Zac Mathias jokes that he’s “homeschooled at The Granola Bar.”
He’s not. But the Weston High School junior is clearly a unique young man.
True, he spends a lot of time at the popular Playhouse Square spot. He’s also a regular at nearby Pure Barre.
If you follow Zac on Instagram. you know that already. And you’re not alone. Zac has 15,000 followers. He’s one of the area’s top social media influencers.
He posts — several times a day — with a focus on lifestyle and design. Clothes, beauty, skincare, furniture — if it’s chic, cool and/or helps you live better, Zac will let you know about it.
But he’s not all lipsticks and lotions. Zac also delves into politics, and LGBTQ issues.
As I said: He is not your average 11th grader.
Zac is passionate about what he does. And he discovered his passion early. At 5 years old, he rearranged his parents’ house. (A babysitter helped.)
He soon started designing for his friends — and his friends’ mothers. He got ideas from magazines, but trusted his intuition. It served him well.
It’s not easy being different. Zac was bullied. Fifth grade was the worst, he says. But his teacher let him stay inside during recess — and asked him to rearrange the room.
“Weston is small,” Zac says. “You’re with the same 200 kids from kindergarten on.” But he had plenty of “kind” friends, and they’re still tight. As he — and his classmates — have grown, many have recognized his gifts.
Zac always followed his dream. The summer after 7th grade, he interned at Dovecote. Owner Sarah Kaplan — who knew him from his fledgling Instagram presence — “embraced me,” he says. He worked with store stylist Ronny Carroll, learning all about artwork, accessories and more. Sarah gave him plenty of responsibility, including helping customers.
In 8th grade, Zac focused on social media. Businesses asked him to feature them.
He moved from designer to marketer to connector. Now he’s a bona fide influencer.
Zac is grateful for the opportunities he’s had (and created for himself). “I’ve met amazing people,” he says. “Coming from a small school where being different makes you ‘odd,’ I’ve been able to connect with so many other people.”
The other day, a woman whose 9-year-old is being bullied contacted Zac. He met the youngster. “It meant a lot to them to see me living my life,” he says proudly.
As for pride: Zac is a founding member of Westport Pride, a new LGBTQ organization. He looks forward to getting involved in activities like designing a rainbow crosswalk. He’s previously worked with the Triangle Community Center and Trevor Project.
Local — as in, Fairfield County — is Zac’s focus right now. He highlights area businesses, not big brands. That’s why he hangs out at The Granola Bar. “It’s not Starbucks,” he explains. “You’re handed your coffee by someone in the community. Dana and Julie (the owners) are right there for you.”
In fact, Zac says no to “90% of the offers I get. Whoever I work with has to be the right fit. And if I like them, but let’s say the shoes are ugly, I’ll say that too.”
His father taught him an important business tenet: Never say a quick no. He cites one example: He kept communication open with a brand whose packaging he did not like. But he tried the product, and liked it. He gave advice on repackaging; now they are partners.
This summer, Zac posted some political thoughts. (You don’t need to guess who he supported for the White House.) If he lost any followers because of his stands, he says, “they weren’t the right followers. There are other followers who have different views than mine. We get along fine, beyond politics.”
He’s branching out too. Recently, Zac posted about his driver’s permit test. “I want people to laugh,” he says.
But it is “classic chic” that he most focuses on. He leans toward any product or service that lets someone be “unapologetically yourself.” That can be a handbag or shoes, he says. It can also be almond milk. It’s all about lifestyle, and fostering a community, an environment.”
Though Weston is small — and Westport is not exactly a metropolis — Zac like the area. “There are so many creative people here. They’re doing good things, with a big footprint. There’s a lot of opportunity.”
What’s next? Zac is working on a new project with a young woman from Massachusetts. He could see branching out to his own product line, or perhaps a reality show.
“The sky’s the limit,” he says confidently. “I could be the gay Martha Stewart — minus the jail time.”
(You can follow Zac on Instagram: @zac.mathias.)