Back to School with State Bags

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A company reaches out to children in need

By her own account, Jacq Tatelman was born in a clothes rack. With two parents in New York’s garment business, she inherited an obsession—her word—with clothing and accessories.

When she met her husband Scot, he was ready to quit his job at a nonprofit and try something new—something that would make the world a better place. So, in 2009, the couple founded Camp Power, a nonprofit summer camp for underserved urban children.

Time and again, the accessories-attuned Jacq noticed something disturbing whenever a new busload of kids arrived: Many carried their clothes and necessities in torn trash bags. That sparked an idea, and in 2013 the couple founded a business—State Bags, which sold a limited line of canvas backpacks. For every backpack sold, they would donate one packed with school supplies, to a child in need.

As sales grew, the company expanded its line to include bags of all kinds—handbags, duffles, fanny packs, briefcases, carryalls, totes. And then the Tatelmans did something seemingly counterintuitive. They retired their buy-one-give-one model.

It wasn’t a budgetary move. Hardly. “We wanted to make an even bigger impact,” says Jacq. “If it’s fully-stocked backpacks that the kids need, we’ll just keep doing what we do.” But the Tatelmans had a better idea—their signature “bag drop rallies,” which take place regularly across the country, drawing crowds of kids in need and featuring celebrity appearances and performances and motivational speeches by civic and community leaders. Every child goes home from a bag drop with a school-ready State Bags backpack, filled with notebooks, pencils and other supplies.

To date, through its various giving initiatives, State Bags has donated some 250,000 backpacks to kids and annually allocates 20 percent of its gross profits to charitable causes. In addition, the company has heightened the impact of its giving through partnerships with nonprofits, local communities, celebrities and other businesses.

Scot traces the awakening of his social consciousness back to the TV miniseries Roots in 1972. “I was 11 and we watched it together as a family—and that’s pretty much when the entire course of my life shifted,” he says. “That eye-opening traumatic experience give me a very clear sense just how unfair things were for African-Americans and it drove me to build my life around doing whatever I could to even out an extremely uneven playing field.” Today, he says, “it’s crucial for us to have those challenging and uncomfortable conversations with our kids, coworkers, relatives about race, slavery, police brutality and the systemic failures of our country by asking the question, ‘What do we tell the kids?’”

In 2016, the Tatelmans made that question the title of a provocative multi-channel program of videos, web content and live events. The #WhatDoWeTellTheKids initiatives have focused on Black Lives Matter, the impact of mass incarceration on children, the Flint, Michigan, water crisis, anti-LGBTQ bias, and the NFL national anthem protests among other issues.

“We’re past the point of tiptoeing around these issues,” Scot says. “What the world needs today is more honesty, raw truth and even discomfort.”

State Bags’ mission reads “To make beautiful, well-made, inclusively cool products while using the power of business to give back and shift narratives around social injustices.” At Carpenter Group, we see that mission not as an outgrowth of State Bags’ brand, but as its heart and soul. “Simply put,” says Jacq, “we want to be on the right side of history.”


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About Brand Acts of Kindness® 

Brand Acts of Kindness® is a series from Carpenter Group that spotlights companies across industries that are living their brand values in addressing the unprecedented challenges facing the world today.

The series initially headlined companies assisting healthcare workers and first responders, as well as communities, businesses and families impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. We also highlight brands taking the lead in supporting social and racial justice, LGBTQ rights, sustainability and the environment. Their stories show how innovation, resolve and action, built on a solid value proposition, can both strengthen a brand and help create a better world.

About Carpenter Group

Carpenter Group is an independent, woman-owned strategic branding, messaging and marketing communications firm that has delivered results-driven solutions to financial, professional services and technology firms for 30+ years.

Our broad cross-discipline experience enables us to craft brand messaging and carry it through to the channels that most effectively connect with our clients’ target audience, from editorial content to advertising to event marketing and more.