CATCHING UP WITH…
By Jill Diver
Joining the world in mourning the death of singer Michael Jackson, local entrepreneurs Elaine Schwager and Kristin Hodder watched Brooke Shields eulogize her life-long friend at his memorial service.
At the end of her speech, Shields said that Jackson’s favorite song was Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile.” And when Jermaine Jackson sang the last words of the song, “just smile,” Schwager and Hodder had an idea:
Somehow they had to get their Just Smile T-shirts to Brooke Shields and the Jackson family.
An outgoing woman, Schwager, 37, owns and runs Fitness for You Gym in North Andover. The more reserved Hodder, 24, is a personal trainer there. As business partners in Just Smile, a clothing and apparel company founded in 2008, the two complement one another nicely.
The concept for their product line is to inspire, well, smiles, in people who see and wear the logo. They carry women’s, children’s and men’s T-shirts, tank tops, and hats and totes.
With determination and a little help from the Internet, Schwager and Hodder were able to locate the information they needed. They got approximate shirt sizes for Shields and her two children, Rowan, 6, and Grier, 3. They also learned that Shields was taking a red-eye ﬂight to Boston after Jackson’s funeral, to ﬁlm her ﬁrst movie in 10 years, “Furry Vengeance,” at the Topsfield Fairgrounds in Topsﬁeld.
Bags of Just Smile T-shirts in hand, Hodder and Schwager drove to the fairgrounds, snuck in and started talking to the people on the set where ﬁlming would be under way until Labor Day.
After many failed attempts at trying to ﬁnd and speak with Shields, Schwager and Hodder decided to call it quits and grab dinner at a local restaurant.
While Schwager was trying to teach Hodder how to operate a standard in the parking lot, a man driving a little red hybrid came over and asked, “Someone learning how to drive a stick shift here?”
And in the course of conversation, he said, “I don’t know if you know, but there’s a movie being ﬁlmed.”
He was the head producer, Todd Arnow.
They told him about their mission to get T-shirts to the actress. He agreed to help.
“I can’t promise that she’ll wear them, but I promise to get them in front of her,” Arnow said.
This was the end of August. And on Sept. 30, the Celebrity Baby Scoop blog featured a photo of Shields with her daughter Rowan wearing a pink Just Smile T-shirt.
Just Smile was born after Schwager, then 31, was diagnosed with scleroderma, a disease that causes too much collagen to build up in the body, hardening skin, hands and internal organs.
Schwager wanted to start a company to raise money toward research and education about scleroderma. Hodder designed the Just Smile logo. Today, a portion of their proceeds go to the Scleroderma Foundation.
“I always wanted to do something that was almost bigger than myself,” Hodder said. “I think that this opportunity came up, I could see the ideas in my head. And the ideas just spin in my head — beyond just shirts, to the diﬀerent things we can do for people with just the message of Just Smile.”
While it’s “just” a smile, she said, studies have shown that even a fake smile reduces stress.
Schwager believes that in the future they can do more with the concept.
“If we do make it big, and I think it has a lot of potential, we’d like to help a lot of foundations,” she said.
This article ran in the Catching Up With…section of The Andovers Fall/Winter 2009 Issue.