Hey ladies, it’s Anna here from Fash Boulevard with another edition of our new interview series, Ladies Who Laptop. This month’s spotlight proves that with a little tenacity and a lot of hard work, you can succeed while living life with a confetti state of mind. She’s full of vibrant punch and over-the-top fun—think quirky sayings, disco explosions, and loads of frivolity all rolled into one. In case you haven’t already guessed it… Today I’m chatting with the creative director of the LA-based design house, ban.do founder Jen Gotch!
From photographer to TV extra to blogging and practicing pre-law, Jen’s ample list of careers is as colorful and fun as her successful fashion accessory business. What started as a whim in the summer of ’08 quickly exploded when billboard darling Taylor Swift caught wind of ban.do‘s one-of-a-kind headbands. Since then, Jen’s life has been a fizzy cocktail-fueled adventure. Without further ado, lets dive into the ultra creative and savvy mind of one of LA’s most infectious entrepreneurs…
After being a blogger, photographer, food stylist, and prop stylist—just to name a few—can you give us a brief career bio of how ban.do was born?
Sure! It was actually born in a really kind of organic and very common fashion. My friend Jamie and I were both working on styling jobs and had been asked over and over again to create flower crowns. It wasn’t a trend at the time, so I think it kind of stuck in our creative consciousness. Shortly thereafter we both ended up making some for ourselves out of vintage flowers and ribbon and once we realized how freakin’ cute they were, we decided we should start selling them. I was blogging at the time and had started shooting a bit of commercial photography and thought between my photo knowledge and my blogging connections we might be able to put together a site and get the word out pretty quickly (keep in mind this was before twitter was popular or Instagram was even invented so social media wasn’t a thing).
It took us a few months to get everything together. We had to make the pieces (they were all one of a kind at the time), photograph them and set up a simple website. But in early August of 2008 we launched and then sold out almost immediately. Clearly since then the brand has changed and evolved in many ways, but that’s where we got our start.
What was your inspiration behind choosing the name ban.do?
We definitely did not come up with the name using any of the business naming strategies that I now know are helpful. Oh no, that would have just made things too easy! So “bandeaux” is the French word for headband (which was primarily what we were making/selling when we started the company), and although we loved the way it sounded, I thought French words were passé (to use another French word), so I changed the spelling, because I thought I could make a word that had been around forever look cooler (which is a very Jen Gotch thing to do. I’m always convinced I can improve things…sometimes it works and sometimes IT DOES NOT WORK.)
We hadn’t really realized that funny spellings would be hard for people to both pronounce and remember and that the strange use of punctuation would be a logistical…but you know what, we survived. Now that we’ve talked about the name, I’m trying to challenge myself to think about what I would re-name the company if I had it all to do over again. Hmmmmm. Ok, I just thought about it for like 20 minutes and could not come up with a better name, so maybe it’s not so bad after all. WHEW!
Sustaining positive energy and a belief in yourself is a crucial part of pursuing your dreams, which is why I’m a big advocate for celebrating even the tiniest milestones. What was your first “OMG, pinch me” moment during those early years of ban.do?
I know you asked for one, but I’m gonna give you three cause I’m a giver! Honestly there were so many and there still are. Top three that immediately came to mind in no particular order are (1) Taylor Swift wearing ban.do for the first time OMG!!! (2) One of our bridal pieces (yes, we used to have a bridal line) featured on the cover of InStyle Weddings OMG!!!, and (3) Being featured on the now sadly defunct dailycandy OMG!!!
Each time, we jumped up and down for like ten minutes straight, called our moms, cried a little and then crossed it off of our “BAN.DO GOALS” list (yes, all 3 were on the list…goals are REALLY important).
A few short years after ban.do’s inception, something extraordinary happened; a rare moment many entrepreneurs dream of, but only a select few are lucky enough to experience. You were approached to sell your company. How did this come about and what do you attribute ban.do’s swift growth to?
My partner Jamie and I were looking to sell the business as she was relocating to Texas and we knew I would not be able to run ban.do on my own. Plus we really wanted to scale the business and that was going to be tough without some significant help (we needed more money, infrastructure, manufacturing, sales, distribution and a whole lot more…did I say MONEY? I did? Cool!). We were extremely lucky to find Todd Ferrier and his wife Kim who own a licensing company called Lifeguard Press that had all of the things we were looking for and were equally as excited to take what Jamie and I had done with brand and turn it into something even more fantastic than what it already was. All of the growth you’ve probably witnessed, in my eyes, can be attributed to the sale of ban.do. It allowed me to stay on as creative director and continue to lead my vision for the brand with the support of a great group of people.
How has your role within the company changed since sliding into the creative director seat?
Honestly, not that much. I might stress about different things (like revenue projections instead of sequin inventory…or even more importantly, how are we going to pay our employees?), but since I’ve stayed on in a leadership role for a company I founded, the challenge of wanting to control or at least be involved in everything is still very real.
