Before Jacqueline Tatelman and husband/business partner Scot Tatelman launched State Bags, a Brooklyn, N.Y.-based backpack company, the entrepreneurial couple began sending underserved children to camp.
"It’s been the most unbelievably eye-opening experience, working with these kids and seeing how much positive role models and positive attention really enriches their lives and their personalities," Jacqueline, who goes by Jacq, tells mom.me.
The Tatelmans, who have a young son and daughter, decided in 2009 to take idea that a step further by launching State Bags with the same philanthropic goal of giving back to kids in need—children, here in the U.S., who can't afford school supplies or backpacks, let alone stylish ones.
"One of the things that we kept seeing were the kids coming off the bus with their stuff in trash bags, and so spending so much time with these kids, spending time in their neighborhoods, getting to know their families and their lives, we decided to start State," Jacq says. "So for every bag we sell, we donate one to American kids living in situations of need."
Jacq talks to mom.me about the sacrifices she's made to grow her business, the pros and cons of working with your spouse, and that time she found herself very pregnant in Beyoncé's office. What?!
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Describe the moment when you first felt successful.
Being an entrepreneur comes with so many highs and lows. Our collaboration with Beyoncé was the moment that I felt like, "OK, I think we really have something going on here." We had worked with Jay-Z’s Life + Times blog, and that had evolved and the conversation kept going because the people there believed in what we were doing. They eventually called us about an opportunity and told us to show up at this address. I was very pregnant with my second child, and we just showed up. We were looking at Grammys on the wall and Blow Pops on the table, and I’m like, “Where are we?” and they were like, “You’re in Beyoncé’s office,” and I was like, “Wait, what?! I’ll try not to have a baby right now, but OK!” When we felt like she was a fan of what we were doing, we were like, “What’s next?”
As a successful female entrepreneur, what are some ways that you are or want to teach your kids about "girl power"?
I’m constantly trying to build my daughter up, and it is hard. I don’t project any signs of insecurity with my daughter. I never talk about my body in front of her. I never complain about the way I look or anything like that. I try not to fuss with my clothes or change my outfits too much. I try to be as strong-minded as possible in front of her, but she innately has these feelings that her hair is inadequate. She wishes this looked different and that looked different, and that is very hard for me because I definitely went through my own stuff, my own insecurities. I said, “If I have a daughter, I’m going to build this girl up and I’m going to make her feel like she can run the world.” Any time I tell her she looks beautiful, I always am saying something about who she is inside.
Your company has given away so many bags to kids in need. Has there been anything about this process that has surprised you or inspired you in a way you didn't expect?
I would say that I’m surprised by how long it actually takes to build a business. I guess I thought that if we were lucky enough to score these incredible collaborations with Beyoncé, with Jessica Alba’s Honest Co., American Eagle and all of these wonderful partnerships, you just think there’s going to be this pop in business and all of a sudden everyone is going to know who you are and what you’re doing—and it’s really not like that anymore. Celebrities are putting their names on a lot of different things, and it’s a little bit harder to grab people’s attention.
We just have to keep at it. I love my job. I love what I do. And our team that is also here—a lot of people took pay cuts to work for this company. We are a small and scrappy team, and everybody is "nose to the grindstone" every day, pulling for us, wanting it to be successful, wanting it to be huge, and that is a huge inspiration and huge motivation to me.
What's your advice for moms who are looking to start their own business?
My advice would be definitely that it’s a marathon, not a sprint. You have to have patience, and you have to have perseverance, and you have to really, really, really love what you’re going to do. There’s just something to the idea of having intense passion behind what you’re doing and feeling like you are going to make a difference, whether it be with your product, just getting out there to customers and making their lives a little bit easier, or solving a problem, or just giving them something that they’re proud to wear. If you have passion and you really believe in what you do, you just have to keep your head down and go for it. Take the ups and downs, and make them make you stronger and just go for it.
Take the ups and downs, and make them make you stronger.
What are the best and most challenging parts of working with your spouse?
I am totally obsessed with my husband. I have been since the moment we met. I am a very spiritual person. I also believe that there are several people out there for everyone, but I believe that I was put on this Earth to meet him and marry him. I always tell him, “We were definitely married in our last life,” and I adore him. But he makes me crazy when we work together. Working together is really hard, and again we’re parenting two total maniacs, so I feel as though some of the best times we have are on the train ride home, where we’re laughing or dancing.
It’s amazing that I get to work with him and watch him just be this unbelievable leader and create these amazing give-back programs, but we do do couples’ therapy. The highs are: I’m doing this amazing movement with the love of my life and my very best friend, someone that I totally adore. And the lows are: I’m doing this with my very best friend. [laughs]
What sacrifices have you made as a mom and an entrepreneur to keep everything in balance?
My parents were divorced. There was a lot of back and forth, and a lot of tumultuous scenarios where I never felt like I had a really safe, stable place. I was always so envious of my girlfriends and my friends who would sit down with their families every night, and I just felt like that was such a grounding thing and something that I wanted so badly for my own family. And it sounds like such a simple little thing that most people don’t even really think about—sitting down together as a family and having dinner, but that’s something that I’ve really always believed was going to be the cornerstone of my family life.
Recently, because things have been so crazy, we just haven’t been able to do that. We’ve had to stay at work a lot later or travel. I just said to him the other day, I don’t want to lose this, but I feel like for right now, for the business, this is something that just has to be put on the back burner. We can’t do family dinner every night—two nights a week is probably the most we can do, and for now that’s how it has to be.
What would you say are the most important skills and experiences you've brought from previous positions to being the leader of State Bags?
I think that people like working for us because we work really hard and we also very much believe in a work-life balance. We’re also compassionate people, but then we bring this level of fun and lightheartedness to the situation. I think as leaders, you have to have so many different facets to who you are as a leader. You have to put your foot down when you need to put your foot down, but I think that the people in our company really respect us because we are honest, and we’re transparent, and we are fun, and we do silly things.
In the afternoon, we’ll have a random jump-rope contest. Do a fun cheer. Randomly jack up the music and everyone just starts dancing. There’s that element of playfulness and lightheartedness that we bring that comes from our lives as camp counselors and camp directors, I think people really appreciate. I think the fact that we are really genuinely doing this for the right reasons—and we really appreciate them and tell them that often—really makes people want to work with us.
Images via State Bags and Instagram/statebags