How 2 Brooklyn Entrepreneurs Are Using Backpacks To Change The World

Once upon a time, the political views of business owners and private companies were just that — private. But according to Vox, the decadeslong trend of remaining politically neutral has seen a major reversal since 2016.

Some companies, like the environmentalist outdoor gear brand Patagonia, have always aired their views. But in the last four years, dozens of other companies have taken a stance on a range of issues. This is making consumers think twice about their buying decisions.

The Brooklyn-based company STATE Bags makes backpacks, lunchboxes, duffle bags, and more. STATE has had a charitable focus since its inception. This includes giving backpacks full of school supplies to kids and providing role models and resources to low-income families. But when 2016 hit, the company kicked its activism up a notch, launching a campaign called #WhatDoWeTellTheKids.

The Background Before The Backpacks

charityThe seeds for STATE were planted back in 2009 by husband-and-wife team Scot and Jacq Tatelman. The couple founded Camp Power, a weeklong summer camp for kids from underfunded neighborhoods. The Tatelmans realized that the camp’s attendees were bringing their belongings to camp in trash bags. So, they started STATE Bags to solve the problem. In the beginning, the company gave away a backpack full of school supplies for every bag sold. The buyers who made these giveaways possible were nicknamed “The Give Back Pack.” The events, called Bag Drops, were empowering rallies that occurred wherever the need was greatest. Bag Drops happened in places as varied as Flint, Michigan; Harlem, New York; and the White Sox Ballpark in Chicago.

STATE grew quickly and began partnering with other charitable companies like The Giving Keys, Shopbop, and Rockets of Awesome. STATE also worked with nonprofits like Bottomless Closet to provide more than just school supplies and backpacks for kids. Through these partnerships, STATE has been able to offer interview clothes to disadvantaged women and entertainment and support to victims of Hurricane Harvey. The partnerships also help provide resources, encouragement, and some much-needed pampering to women transitioning out of homelessness.

Rising To New Challenges

bridgeIn 2016, STATE launched #WhatDoWeTellTheKids, a program directed at future generations that aims to “tackle the most challenging issues of our time.” The program’s initiative changes focus every year. But it always gives children, teenagers, and experts the opportunity to have dialogues about sensitive topics that often make headline news.

As part of its latest #WhatDoWeTellTheKids project, STATE is donating funds to Operation Conversation: Cops and Kids. This program connects inner-city youth and police officers through performance and conversation to help foster positive relationships. It’s a bold move, proving that STATE is about much more than just backpacks. However, STATE’s bags, made with fun colors, metallic fabrics, and bold tropical prints, are still the company’s breadwinners.

“As the needs of those we served evolved, STATE needed to evolve along with them,” co-founder Scot Tatelman explains in a company video. His wife and co-founder, Jacq, adds, “For every STATE product now sold, we’ll support American families and children in need in the ways they need it most.”

Recently, that has meant pivoting away from the original buy-one-give-one backpack program. Instead, the company is funneling cash into partnership projects and #WhatDoWeTellTheKids initiatives. Still, a portion of the profit from the backpacks sold goes into STATE’s fund for giving back.

Big Ripples Everywhere

changeThis summer, the company used proceeds from its Summer 2019 Collection of backpacks and bags to support Seeds of Peace. This organization’s Maine Seeds Leadership Program is for teens from the U.S. and abroad. Through team-building projects and leadership exercises, the camp encourages open-mindedness, critical thinking, creativity, and altruism. Many of its graduates have later founded companies and nonprofits that make positive changes across the globe.

In an interview with PBS, Leslie Lewin, executive director of New York’s Seeds of Peace branch, said, “I’m in constant awe of the courage that our participants show and their willingness to engage and step outside their comfort zones.”

This year, that courage is supported by backpacks covered with dinosaurs, rainbows, flowers, lions, airplanes, and glitter.

To shop STATE’s products and learn more about its programs, visit STATEBags.com.

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