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STATE Bags Co-Founder Scot Tatelman Discusses His Bag Drops

<a href="http://www.statebags.com/products/the-durham">Durham</a> ($65) and <a href="http://www.statebags.com/products/the-ashton">Ashton</a> ($185) bags
Durham ($65) and Ashton ($185) bags

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In a world where the buy-one, give-one premise is quite commonplace, it takes a fresh idea to remind customers how impactful these business models can become. One such company is the New York-based STATE bags, a backpack line founded by Scot and Jacqueline Tatelman, which just last week delivered over 700 of its "GiveBackPacks" in bag drops at the KIPP Academy in Lynn, as well as the Boys & Girls Club in both Charlestown and Dorchester. Heading north to Massachusetts is a homecoming for Scot, a Boston area native—if the last name sounds familiar, that's because his father Barry and uncle Eliot are the pair that catapulted Jordan's Furniture into New England's retail legacy.

What differentiates STATE from likeminded entities are these bag drops which transcend the notion of a handout ceremony. With the brand's "Pack Men" in tow, Scot and Jacqueline host motivational rallies at schools and neighborhood organizations to encourage children's participation in earning the style-conscious bags. On the customer end, various styles run from $55 to $225, with each bag purchased supporting one of the backpacks passed out at these rallies. We talked with Scot about the origin of the brand, the structure of his bag drop events, and how the STATE program builds toward a long term goal.

One of the Boston bag drops this past weekend, courtesy of STATE

You and Jacqueline had a nonprofit prior to STATE. How did that experience shape this project?
Five years ago we started a nonprofit that sends 135 inner city kids from neighborhoods in Brooklyn to summer camp. Something we kept seeing were kids getting on and off the bus with their stuff in trash bags. Clearly there was a need here in the states but we knew they needed more than just a handout, they needed information. So that's why we built out this whole GiveBackPack program.

How do these bags influence the kids who are getting them?
Honestly our whole thing is we never claim that we're gonna change a kids life by giving them a backpack. We come with these guys we call the Pack Men who grew up in similar neighborhoods, have seen difficult things, dealt with challenges. They tell their story to these communities and become role models to these kids. We execute a sixty minute educational workshop mixed with a dance party, and our goal is to change their state of mind: how their impact on the world can be more positive.

Our pack men really have a great fun, lively, energetic way of communicating that. At the end the kids receive their bags; they don't actually know during the program that there is any material handout. Our goal is to make them earn it by going through the workshop. We want them to feel proud of it. We tell them that each time they wear that bag they have a responsibility to give back. It's a more long-form approach than just to give.

So you brought nonprofit experience, and you likely had some retail knowledge from your family and Jordan's. What lessons did you take from that to STATE?
I learned that you can mix business with fun and find ways to make the world a better place through your business. That's ultimately what we're trying to do. Our product is number one and we make sure that it's good quality, looks good, and is priced well. We wanted to build it out to serve kids in the States, in underfunded communities. My dad and uncle taught that work doesn't have to be work, and you can truly make a difference through that work. We want to sell bags so we can give bags.

What is the typical Bag Drop routine? How do you continue to engage the kids?
Our sixty minute program starts with the Pack Men getting the kids loose, making them feel like it's not a run of the mill school assembly. They work with kids year round, they're performers, comedians, education specialists. We do cheers, get them fired up. Then we jump into "What's in your bag?" where they share items they carry in their bag that tell a lot about them and how far they've come. We ask the kids the same question. A lot of kids really get it and talk about literal things and metaphorical. For example, "I carry courage in my mind because i walk these streets at night by myself."

At the end we do something called the STATE pledge, highlight our six core values, represented in the badges we give out: acceptance, courage, leadership, knowledge, conservation, health. At bag drops we give them out; on the website, we have a whole process where a kid goes online to tell us a story relating to a core value. The bags serve as a way for them to engage with STATE by doing good things.

And finally, how did the name come about?
STATE was thought of because we wanted to focus on kids in the US. The whole GiveBackPack program is to trigger a new state of mind for kids of all socioeconomic backgrounds, so it kind of encompasses those both.
· STATE Bags [Official Site]