STATE Bags Co-founder Jacq Tatelman: “Why it’s so important for a business leader to let go of ego”

Let go of ego — I have worked with too many people who let ego rule, which was difficult to work with. No one knows your business like you do, but its okay to be wrong. I love learning from my own mistakes — whether it’s as a leader or just as a human. I am always open to […]

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Let go of ego — I have worked with too many people who let ego rule, which was difficult to work with. No one knows your business like you do, but its okay to be wrong. I love learning from my own mistakes — whether it’s as a leader or just as a human. I am always open to being better. I love that I don’t know everything, and I continually strive to be the best version of myself. We had a company happy hour recently and the team members running it requested we buy mugs that best represent ourselves — mine said “WORLD’S OKAYEST BOSS” — haha.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Jacqueline Tatelman. Jacq’s fashion roots span from when she was a toddler in her mother’s clothing boutique to working as the Manager of Product Development at Saks Fifth Avenue. Along with being a mother of two, Jacqueline is the Co-Founder of STATE Bags with her husband Scot, where the pair create thoughtfully designed bags and backpacks with a giveback mission.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I feel all roads in my life have led me to exactly where I am in my career. My most famous line is, “I grew up in a rack of clothing.” As a baby, my mother had the most popular clothing store in town in the basement of my house, and my father had several leather apparel stores around NYC. I spent all my time before the age of 6 going from one shop to another. My life has always been about the community of retail, and the love of creating things people will wear and enjoy. Scot and I started STATE after we saw several kids from our non-profit summer camp — Camp POWER — carrying their stuff for a week away from home in trash bags, and plastic bags, with holes in them. It was always Scot’s dream to run a business that was highly successful, but it was also equally important to use that company’s platform & voice to make the world a better place. I was also passionate about the idea of STATE, but at the time did not plan to work alongside him. When we met with our first consultants they asked me: “So what will your role be?” and my response was that I was just there for moral support. But, two hours later I was handed the title of Creative Director/Co-Founder of STATE Bags. It was the best meeting of my career.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

There have been so many interesting & eye-opening moments for me as a leader at STATE. I think when we launched, we thought that all we needed was for “X” to happen or that all we needed was a partnership with “Y” and we would blow up! But after some really impressive partnerships with some really high-level people — including Beyonce, Chance the Rapper, Jessica Alba’s HONEST company, and several more, we found ourselves still climbing the uphill battle, and we realized how important it is in business for everything to be hitting on all cylinders at once. Your product needs to be spot on, your message needs to be clear and impactful, you need the right team, your website needs to be totally user-friendly, and so on and so forth. It has been interesting to learn what it really takes to run a successful business, how much strength you need to believe in its growth, and to continue to lead even when you have moments of intense doubt.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting?

When we first launched we were eager to be a digitally-native business. We launched with three Cotton Canvas styles that we thought would be a point of differentiation in the crowded space of backpacks: three simple backpacks that give back (like the Chuck Taylor of backpacks). We launched, we had a huge party at Soho House, we sold tons of bags, we got featured on Daily Candy — it was moving. Shortly after launch, Scot and I took a much-needed family vacation. Walking through the airport I was staring at Scot’s back — as one does when you are used to gazing at people’s backpacks — and noticed that the strap of his brand new STATE bag was ripping! We lost our minds. We owned 10k of that bag. It was one of the most profound lessons we learned about product. We could have done without the Phase-One-Crash-Course, but now we use it as a funny party story about STATE Bags history.

What I Learned:

Create a production calendar that allows you to WEAR TEST YOUR PRODUCT!!! We actually learned a lot from that whole incident — mainly how incredibly hard it is to start a business or a brand. I always say the HIGHS are really high, but the LOWS kick you in the ass. How you handle them will either make or break you as a leader.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

The philanthropic side of our business is what differentiates us in this category, and in retail in general. Our give is the driving force in everything we do, paired with the fact that our bags are unique, cool, and fun. We aren’t looking to be your typical fashion brand. We want to be your go-to off-duty bag resource for the whole family. We want you to trust our product and our fashion sense, so you know you can get something that will help you live your daily life and overall lifestyle with more ease. STATE is here to change the conversation around backpacks, and other products that offer utility and function. They aren’t just for kids, they aren’t just for tourists, they can be cool, they can have personality, and for the fashion customer they don’t need to cost $1,000. We offer products that aren’t fast-fashion prices, but are more affordable so you can wear the new colors of the season, and buy a new belt bag, or mini backpack, year after year.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

