Jacqueline and Scot Tatelman, co-founders, State Bags

They put a new twist on the buy-one, give-one business model

Jacq and Scot got the idea for their startup while shepherding kids to summer camp (Photo courtesy of State Bags)

State Bags is a five-year-old company selling well-made, cool and classic bags, while using the power of business to make a statement about social justice. With every State purchase, one backpack filled with essential supplies is given to a local child in need. It follows the buy-one, give-one formula, but with its own powerful story.

It starts with a Brooklyn-dwelling couple, Jacq (short for Jacqueline) and Scot Tatelman, who had careers in other businesses (she in fashion, he in the non-profit realm) but were ready for a change. In 2009, they launched the Country Roads Foundation, a nonprofit that sends underprivileged kids from New York City to a weeklong summer camp in the Poconos called Camp Power. While hauling the kids around one year, an idea hit them.

“We do a scholarship trip every year with ten campers and after one of the scholarship trips, we were racing to the train station to get the kids back on the train,” recalls Jacq in our podcast. “One of the girls was running to the train and she had a Duane Reade bag with holes in it and all her stuff was falling out. I ran to the back of our car, grabbed a backpack and handed it to her. Later that night I was like ‘Scot, we have to do more.’”

State Bags

To hear our podcast, click on logo above, or on button at bottom

Camp Power had been a dream of Scot’s. “I’d been working in the non-profit space here in New York and was working in the city’s toughest and underfunded neighborhoods,” he says. “I was a camp guy and being in those neighborhoods opened my eyes to the needs in those neighborhoods.” 

State Bags was the natural progression for the pair, although it wasn’t easy. “We had no idea what we were doing. We just were really passionate about taking the one-for-one model and adapting it for kids here in the U.S.,” says Scot. “We came out with three styles of cotton canvas bags,” Jacq recalls of the first launch. “Not only were they plagued with production issues, but we quickly learned that for people to take out their hard-earned money and spend on a product, it has to be great.” In order to get the proper utility, look and function, Jacq says, “we weren’t afraid to change, pivot, and rebrand.”

The bags come with a message, not just for the buyers but also for the kids who receive the free backpacks. “We know that giving stuff away is not going to change a life. So it is about coming with an experience as role models. We have bag-drop rallies,” Scot explains. “What we do is a 60-minute educational workshop, mixed with a dance party, mixed with a motivational rally.”

The educators themselves are uniquely qualified too. “Our pack men and women are child-development specialists who have grown up in very similar situations as the kids we serve and they speak to their experiences of successfully rising from these communities.”

Since their start, State has given away hundreds of thousands of backpacks, driven by alliances with celebrities from entertainment and politics. “Partnerships have been a huge play for us,” Scot says of their growth. State has worked with Beyoncé, Jessica Alba’s Honest Co., and President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative. 

That said, building a brand is a huge endeavor. “There are bigger brands out there who can put more money into advertising and marketing. You get left behind if you’re not strategic about it,” says Jacq. Despite the challenges, she encourages more companies to follow a give-back business model. “We hope that more people do this because it is important to society, and for consumers to think about their purchases and not just buy anything, but buy things that make a difference.”