We’ve made a lot of clothes over these past 17 years. Something we haven’t thought about too much until recently, though, is that we very rarely get to know exactly where those clothes go or who is wearing them. Sure, through social media we’ve been able to build relationships with some of you. We chat with you on Instagram comments, DMs, and Reddit. Others we’ve met at our flagship stores or on the road at in-store events with our retailers. Some of you take the time to email us and, once in a while, the conversation goes beyond clothes - a gesture of vulnerability that we are always moved by and grateful for. But the vast majority of our clothes make their way into the wild, never to be seen again, worn by people we’ll never meet.
We do think about our customers. Your support allows us to feed our families, pay rent, and dream big for the future. But we often just see you as a monolith: a group of people out there who like what we do and spend your hard-earned money on our clothing, which in turn allows us to keep moving forward. But it’s easy to forget that each one of you has a name and a story of your own.
That's Matt Smith up there. The photo was taken a year and a half ago, 1 month after he went through a double lung transplant. Matt has battled cystic fibrosis his entire life but has never allowed it to be an excuse to hold him back. He obtained a Masters in Wildlife Science from the University of Arizona and, after years of research and field experience, his PhD in Animal Behavior at the University of Florida. He imparted his passion for learning into others in his time as an adjunct professor at UF, after which he began postdoctoral studies. Years later, as his disease worsened, he moved back home to be closer to family and friends. He received his successful double lung transplant in May of 2019, but after a lengthy recovery with several unfortunate complications, Matt passed away in July of 2020 at the age of 45.
Under normal circumstances, we wouldn’t learn about Matt's story. But recently, his mother reached out to us to share that she was going through boxes that Matt had received while he was in the hospital last year but had never gotten a chance to open up. In one of those boxes was the same shirt that he wore right after his surgery - our SS19 Pineapple Vacation Shirt - but in a size that he had planned to return at some point. He never got to it. Because of that shirt, though, we had the honor of speaking to his mother on the phone and hearing firsthand from her about how much Matt loved our brand. She even took the time to send us a photo of him in the shirt, which we can now share with you, along with a link to his obituary. We read more about his life and were amazed at his courage and tenacity. He had been given 19 years to live when first diagnosed with the disease, but Matt more than doubled that and ended up living a fuller life than many.
In our curiosity, we tracked down Matt’s Facebook page in hopes of learning more about him. His posts made it clear that he was a fighter. Whenever Matt shared about his health struggles, he did so only as a means to keep family and friends updated - and always from a place of optimism, never self-pity. He spoke of his disease and his upcoming procedures matter-of-factly, with simple requests for positive thoughts to be sent his way. And despite his unimaginable struggles, Matt expressed constant thanksgiving: for his life, for his family, and for simple joys. But in reading through his posts, we were also able to see that his fight stretched beyond his own personal battle against a body that was failing him. He fought for Black lives. He fought against voter suppression. He fought for equitable access to health care. He was concerned about climate change. He was grieved by police brutality. He mourned the hundreds of thousands of lives lost to COVID. Faced with circumstances that could have easily caused him to withdraw inwards, Matt instead chose to use his voice on behalf of those who needed it. That kind of courage, to us, is nothing short of inspiring.
We often say that our customers are the best in the world, and while we never got a chance to meet Matt, we are certain that we would have loved getting to know him. And to the rest of our customers new and old: we’re pretty certain you all have your own stories and your own battles. We might not know them but we are thinking about them, and we are sending you our best in an undoubtedly tough time.