Special Olympics athlete who co-founded his own clothing brand designs 2022 Polar Plunge shirt
Nate Simon is an actor, model, chief executive officer of his own clothing line and multisport athlete. He’s proud of all of his accomplishments but his most recent one might take the cake.
When Nate Simon was at LA Fashion Week to model for a celebrity designer in early October, a group of men stopped the 19-year-old Special Olympics Chicago athlete and looked to him for advice.
“We’re here to help change the world, Nate. What do we need to do?” Simon’s mother recalled the men asking him.
Simon’s message was simple: “You need to love.”
That directive, which moved the men to tears, is nothing new from Simon, who has Down syndrome. He’s been spreading it on social media for more than a year; his sister’s TikTok, which he routinely is featured on, has more than 319,700 followers and garnered 9.9 million likes since December 2019. And it’s become the backbone of his clothing company, 21 Pineapples Shirt Co., which he co-founded last fall with a fellow TikTok star who goes by the name “Officer Daniels” on social media.
“I’m spreading awareness one funky shirt at a time,” Simon said.
Simon is an actor, model, chief executive officer of his own clothing brand and multisport athlete. He’s proud of all of his accomplishments but his most recent one might take the cake.
Simon designed a commemorative T-shirt for Special Olympics Chicago’s annual Polar Plunge, a charity event that raises money for the organization’s programming.
“That’s incredible,” he said of having a hand in creating the shirt, which is available for purchase starting Monday. A percentage of the shirts, water bottles and other swag is being donated to Special Olympics Chicago and Special Children’s Charities.
“Getting together with Special Olympics ... I’m the most honored about that one,” said his mother, Holly Simon. “Because Special Olympics to Nate has given him friends, acceptance, a place to go, a place to be seen, a place to grow. It’s just been such an important part of his life... It made him feel like he was a part of something and that’s priceless.”
The Simon family has participated in the Polar Plunge for the past 10 years. When Holly Simon noticed Special Olympic Chicago’s mascot, Shriver the polar bear, was wearing a Hawaiian shirt in one of the event’s logos, it got her thinking: “Wait a minute, how come we’re not doing that Hawaiian shirt?”
She contacted Special Olympics Chicago, who welcomed the idea of Nate Simon designing this year’s shirt, which features caricatures of him and Shriver surfing an icy wave.
Special Olympics Chicago/Special Children’s Charities President Carolyn Daley said they loved the idea.
“We have never partnered with one of our athletes to design a souvenir before, so we thought this was just a natural fit for Nate and the 21 Pineapples company,” she said. “It has been amazing working with Nate and his mother, Holly. He is so talented and really opens the door to amazing opportunities for all our athletes.”
21 Pineapples was launched Sept. 21 from his family’s kitchen counter in Beverly. Officer Daniels, a fierce Down syndrome advocate with a massive online following from Colorado, sparked the idea to start a Hawaiian shirt company because of Nate Simon’s affinity for wearing tropical-themed button-downs.
Nate Simon’s sister came up with the name 21 Pineapples. The number represents the extra chromosome people with Down syndrome have, and pineapples are a sign of welcoming, his mother said.
“We love the fact that a pineapple is super sweet on the inside and wears its own crown,” Holly Simon said. “So I was like all kids with different abilities should be wearing their own crowns.”
Nate Simon, a student at the South Side Occupational Center, printed his message — “Be a good human” — onto hats, T-shirts and sweatshirts.
It was a hit.
The company’s website and PayPal crashed within three days due to the overwhelming amount of traffic and support. Holly Simon said they were also locked out of their bank accounts because of a fraud alert.
In less than four months, the company has sold more than $500,000 worth of gear with no sign of slowing down.
“Something about this company was bigger than us, and it was the message of ‘Get to know me. I’m just like you, and I want to spread love,’” Holly Simon said.
The past year has been an absolute whirlwind for Nate Simon and his family. Modeling at LA Fashion Week for designer Jacob, of For the Stars Fashion House, has been one of the many highlights, according to Nate Simon, who modeled Prince’s white leather jacket which he got to keep.
“It was very fun,” he said. “My favorite designer, Jacob, he is one incredible amazing man. I love him. He’s really truly a blessing. I love him in my heart. And I really appreciate I went.”
Holly Simon said her son is just like any other 19-year-old. He dreams of one day buying a Lamborghini and is excited to turn 21 so he can have a beer with his brothers.
“He doesn’t get the fact that he’s such a big shot,” she said. “He would give it all away — all he wants at the end of the day are friends and attention and love and acceptance and I mean it.”
Nate Simon’s parting words of wisdom were straightforward.
The “one message I have in mind is love and that [changes] the world,” he said. We “need to spread love.”