ban.do: The Brand That Just Wants to Have Fun (Creative Mastermind Jen Gotch on Optimism, ban.do Tees for Pop-In and Prop Styling at Nordstrom)
Plausible upcoming scenario: You wake up on the wrong side of the bed on a dark, rainy day. You have no idea what to wear, but you know you and your outfit need an instant mood boost. Then you remember your new ban.do T-shirt you scored at Pop-In@Nordstrom x Hanes. It might be the one touting the rosy mantra ‘No Bad Days’, it might be a big, red heart—or it might be the ‘I Did My Best’ tee (because who among us doesn’t need to be reminded of this too-true self-affirmation?). Whatever your choice of ban.do T-shirt, one look in the mirror after you’ve slipped it on should cue spontaneous rays of sunshine accompanied by a heavenly choir. Or at least help put things into perspective.
And that’s the point of ban.do, the L.A. lifestyle brand whose official tagline insists ‘we are serious about fun.’ Founded by self-proclaimed eternal optimist Jen Gotch, ban.do wants to lock down the positive vibes, no matter what kind of day you’re dealing with.
That kind of branding is rooted in personal relevance for Jen, who sold the company a few years back so she could focus solely on its creative vision. As she puts it, “The interesting thing with building a brand when you don’t set out to build a brand is that things just happen because they’re what you gravitate towards.”
Nordstrom: The power of positivity is huge for ban.do. Has it always been a guiding light for you or did this kind of optimistic outlook develop over time?
Jen Gotch: On my personal social media stuff, I talk a little bit more about my own struggles, but I’m an eternal optimist. I have been for a long time. I wasn’t necessarily born that way. I kind of remember in college being surrounded by some people that were very negative and thinking, “I don’t like this. This is not gonna be a good way to live.”
So I made a conscious decision then to just look on the bright side. That doesn’t mean that I don’t complain and have bad days and all of that. But—and it’s annoying to a lot of people—I do think that I naturally gravitate towards optimism. So, you know, the interesting thing with building a brand when you don’t set out to build a brand is that things just happen because they’re what you gravitate towards. I think a lot of what ban.do is known for, the copy and phrases I came up with, are just things that I would think people would want to hear, what I would want to hear.
Can you tell us a little about the T-shirt designs your team created for Pop-In@Nordstrom x Hanes?
‘I Did My Best’ was based on a T-shirt I made with iron-on letters. I like to express myself. I just am into that. I was thinking one day after an interview or podcast after work, “Did I just mess that up?” Then I thought, “But you did everything you were supposed to do. You read through. You prepared and got sleep. You did your best. That’s literally all you can ever do.” At the end of the day, that’s the only question you should ask yourself when you’re rating your own performance. I made that shirt, I put it on Instagram and people were going nuts. Then any time I would wear it, I mean, just the diversity of people that would stop me—whether it was an older man or a younger girl—and ask, “Where did you get that shirt?”
The one we did for Pop-In is a little bit different. The floral artwork is from an artist, Helen Dealtry, who we work with a lot. She’s an amazing illustrator—painter, actually. She does pretty much all of our floral patterns. But our hope with that shirt was that it would look like wearing a shirt inside-out. We thought on its own it might feel a little more fashion-y than even we [in the ban.do office] are able to get away with, so we combined that with the “I Did My Best,” because we knew how well that phrase resonated. I think it just looks cooler [inside-out]. I don’t know. Sometimes it’s hard to explain why things look cooler. It’s almost like there’s a slight bit of rebellion in it, too. Because when people are like, “Your shirt’s inside-out,” and you’re like, “I know.” We could probably dig in for hours on the meaning behind it. I would indulge. I would cancel all my meetings.
Hahaha. And what about ‘No Bad Days’? Is that also a motto of yours?
Well, I think it’s more of a goal. I don’t think it’s totally realistic. I have depression, anxiety. I feel like talking about mental illness empowers people. I’m a functioning mess, but I’m still a mess. But some people sort of challenged me on social media, “Well, what is ‘No Bad Days’ like?” If you look at a lot of what we’re doing [at ban.do], no one could live like that, but I think it’s a goal, just like any other goal. I think we were one of the first brands to really be proud of being optimistic, especially with fashion. I know a lot of people were looking at us, as a brand, to bring this optimism that wasn’t so sticky-sweet, that wasn’t “Ugh,” but was a good counter-point to what most people were doing with graphics.
Now I feel like everyone’s sort of caught on. I thought we were gonna get to own this [optimism thing] a little bit longer. But I think it just makes you feel good. In the end, that’s all ‘No Bad Days’ is. It’s certainly not trying to create a world where there aren’t any bad days—because you wouldn’t be able to recognize the good ones without the bad ones. I go for that shirt when I want to lift my mood, or if I’m feeling super great.
The artist behind that T-shirt is Maddy Nye. We’ve worked with her for a really long time. I don’t know how we got so lucky. She’s insanely good at hand-lettering. She’s just brilliant. Love her.
And the heart design?
I’m very into hearts. You know, our logo initially had a heart, and we always have hearts in our line. So, it was kind of a brand moment for us. And also the idea of this bigger heart—when you tuck your shirt in, it’s like a heart coming out of your pants, which seems kind of crazy. I just thought from a fashion standpoint it would look cool. I think we’re always asking ourselves, “Can we make things that people think are soft or young feel a little bit edgier and cooler—while also staying true to what we love?” That’s what this shirt was.
We recently learned you used to work at Nordstrom. What was your role and did you get anything out of that career experience that helped you launch ban.do?
I didn’t actually work at Nordstrom, but I worked on the Nordstrom catalog for about 10 years. I used to be a prop stylist. I did prop styling and set design for forever, and I was up at Nordstrom in Seattle several times a year for meetings. It’s always been very special, and it was, by far, my favorite job. I kept my Nordstrom job even for the first several years that we started ban.do. Sometimes I would take a month off [ban.do] and go do a long catalog job because it was just always my favorite job. The art director I worked with was amazing. She taught me so much. I mean, it’s basically what helped us sell our company—our visuals were so strong. A lot of people, when we put ban.do up for sale, assumed we were a giant company because of our visuals, and I attribute a lot of that to what I learned on those shoots.