Back in 2009 when Scot and Jacq Tatelman founded Camp Power, a program that provides a one-week summer camp experience to children from some of New York City’s most underserved neighborhoods, the husband-and-wife team kept noticing a recurring problem. Many of the children who participated in their program didn’t have a proper backpack, instead turning to trash bags or plastic Duane Reade pharmacy bags to carry their belongings and supplies with them.
The idea for a new company was born. The Brooklyn-based couple, both 40, launched STATE Bags in 2013, centered on the popular “one-for-one” business model popularized by brands like eyeglass maker Warby Parker: for every one of the company’s bags sold, a fully packed backpack would be donated to a child in need. In the decade since the company’s founding, more than 200,000 bags have been donated along with 20% of its gross profits to various charitable initiatives.
“Jacq has a deep background in the fashion world and mine was in marketing in the nonprofit space,” Scot says. “I always wanted to start a company that had a heart. That drove everything we did at the beginning and drives everything we do today.”
For both Jacq and Scot, the seeds for the company were planted in childhood. Scot’s father was president and CEO of New England-based Jordan’s Furniture, a company that he said “was not about making money but about supporting community.”
Jacq similarly has the entrepreneurial spirit in her blood. She says her mother owned a clothing store that was run out of the basement of their home that she calls the “pillar of the community.” Her father owned several leather apparel stores in New York.
“I always aspired to do things that made people feel good. That feeling is really part of it, that feeling of providing people with a purchase that will mean something to them,” Jacq adds.
Through STATE, the Tatelmans are able to find outlets for their respective skills. Jacq uses her business savvy honed during her past career in product development as CEO, while Scot focuses on STATE’s philanthropic projects, giving himself the title “Giveback Guy.”
He spearheads the company’s “Bag Drops,” rallies around the country where they hand out the donated bags to kids in need, as well as the #WhatDoWeTellTheKids initiative that facilitates conversation around difficult social issues impacting many of the communities the company reaches—touching on issues like the Black Lives Matter movement, LGBTQ equality, and the Flint water crisis, among other topics.
“I would say that right now, the world of ‘socially conscious businesses’ is a very crowded space, and many are doing mostly great things for the world, but at the same time, what sets brands like ours apart is that we’ve always been focused on direct impact and making sure there are no ulterior motives or hidden agendas,” Scot says. “We’ve stayed true to who we are as a company and focusing on supporting kids and communities.”
STATE sells everything from backpacks and briefcases to duffle bags, totes, and fanny packs for men, women, and children. They even sell lunch boxes and school supply carriers for kids.
Jacq says that one of the most creatively engaging and also rewarding challenges posed by their company’s focus on bags fit the fact that it has given her the chance to take a fresh look at a well-known staple.
“I refuse to make bags that look like everyone else’s. For instance, I’m not going to be making an ‘Elsa’ backpack for children,” she says, referring to the main character of Disney’s Frozen movie. “The big question for us was how do we take this ‘dinosaur product’ that’s been around for centuries and make it fun and alive?” she says.
To answer that question, Jacq explains that STATE goes to great lengths to design prints and utilize color palettes that extend beyond the run-of-the-mill bag. Essentially, you won’t find copies of STATE bags in any old department store. She says that every detail—from the zipper pull to the tiniest thread—is carefully considered.
“We put ourselves in the shoes of a child choosing a back-to-school backpack,” she says of the children’s STATE collection.
If you search on the STATE homepage, their products are made from a range of materials, from nylon to polyester canvas, and range in color from classic sleek black designs to metallics and pastels.
STATE’s diverse product line includes small items like a baby’s changing pad at $12.50 right now on the company’s online store, along with a women’s “Crosby Fanny Pack” at $22.50, a man’s “Detachable Zip Pouch” at $30, and a “Clinton Pencil Case” at $25. They also have larger items like the “Wythe” bag at $235, the “Bennett XL” backpack at $195, and the metallic “Kent” backpack for kids at $125.
The Tatelmans say they want their products to be known as both functional and stylish—in addition to contributing to a good cause.
“From my perspective, I think STATE bags are made for ‘real moments,’ ” Jacq adds. “It’s not just about trying to look cool for brunch, but it’s about needing something that is reliable and dependable that can work for your daily life.”
Scot says that STATE’s willingness to engage communities on sometimes difficult topics such as mass incarceration or LGBTQ issues places the company on “the right side of history.”
“We’ve talked about things that a lot of for-profit companies would shy away from—that doesn’t matter to us,” he says.
One philanthropic initiative central to STATE’s mission is the Bag Drops. Part block party, part inspirational pep rally, the Bag Drop events happen across the country and is tailored specifically to the communities in which they’re held.
Public speakers who have grown up in the communities being served present their own motivational tales of success, DJs play music, and STATE backpacks are given out. Each bag is filled with school-ready items donated by partner organizations. In some instances, celebrities have been on hand to help hand out bags, including Jessica Alba and Chance the Rapper.
Another initiative, called #WhatDoWeTellTheKids, centers on necessary conversations often overlooked and under discussed.
Additionally, Jacq says STATE has been committed to sustainability. They are currently in the first phase of their five-year sustainability plan. Part of this involves the February collection and a new line of children's items coming in March, which will be made from majority-recycled materials.
“This starts with the bag components, how we ship our products, from recycled paper hand tags to recycled cardboard boxes,” Jacq adds. “We want to be thinking not just about the communities we serve but also the planet.”
This also factors into the production of their bags. During a recent trip to meet STATE’s manufacturing partners in China, Jacq says she had conversations about how best to produce the bags in an environmentally conscious way, including which specific mills employ the best sustainable practices.
Including implementing more sustainable production practices, Jacq says the company is in a period of growth. She says 2019 involved positioning the business to be competitive. She says the past year has displayed strong growth among STATE’s customer base, and March will see launch of a new kids category that has yet to be announced.
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Back in 2009 when Scot and Jacq Tatelman founded Camp Power, a program that provides a one-week summer camp experience to children from some of New York City’s most underserved neighborhoods, the husband-and-wife team kept noticing a recurring problem.
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