I’ll be up late on a Saturday night working on something ban.do related and my husband will say, “You realize you don’t own this company anymore, right?” I think I act like I still do. And you know what? I actually think that’s a really good thing. It means I can bring the same energy and insight I always have and that’s what makes ban.do special. It’s my baby. That’s the emotional difference. But logistically speaking, I have more meetings, I have a boss (EEP, actually, feel sorry for him, not me—I’m a handful) and someone else pays the bills. Which is very, very cool.
I know this will be difficult to answer and for that, I apologize in advance: Can you share with us two of your favorite products currently available on shopbando.com, and why?
Um, you guys, that’s like asking me to pick my favorite children and you know what…I’ll do it!
The kitten sip sip tumbler and the watermelon cooler bag always and forever. But not just because I think they are the cutest things ever (and we do “cute” like nobody’s business), but also because I had to fight for both of these products to make it through from an idea I had to the finished product and they are two of our top sellers. So that makes me feel really good. Being right about things is one of the best feelings ever.
What is a day in the ban.do world like?
I can tell you honestly that it is not quite as fun as it seems, and yet it is about a thousand times more fun than most jobs. We are very serious about fun and, surprisingly enough, the key word in that statement is SERIOUS. That’s not to say we don’t laugh a lot, because we do, mostly because I have pretty terrible ADD and love to make people laugh.
Aside from having one of the most fun and vibrant Instagram accounts around, its clear that team ban.do also knows how to throw one heck of a house party. How did these recurring confetti filled experiences come about?
We moved into our new office, affectionately named the “ban.do party house” and we were so happy to finally have a place of our own after sharing a single room in an office building for many years. The autonomy this move provided for us was life altering. We are all about creating a community and really wanted to have a place that people could come to and have positive experiences and engage with the brand on an exciting and meaningful level. Towards the end of last year we decided to open a little retail shop in the back of the house and occasionally we open the house up for larger parties.
Just recently we started the ban.do honor roll to help enrich our community even further by offering free advice sessions with all of the ban.do gals. I really feel like the sky is the limit with this place, so get ready for more of everything and some new stuff, too!
You’ve conquered the challenges, beat the odds, and rightfully earned the coveted title of successful business owner. What do you know now that you wish you would have known when you first started ban.do?
When people tell you it’s hard to start, grow and succeed in the business world, they are not misrepresenting the truth. No one, no matter how lucky, smart, skilled or beautiful you are, is absolved of this process. There are no overnight successes. If it seems like that, most likely it means that the people behind those companies have been at it for years and you are just noticing it now.
I really thought that somehow this wouldn’t apply to us. We were going to get rich quick. And yes, we were going to work hard, but it was all going to just go really smoothly. That’s not exactly how it has played out. Also, you don’t have to play by the rules (at least not all of them) and if what you’re doing is truly your passion then go for it. But if you really can’t define why you are doing it I would back out while you still can. Those of us that are succeeding are doing so because we are making it our life’s work. We are sacrificing lots of other really cool stuff to get the job done. We try to make it look easy to trick you, but you’re smarter than that, aren’t you?
And now for the most important question: If you could be any celebrity for a week, who would you be and why?
Oh, that’s easy. Kristen Wiig. She is like the younger, taller, thinner, more beautiful, funnier, richer version of me. So in a way I guess that might be depressing to go back to Jen Gotch when my week is up, but I would just really want to be her during the week that she filmed the airplane scene in Bridesmaids because that was PURE GOLD!
For many of us, inspiration is fuel. As someone who shares your similar mindset of perpetual creative chaos, I know what a challenge it can be to find original inspiration. What’s your secret?
Spoiler Alert! If we’re being honest, most days I’m either feeling too overwhelmed to even be inspired or I’m force feeding my eyeballs full of Pinterest to keep the wheels turning. I think the thing about being inspired is that in this day and age we need to be smarter about how we acquire inspiration. So many people are all drinking from the same well of inspiration (the good ol’ internet. Pinterest, I’m talking to you.), and it’s really drastically reducing the amount of original ideas possible. I’m desperately trying to figure out new ways to be inspired. I have a hunch it will involve long walks, libraries and maybe some 80’s movies, but I’ll keep you posted.
When it comes to inspiration outside of aesthetics I look to other people to inspire me. My friends inspire me a lot. They are all so strong and smart in so many different ways. They challenge me to be better all the time just by being themselves, which is pretty cool.
For all of the dreamers out there, the fresh out of college future entrepreneurs, what advice would you give them? Or, better yet, what advice would you give 20-year-old Jen?
Don’t waste your time worrying about that guy! Stop complaining! Your butt is never going to look any better than it does right now! Also, everything you think you know, you don’t. Everything you think is important, it’s not. You’re just getting started. So go, do…get out there. Fear is just an idea, it’s not real, unless of course we are talking about being chased by a giant grizzly bear or something, in which case that is very real and, um, RUNNNNNNNN!
Who would you like to see me interview for my next Ladies Who Laptop?
Let me know in the comments below!