All of our charitable initiatives shed light on communities or pockets of marginalized people in need. Scot (who runs the charitable side of STATE) is always working on new projects and has an understanding of how to properly message these stories to our audience, mostly via our #WhatDoWeTellTheKids platform. We just finished a huge initiative in Flint, Michigan talking about the water crisis that still plagues the city. We highlighted local heroes doing incredible things for the community — from anti-bullying campaigns to raising funds for new clean water initiatives. On top of that, we donated 10,000 backpacks for kids on their first day of school. Our give is just as important to our business as our product, and we are incredibly proud of that.

What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?

Be open and honest. Be empathetic, but firm, and be a good listener. Lead equally with your head, and your heart.

What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

I think what a team wants is clear, open, and honest communication. We do our very best to act in that way, allowing the team to express their voice in high-level strategy meetings, and encouraging them to come up with ideas to move the business forward. In addition, it is important for leaders to act kindly and confidently in order to build trust.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Anyone in my life who has believed in me wholeheartedly has helped me along the way, but my husband, Co-Founder, and best best friend deserves the greatest shout-out. Scot has given me so much strength since we started STATE. He has given me the confidence to take control when everyone at the table was looking to him, just because he was the man, and I the woman. His response would consistently be: “Take it, Jacq” — he always lets me shine, and without that I wouldn’t be where I am today.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

We do that Every. Single. Day.

What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

1. As a founder, I think one of the most important lessons I have learned is to stay in control. You will hire teams around you, and it is crucial to give each department autonomy, but you also need to know what is going on in all facets of your business, at all times. We have seen how important it is to hire excellently, given some mismatches we had in our past, and we previously put trust into others too wholeheartedly. We have learned our lesson, and know the type of people who fit into our culture now, and have made ourselves more aware of the intricacies in every vertical at all times. 
 2. Stay in your lane — when you land what type of business you want to be, it is important not to lose focus or get distracted. Keep your head down, but be aware of your surroundings and competitors. You need to see what your competitors are doing, but remember that every business is different. We don’t want to be just another bag brand or fashion company. We want to change the conversation — both around social injustice, as well as the backpack, and what businesses can do. We need to tell our own story, be real, and be transparent.
 3. It is okay to grow at your own pace — we got so caught up in the VC world: get funding, grow fast, be huge, be global, grow grow grow, that we completely lost perspective and wasted a lot of time and money. When we transitioned into new executive leadership and brought on fresh eyes, we realized how important it is to grow with strength, not speed to get to profitability and to take the time to focus on who your customer is. 
 4. BE KIND — with every single thing you do, be kind. They always say Kindness is King, and Scot and I believe that saying is core to our business, and intrinsic in everything we do. We landed huge partnerships because we were always honest, and thoroughly transparent. People liked us. I know with all my heart that STATE wouldn’t be where it is today if we didn’t believe in the power of kindness.
 5. Let go of ego — I have worked with too many people who let ego rule, which was difficult to work with. No one knows your business like you do, but its okay to be wrong. I love learning from my own mistakes — whether it’s as a leader or just as a human. I am always open to being better. I love that I don’t know everything, and I continually strive to be the best version of myself. We had a company happy hour recently and the team members running it requested we buy mugs that best represent ourselves — mine said “WORLD’S OKAYEST BOSS” — haha.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

That’s who we are and why we started STATE! We birthed a movement to get kids out of the inner cities of Brooklyn that is now in its 11th summer: Camp POWER. We have seen kids go from camper to counselor, from the cusp of gang life to forensic science majors at some incredible colleges. Our campers and staff preach that Camp POWER saved their lives. It is through their eyes and voices that our #WhatDoWeTellTheKids platform by STATE was born. We consistently ask the question “What Do We Tell The Kids?” and tackle tough topics around social injustice, simply put — starting a very powerful conversation.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Never make the same mistake twice” and “It’s not where you are now, it’s where you end up that matters most.”

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them

Trey Anastasio, the lead singer of Phish. And Michelle Obama, of course.

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