By JT Laybourne
My Why: What is #thejtway all about, what is the meaning of “JT”, and how did it come to be.
It started because I was sick of the drama. I was sick of the hate. Sick of the divide we are constantly faced with when turning on the TV or opening up our phones. Sick of allowing others to dictate what I wanted to post because of fear. Fear of what they may or may not say. Fear they’d make fun of me. Fear that I’d allow them to ruin something I loved doing.
So, when I came across TikTok, I made a conscious decision when I started my profile. Since no one knew me, I told myself I wasn’t going to hold back anymore. I was going to make the content I wanted. Regardless of what others might think. Simply for the sole reason it made ME feel good. Because at the end of the day, that’s all that matters. To love myself! To do so while being proud of who I am and what I love to do.
As I continued making videos this way. More and more people began to acknowledge certain things. Whether that be the display of confidence, the carefree mentality, a kind heart, or my authenticity. One comment however, continued to out number the rest; my smile. I was constantly told my smile was infectious. That simply seeing me smile put a smile on their face. It truly felt AMAZING! But it was another kind of comment that had a larger impact on me. Comments like, “I wish I could smile like you” or “I have nothing to smile about anymore”. It was these comments that lit a fire in me.
My heart was full with all the love and support people were showing. At the same time, it broke for those leaving self deprecating and hopeless feeling comments. This motivated me to push even further! To make a stand for the necessity of self-love. To stop as much hate and negativity I could. To promote all the good in people. All the love and positivity! The overwhelming response to this continually brought me to tears. Which I’ve not afraid to share. I wanted people to see the real and raw love I had for them. I wanted everyone to see the genuine impact that we have on one another when we build others up.
As this continued to motivate and inspire me, I decided I wanted to give back in some way to show my appreciation. To say thank you and make as many people smile that I possibly could. Enter my hats. Being known as the “hat guy” with the hat wall. Everyone would ask for one, so it only made sense to give back with my hats. But instead of the everyday “social media giveaway” I wanted to do something different. I wanted to get folks off their couch; get people out of their homes and out into the world. To push individuals even the slightest bit out of their comfort zones. So on August 27th, I started hiding hats with inspirational notes and my “JT Smiley” signature, randomly along the Wasatch Front.
When I saw the video of the first person finding the hat, I was simply amazed. Because I had no clue if anyone would even attempt to find it. And then to see someone so happy, smiling so big because they found this hat was unreal! I went on to hide a few more in Utah. People loved it! But those who didn’t live in northern Utah kept asking me to hide hats in their area. I was determined to figure something out. So I reached out to a few TikTok creators to see if they’d participate. I asked, if I sent them some hats, would they go hide them in their area for their followers to find. Everyone I spoke to was excited and willing to help. I sent out 5 boxes on September 18th. On the boxes I drew a big “JT Smiley” on the outside in hopes it may bring a smile or two as it traveled to it’s destination. This is when the fire IGNITED! Videos were being posted of people receiving their boxes and how excited they were to hide hats. People poured in from all over the world asking how they could be a part of it. Either wanting to hide them or hoping to find one. The following week I sent out 8 more boxes. Twelve the next. And 20 more on October 9th.
By this time, I was starting to run out of hats (with only 15-20 decent hats left to send out) I made a video letting everyone know that it had been fun but was coming to an end. I wanted everyone to know how thankful I was for all their support and that we’d come up with another fun idea. But the TikTok community wasn’t about to let it end. For the next few weeks, my PO Box was flooded with hats. People sending their own personal hats as well as buying hats off Amazon to have shipped to me. On top of that, a few hat companies reached out wanting to help. They were interested in either making and/or selling hats with the “JT Smiley” on them. Because by this time, that smiley logo had become this symbol of creating a smile. And an inspiration of spreading love and positivity. I just wasn’t sure how I felt about it merchandise yet. On one hand the thought of having my very own hat was amazing but on the other, I was terrified it would take away from this beautiful movement that was being born. I decided to let it be and just continue with what I was doing. A few days later, I started seeing others embroidering hats with their own rendition of the “JT smiley”. As these starting popping up. People were not only requesting to purchase them, but relentlessly asking if I would start selling merchandise. I knew in order to continue what was started, I was going to have to figure out how to design and sell merchandise
Throughout this, my number 1 goal was to protect the movement. I started brainstorming ways to introduce merchandise without demeaning the message behind everything. While having a conversation with a gentleman “Pay what it’s worth” was born. An idea which would allow us to provide as many people as we possibly could, the opportunity to purchase a hat. We would offer to sell a hat for as little as $1 plus shipping. However, just as someone could choose to pay a dollar for a hat. Another could donate up to a few hundred dollars for the same hat. This was only possible because of the Pay It Forward mentality so many supporters of the movement had. We were able to continue this program for over 2 months before selling out of the 3000 hat inventory we had access to. This was completely mind blowing and shows just how much good is left in the world! This movement stands for hope in my eyes. It stands for unity and a feeling of acceptance for who you are. No matter your ethnicity, religion, gender, age, sexuality, or beliefs. THIS MOVEMENT IS UNWAVERING AND FIERCE because of all the amazing people that are a part of it!
So if you’re wondering about the meaning of the “JT Smiley” logo. If your asking what #theJTway is all about and what those two letters stand for. It truly is for you to decide. Because it means something different to everyone. If you’re asking ME, those two letters stand for “JUST THINK”. Just think how powerful self-love is. Just think what the impact of a smile has or what a simple act of kindness can create.
Whether those letters stand for “Just Think” to you or something else. The purpose of it all is just that. It can stand for whatever you need it to. Whatever inspires or motivates you to be a better person today and a little bit better of one tomorrow.
I will be FOREVER grateful for this opportunity to spread love, positivity, hope, and inspiration to just simply smile again! To build someones confidence and self-love. Helping people see their beauty and self-worth. This is what I wake up motivated to continue everyday. THIS IS WHAT I STAND FOR! This is what The JT Way is all about in my opinion.
The rest is being written as we speak...