everything I can to carry on what he started. Jack shaped who I am today. For the huge majority of my life, we were basically brothers and I wouldn’t be the same person I am today without him.
Visit the Happy Jack pop-up at 8 Fulton Street on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through June, from 12–7pm.