When Nate Simon was at Los Angeles Fashion Week posing for a famous designer in early October, a group of men stopped the 19-year-old Special Olympics Chicago athlete and turned to him for advice.
“We’re here to help change the world, Nate. What should we do?” Simon’s mother remembers the men asking her.
Simon’s message was simple: “You must love.”
This directive, which moved the men to tears, is nothing new for Simon, who has Down syndrome. He’s been posting it on social media for over a year; his sister’s TikTok, where he is regularly featured, has over 319,700 followers and garnered 9.9 million likes since December 2019. And it’s become the backbone of his clothing business, 21 Pineapple Shirt Co.which he co-founded last fall with another TikTok star who goes by the name “Officer Daniels” on social media.
“I bring awareness one funky shirt at a time,” Simon said.
Simon is an actor, model, CEO of his own clothing brand and multi-sport athlete. He’s proud of all his accomplishments, but his most recent might take the cake.
Simon designed a commemorative t-shirt for the annual Special Olympics Chicago Polar Plunge, a charity event that raises money for the organization’s programming.
“It’s amazing,” he said of his part in creating the shirt, which is available to buy from Monday. A percentage of shirts, water bottles and other giveaways are donated to Special Olympics Chicago and Special Children’s Charities.
“To reunite with Special Olympics…I’m most honored with that one,” said her mother, Holly Simon. “Because Special Olympics in Nate has given him friends, acceptance, a place to go, a place to be seen, a place to grow. It’s been such an important part of his life…It’s given him the feeling part of something and that is priceless.
The Simon family has been participating in the Polar Plunge for 10 years. When Holly Simon noticed Special Olympic Chicago’s mascot, Shriver the Polar Bear, wearing a Hawaiian shirt in one of the event logos, it made her think, “Wait a minute, how come that we don’t make this Hawaiian shirt?
She contacted Special Olympics Chicago, who welcomed the idea of Nate Simon designing this year’s jersey, which features caricatures of him and Shriver riding an icy wave.
Carolyn Daley, president of Special Olympics Chicago/Special Children’s Charities, said she loved the idea.
“We had never collaborated with one of our athletes to design a memento before, so we felt it was a natural fit for Nate and the 21 Pineapples Company,” she said. “It’s been amazing working with Nate and his mother, Holly. He’s so talented and really opens the door to amazing opportunities for all of our athletes.
21 Pineapples was launched on September 21 from her family’s kitchen counter in Beverly. Officer Daniels, a fierce Down Syndrome advocate with a huge online following from Colorado, sparked the idea of starting a Hawaiian shirt business because of Nate Simon’s affinity for wearing tropical-themed shirts. .
Nate Simon’s sister coined the name 21 Pineapples. The number represents the extra chromosome that people with Down syndrome have, and pineapples are a sign of welcome, her mother said.
“We love that a pineapple is super sweet on the inside and has its own crown,” said Holly Simon. “So I was like all the kids with different abilities should wear their own crowns.”
Nate Simon, a student at the South Side Occupational Center, printed his message – “Be a good human” – on hats, t-shirts and sweatshirts.
It was a success.
The company’s website and PayPal crashed in three days due to the overwhelming amount of traffic and support. Holly Simon said they were also locked out of their bank accounts due to a fraud alert.
In less than four months, the company sold over $500,000 worth of equipment with no signs of slowing down.
“Something about this company was bigger than us, and that was the message of ‘Get to know me. I’m just like you and I want to spread the love,'” Holly Simon said.
The past year has been an absolute whirlwind for Nate Simon and his family. Modeling at Los Angeles Fashion Week for designer Jacob, of For the Stars Fashion House, was one of many highlights, according to Nate Simon, who modeled Prince’s white leather jacket that he was able to To keep.
“It was a lot of fun,” he said. “My favorite designer, Jacob, he’s an incredible, incredible man. I love him. He’s really, really a blessing. I love him in my heart. And I really appreciate going there.
Holly Simon said her son was like any other 19-year-old. He dreams of one day buying a Lamborghini and is thrilled to be 21 so he can have a beer with his brothers.
“He doesn’t understand the fact that he’s such a big hit,” she said. “He would give it all – all he wants at the end of the day is friends, attention, love and acceptance, and I mean it.”
Nate Simon’s last words of wisdom were simple.
The “only message I have in mind is love and [changes] the world,” he said. We “must spread the love”.