Why This Brand's Next Move Begins With LGBTQ Youth

Photo: Courtesy of STATE.
For reasons unknown to even fashion insiders, it's difficult to understand just why one-for-one brands remain an anomaly in the industry. Despite the need for affordable clothing in struggling countries around the world (and the overproduction of textiles whose waste is harmful to the environment), we still value quantity over philanthropy. We've yet to shake our hankering for the latest designer It bag instead of exploring the market to see if we can put our money somewhere that extends its expertise in humanity and activism to those who really need it.

Luckily, whether we prioritize them in our closets or not, give-back brands continue to push forward, relentlessly expanding into multi-billion dollar companies while also helping those in need. Most famously, we've seen it with TOMS: Its ethos of donating one pair of shoes to a child in need with every purchase has sparked a trend across the market. Plus, the company itself has seen its give-back tactics expand into eyewear, bags, and more. But it's another accessories brand, New York-based STATE Bags, that donates a fully-stocked backpack to an American child in need for each bag sold, that's extending its own one-for-one expertise to another minority group: LGBTQ youth.

Founders Jacq and Scot Tatelman started STATE Bags in 2013 after creating Camp POWER that benefits inner city kids from New York City's most underfunded neighborhoods. At the beginning of this year, they decided to launch a second installment of their social media initiative #WhatDoWeTellTheKids, which was originally launched in reaction to the dangerous language used throughout last year's election. The brand partnered up with several prominent faces of the LGBTQ community to share their stories across the brand's social media platforms in hopes that even one person's mind can be changed.

Now, the brand's focus is discrimination amongst the LGBTQ community in school, in addition to its everyday give-back operations. This year's campaign, however, one that strives to deconstruct and reconstruct the way in which we discuss sexuality, hits closer to home for founder Scot Tatelman. We spoke with him on everything from where it all began, to why change starts now.
Photo: Courtesy of STATE.
Out of all of the causes under attack right now, what is your personal connection to LGBTQ Americans and their plight for equality?
"It all started with this question of 'What do we tell the kids?' It's a question I've been asking myself and obsessing over in recent months. It started with the rise of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, and intensified while watching the vicious, mean-spirited, and often embarrassing 2016 election season. Through it all, I came back to the question...what do we tell the kids?

"In October, I photographed and interviewed dozens of committed and concerned child development specialists in putting this project together, and it became very clear that I — and we as a brand — needed to keep these projects going. For the sake of today's youth and future leaders, we couldn't afford to shy away from often difficult, controversial topics. Stories need to be told, people need to be heard, and awareness needs to be raised so empathy for all people can be achieved

"On January 1, we made a promise for 2017: to combat injustice and tackle discrimination by telling stories of those in embattled, marginalized populations, and we are excited to share our first project of the year.

"My uncle passed away from AIDS when I was 13 years old. Next to my parents and sister, he was the closest person in my life. And the fact that he was a gay man, living in fear, unable to truly be himself for so much of his life haunts me to this day. So, for our next #WhatDoWeTellTheKids project, I wanted to feature proud members of the LGBTQ community here in my uncle's hometown of New York to shed light on the power and dangers of language.

"I'm hoping this project serves as a catalyst to stop people from using harmful words that have impacted so many good people...and equally important, I hope it acts as a teaching tool for things we should be telling our kids. As we’ve seen happening around the world, I'm looking to create a ripple that causes a really really big wave of love."

How did you guys decide on the voices of the campaign?
"I felt it was crucial to feature a variety of people in the LGBTQ community from all walks of life, with different upbringings, backgrounds and professions. I was really fortunate to get the participation from a host of incredibly passionate, talented and genuine people from the co-head writer of Saturday Night Live, to Vanity Fair's fashion market director, TED speakers, lawyers, activists, fashion designers, and staff at the Ali Forney Center.

"What I loved so much about interviewing and photographing them all was that even though their opinions on specific harmful words and sayings may have been similar to one another, their reasonings why were all unique to them and their personal experiences. The word 'faggot' is like nails on the chalkboard for pretty much everyone in the community, but the emotions it stirs up and places it brings them were all different, and very real."
Photo: Courtesy of STATE.
What do you hope this does for your brand, but also for your LGBTQ customers everywhere?
"From the moment Jacq and I created STATE, we were bent on making sure the brand was more than just another one-for-one company. We didn't want to just give stuff away to local kids in need — we wanted to go beyond that, and we have with our innovative bag drop events. But as we grew, and our audience and voice got louder, we felt it was a responsibility to use that platform to shed light on things that hit home for us personally, and to so many across the world.

"One goal for these #WhatDoWeTellTheKids projects is for STATE to be seen as a refuge for those feeling unheard, marginalized, or discriminated against; to be what we always promised to be, a company that is about way more than the bottom line.

"My hope for this particular project is for the countless kids out there who are struggling to find and express their true identity, figuring out how to navigate their personal journey, and are caught on the receiving end of these hurtful words. And to look to the people featured in this initiative as inspiration of those who have been there and pushed through. I heard over and over again how isolating it feels to be bullied, especially while you're trying to find your way, so if these testimonials help ease that isolation for so many struggling youth out there, it really will feel like we've made a difference. And, if this project gets a couple dozen people to stop using the words 'fag,' 'that's gay' 'no homo,' and others...it's done its job and is a step in the right direction. I just can't stand hearing them anymore."

More from Designers