Keeping Up with Zac

From his regular booth at The Granola Bar in Westport, the Weston High School senior can be found meeting with business partners and working diligently on his next project at the intersection of fashion and advocacy. For the month of June, Mathias has been busy curating a series of clothing and accessory collections with local businesses to celebrate Pride month, a movement-driven affirmation promoting the visibility, accomplishments and stories from the LGBTQ+ community. That’s why 10 percent of sales from Mathias’s “luncher” and “snacker” hand-painted rainbow Pride tote bags in collaboration with the functional-accessories brand Modern Picnic benefit The Trevor Project. The charity provides crisis intervention support to LGBTQ+ youth and stands as a leading national organization dedicated specifically toward suicide prevention services. The charity revealed 42 percent of LGBTQ+ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, according to their 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ+ Youth Mental Health.

Mathias wears his pride on every inch of his body: from his totes, tees, leggings, and even down to what he’s eating. The teen worked with The Granola Bar, his favorite coffee shop, to cultivate its “Pride Bakery” benefitting both Westport Pride as well as The Trevor Project through August. Mathias also partnered with the snack company GoodSam for its “Summer of Pride” campaign to promote and feature its chocolate goodies in the shop, with 10% of proceeds going to The Trevor Project.

For Mathias, holding companies accountable to give back to the community and put actionable donations behind the onslaught of companies jumping to produce colorful pride collections is key to receiving his coveted influencer seal of approval, an endorsement by his personal brand: “The Classic Chic.”

POINT OF IMPACT
Beginning in middle school, Mathias took to Instagram to showcase his interior design work, interning under local stylist Ronny Carroll with the home store Dovecote, as well as working with Millie Rae’s as an accessories buyer. Soon he was taking on private clients for design projects, regularly reviewing products and racking up a few thousand followers. Now his following has grown to over 16,500 individual accounts on Instagram, and his opinions hold considerable weight, especially on a business’s social impact. “I think that’s a really important thing to have that ongoing conversation and that it’s part of a brand’s core values, equality for all,” Mathias said.

The phenomenon known as “rainbow washing” is particularly troubling to Mathias, as companies seek to capitalize on a marketable “trend” of selling rainbow apparel during the month of June, but too often will not take action to see through the appreciation and well-being of the LGBTQ+ community. Mathias took matters into his own hands and exposed businesses doing so without any demarcation of benefitting LGBTQ+ organizations or charities on his Instagram story. The teen felt it was important to let his followers know: “By buying this product, you’re not showing allyship. There’s no giveback, and I think that’s the biggest thing,” Mathias said. “You cannot call something a Pride product without giving back to the community.” For Zac, this means that companies will need to show their support “365 days a year” and “take it outside of just the month of June.”

Mathias has worked to bring this message to the broader Westport and Fairfield County communities by seeing through the sale of Pride products in Westport stores. His t-shirt collection with Unsweetened New York can be found in downtown’s WEST 2 Westport located near Sconset Square. The tees send a simple message perfectly in line with his brand’s mission to allow people to be “unapologetically themselves,” shirts featuring black lettering that reads “Proud AF” popping off the white base.

Mathias describes his larger-than-life personality and brand as occupying “the little corner of the internet, especially in Fairfield County, for people’s gay best friend who’s giving them the bluntest of opinions on everything,” he said.

SAY SOMETHING
Since his brand’s inception and skyrocketing success, Mathias has had the privilege of serving as a role model for youth struggling with their identity. He recounted multiple times being approached by followers to thank him for showcasing what it means to be “unapologetically himself,” such as a parent stopping to tell him, “Your Instagram helps my daughter so much.”

Being able to see the impact of sharing his unabashed, genuine self has been a rewarding experience for the teen. “That just brings such a smile to my face that I’m able to help a little boy, a little girl, whoever it is—help themselves realize that they’re not alone, and that there’s someone else out there like them, or part of the community, or doesn’t follow gender norms,” Mathias said. During his own childhood, Mathias expressed his own experience feeling lost without local representation to look to—a role he now champions for the next generation.

Zac’s Pride collaborations can also be seen at some of Westport’s premier fitness studios, including pure barre and Row House. He was instrumental in promoting the pride collection from designer activewear company Splits59, facilitating an event partnership with Row House where a full class of patrons rowed, crunched and sweated their way through the exercise class benefitting Westport’s first town Pride event, where Mathias worked with founder Brian McGunagle to put together and spoke to the crowd on Jesup Green.

Although the teen admitted to having “total stage fright,” Mathias spoke with his trademark confidence and conviction about his struggle with bullying growing up and ideas regarding education reform surrounding the LGBTQ+ community in public schools. “It’s pretty disgusting what people have to deal with, and a lot of it comes from ignorance, […] it’s not that they’re not supportive, it’s that they don’t know,” he told the crowd.

Mathias advocated for public school health classes to feature greater attention to LGBTQ+ topics, including their history and specified sexual health. Part of this initiative also includes the normalization of LGBTQ+ persons and families, where he sees a greater push towards clear pronoun demarcation, from Zoom names to email signatures, making a difference on this front. “You don’t want to ever assume someone’s gender because that can be excluding a lot of people,” he said. “When you are stating that, you’re acknowledging the fact that there are more than just two genders, which is a super important part of allyship.” He also sees room for improvement in education, including school libraries with more books in which different types of LGBTQ+ families are represented.

TOGETHER
Mathias was especially excited to represent the younger generation at the town rally this summer. “I think the youth definitely have a responsibility to take action and demand action and voice their opinions because we’ll get so much more done when we’re all standing up for what we want,” he said. Meanwhile, he and the rest of Westport Pride are gearing up for their next event and working to ensure the LGBTQ+ community’s continued health and happiness. The Classic Chic is also due to release Mathias’s own product line and lifestyle brand launch, all in between Zoom classes, pure barre and a Granola Bar iced coffee.

Mathias partnered with Modern Picnic on a limited-edition tote (find Luncher at milled.com).

ZAC MATHIAS ON 5 WAYS TO BE AN ALLY

1
Shop Smart
“Support businesses with evidence that proceeds benefit organizations supporting the LGBTQ+ community. Head to thetrevorproject.org/donate/celebrate-with-trevors-product-partners for companies partnering with The Trevor Project.”

2
Educate Yourself
“It is not the job of those who identify as LGBTQ+ to educate you on the everyday challenges their community faces. See resources, guides and more at The Trevor Project and at The GLSEN (glsen.org). Read a book, watch a film or documentary by an LGBTQ+ author, and follow on social media to diversify your feed.”

3
Actively Articulate Your Pronouns
“Putting your pronouns in your Instagram bio, your Zoom name, or under your email signature promote inclusivity. It acknowledges that there is a range of sexualities and allows those who identify as something other than male and female a more welcoming space to make theirs known.”

4
Be Respectful
“Allow the LGBTQ+ people in your life to share as much or as little as they feel comfortable about their experience. Be an active listener and respect their privacy. Refrain from giving unsolicited advice or assuring them you know how they are feeling.”

5
Show Up
“Prepare to be an active ally and advocate by attending protests, putting pressure on politicians hostile to the community, and sharing information and resources on your social media channels. Reach out to your local and federal representatives to sign onto or co-sponsor legislation that advances LGBTQ+ rights and representation.”

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