The Power of Fun, with Ban.do’s Jen Gotch
Founder of the shopping empire Ban.do, Jen Gotch believes in making a positive impact by shining bright (and selling pink-leather roller skates). We recently sat down with her for a look at the power of optimism, the impact of Instagram on mobile shopping, and her strategies for making social change real through retail.
Why did you create this company?
There wasn't really a huge idea behind it. My friend and I just started selling these hair pieces we were making in my living room out of vintage, one-of-a-kind ribbons and silk flowers. We felt like we’d tapped into the creative consciousness. I had a little blog at the time, this was almost ten years ago, so it wasn't like the way blogs are now. It was a very personal space, but I had posted some pictures and people were like "I want one of those." There had been a lot of times in my life where I’d happened upon things and just didn't have the means or the wherewithal to actually move forward creating it. And I thought, "Well, man, we could do this" because we would just need to set up a website and could sell it. So we just went for it.
The dawn of e-commerce.
Yeah. Exactly! I was a photographer at the time, and my brother was a graphic designer, and he knew a little bit of coding. So we just kind of decided to make our own site so we could brand it. That was one of a long line of lucky decisions we made that enabled us to start brand building from Day One. Even though the product has changed, the sensibility and brand aesthetic and brand voice have been really consistent. But, honestly, we didn't plan any of it. It wasn't like we found a hole in the marketplace and created a business plan. We were just like, "Let's just try and sell these," and somehow got from there to here.
“[The spirit of Ban.do] is really similar to my own personal spirit, a huge sense of optimism, a total reliance on humor, and we're very rooted in nostalgia.” – Jen Gotch.
How would you describe the spirit of Ban.do?
It’s really similar to my own personal spirit, a huge sense of optimism, a total reliance on humor, and we're very rooted in nostalgia. There's camaraderie and togetherness and just celebrating each other and being fair and open and honest. A lot of what we’ve stood for for a very long time is becoming very trendy, which is certainly not a bad thing. But again, everything that we've done to this point has been really organic. I’m a businessperson now, but I didn't enter into the business world with any knowledge of that thinking. Which makes it interesting because we're very flexible and not tethered to this 20-year plan. Obviously, there are people making projections and planning, but there's still something very human about what we're doing.
There's also your desire to make a difference.
Yeah. I think about it a lot, especially now with the social and political climate. There's this feeling of, if you're not taking a stand on some major issue, then you're not on the landscape. I certainly have my ideas and values, what I think is right and wrong. But I really feel like for us, the thing that’s made the most sense was to just be a bright spot in people's lives, and not in a way that’s mindless. There's a lot of intention behind some of the things that we say that feel really simple and digestible. It’s less about taking a real stand and more of making people smile for a minute. I feel like that's what I have to offer the world.
Who are your customers?
80% are Millennial women. Generation Z is really starting to make its mark. And, then, I think we certainly have some customers that are Gen X and older, but the core is really Millennial women.
Just in the U.S, or across the world?
Across the world, actually. We're really focused over the next few years on becoming even more of a global brand, but we've had some great impact overseas. We did a collaboration with Starbucks this year in the China/Asia Pacific area that was really huge. We're kind of trying to figure out ways to think beyond just the United States and think more globally.
And across generations and platforms, too, right? Web to mobile and all that?
I'm 46 — hardcore Gen X — so I don't understand mobile shopping. I still love a great giant screen and a big website. I’ll still get up and change the channel. That was my childhood. But I think it's interesting how hyper-focused we are on that right now, because it's not just Gen Z. Millennials shop that way, too. Maybe 70% of our transactions are done through a mobile device, so it's a whole other way of thinking for a lot of us. I'm actually really excited about Gen Z, to see what they have to bring to the conversation.
What do you think about the future of Instagram shopping?
Instagram shopping is interesting. Christina Winkelmann, our director of social media, was explaining to me a newer feature that we're a part of that (in beta, limited release) where you can actually tag your product in a post. Right now, it's like two to three clicks away from actually buying it. Everything they're trying to get set up to do is to get as close to one-click shopping as you can. But I think its going to take some time.
You're pretty active on Instagram stories…
For sure. I did some research. Even though I'm really far away in age, I’m so similar to Millennials. Some of that has to do with how I was parented: more similar to how Millennials were parented than how most of Gen X was. The rest I'm just going to chalk up to luck. I also just like entertaining and having an audience, and it was such an easy way to have one. So I was sold very quickly.
Would you say you're part of a wave that’s rejuvenating L.A. nostalgia?
Yeah, I think so. L.A. is having a moment. When I think back to when Ban.do started, there was just such an exciting creative and art community here. It has a lot to do with the amount of sunshine we all get. I feel like there's just a lot of real openness.
It translates to the color palette.
For sure. It's definitely undeniable. I grew up in Florida and then moved to Southern California, so I only know bright sunshine. I think it's just in me, but that's also a huge part of the L.A. experience. The way things look here is different. There's just an amazing energy here.
Could you tell us about the events you have at your office?
We moved into this office about a year and a half ago. At our old office we did some shopping events, a thing called the “Girls Pop-Up.” A lot of the artists that we work with also sell and make product, so I wanted to shine a light on them. We started selling their stuff out of our office and then that ended up turning into this third party strategy on our website. We started doing this thing called Honor Roll, which is a free advice series I created where people could come and meet with me or one of the other members of the team, and have a one-on-one conversation, and just bring questions about all sorts of stuff. A lot of the questions were about starting a business or hiring employees or growth. But you could also talk to our social media person.
So it’s a way to tap into the entrepreneurial spirit?
There's so many people who have started businesses the same way I started mine, just buying a domain name and you're up and running. You didn't go to business school and you have no idea what you're doing, but you're very invested in what you're doing. And there was such a huge learning curve for us when we started that I felt like I had so much more to learn. We actually knew a lot, and wanted to share that knowledge with people who were maybe three or four years behind where we were.
You’re pretty open on Instagram about being bi-polar and your struggles with ADD. How do you manage to bring so much optimism to the table?
I've suffered with mental health issues for most of my life, so I've spent a lot of time in therapy, spent a lot of time researching it. It doesn't feel ominous to me. I just have such a clear understanding of it. I think my relationship with it is different because I don't think I suffered a lot of shame about it. It’s what made me, me. Even though sometimes I hate myself, I generally like how I turned out. I don't see it as a handicap. I can be really transparent about it. But in the world, at work, I know I have a really special circumstance. That's part of what motivates me to use my platform to talk about it, because I just don't feel at-risk. People say, "Oh, that's so brave" and I'm like, "I'm not doing anything brave." I saw an opportunity and took it.
Would you say it makes your brand seem more human to reveal that vulnerability?
When you're a brand, you kind of have to feed into the same idea over and over again, because that's how brands work. But as a person, we're much more complicated. So I feel people think it's positive. There's definitely times where I'm waiting for the shoe to drop on that. But people know me and how well-intentioned I am, and they're very supportive. They’ve made me feel very safe. I try and be respectful and put it all out there.
Words by Jen Gotch and The Editors. Photos: courtesy of Ban.do.