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The Happiness Project

Four friends - three of them graduates of John Hersey High School - surveyed the damage done by mental health issues, including a friend’s suicide, and launched a business enterprise with an ambitious goal: To remove the stigma from emotional health issues and to increase positivity in people’s lives.

Now their brand, The Happiness Project, enjoys soaring popularity in apparel sales. But the four business partners agree that their positivity campaign is far more important than their bottom line. Learn more about their compelling journey in Eileen Daday’s column for the Daily Herald:

 They call it simply Happiness Project.

This grass-roots campaign run by four Arlington Heights friends that's devoted to boosting positivity and removing the stigma of mental illness is gaining national attention.

Jake Lavin, Joey DeFilippo, Mike Jones and Joey Ruben have more than 86,000 followers on Instagram, growing demand for their custom apparel, and now a short film out that confronts teenage suicide while driving home their message of elevating happiness.

 Joey DeFilippo (Image) Hersey graduate Joey DeFilippo is wearing one of Happiness Project's sweatshirts. - Courtesy of Happiness Project

Just last month, they were the subject of a Q&A in the online magazine Entrepreneur, which explored their journey to build a clothing brand while creating an impactful business.

It was Lavin who founded the organization after a classmate at Hersey High School lost his battle with mental illness.

"Enough is enough. No person should battle their mental struggles alone," he writes on the organization's website. "And with that thought in my head, I created Happiness Project."

Lavin started as an entrepreneur as far back as middle school when he ran a large Instagram account for custom socks, so he had experience with custom apparel. He brought in DeFilippo, another Hersey grad, for his interest in the project and talent in graphic design.

Joey DeFilippo (Image) Joey DeFilippo, left, gets help from friend Pat Finnegan in the Happiness Project office. - Courtesy of Happiness Project

As the brand grew, they added Mike Jones, a Hersey grad with a degree in computer science and business from Miami University in Ohio, and Joey Ruben, a senior at St. Viator High School, who runs a successful social media influencer account.

All four had experience with community service in high school -- the Hersey grads through its Service Over Self Club and Ruben through St. Viator's Service and Song Camp.

They started spreading their message with basic hoodies, T-shirts, caps and stickers, all designed with the Happiness Project logo. Currently, there are 50 varieties of these bestsellers, in different colors and tie-dyed, which they say they spent much of the summer producing.

Mike Jones  Mike Jones works on fulfilling orders at Happiness Project. The brand's young entrepreneurs say 15% of Happiness Project's profits from merchandise sales is donated to National Alliance on Mental Illness. - Courtesy of Happiness Project

All four are committed to their message and have pledged to give 15% of their proceeds to NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness). Yet, as they enter 2021, their biggest challenge is moving their warehouse of inventory out of the basement of one of their homes.

They average around 100 orders per day, and are selling out quickly. Consequently, this year they have decided to outsource all of the production and fulfillment, with the goal of helping the company grow.

For more information about the Happiness Project, you can read about it in the Daily Herald, follow them on Twitter @happinessmerch, visit their website, or watch their video