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The idea of talking to lifestyle brand Ban.do’s founder, Jen Gotch, on the phone gave me anxiety. Most phone calls give me anxiety. I am a millennial, after all.
I binge-listened to Gotch’s new podcast, “Jen Gotch is OK...Sometimes” in preparation for our interview. Between self-described “ramblings” about her own mental health experiences and interviews with her parents, she gives a lot of practical advice. After six episodes, I found myself a little less nervous to make the call.
I’ve been listening to Gotch, 46, talk on the Internet for years, about everything from her creation of Ban.do (which turns 10 on Saturday) and her bipolar diagnosis to — my favorite storyline — her obsession with Tate’s cookies.
“Criminally cute” is how Gotch describes her lifestyle company on the podcast. Think hip graphic t-shirts, lots of color and positive vibes with a dose of realness. Gotch is the face of Ban.do: She wears the clothes, lets her fans into her daily life via Instagram Stories, and is accessible, raw and not afraid to cry or sing on camera.
When she answered the phone with a joyful “Hello,” I felt like I was talking to a friend.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Amy King: In your first episode, you quickly bring up that working with millennials is scary, but also great. What’s great about millennials? What’s scary?
Jen Gotch: I definitely do want to talk about it more on the podcast. … I’m hoping I can get some of these millennials in my workplace to just get on the pod with me, and we can talk it out. [Laughs]
At our core, [millennials and I] are different. What I think hard work and reward and perks are, and what they thought those things were, were different and that made it challenging for me because it meant I was going to have to do more work. I was going to have to dive in and really understand because it’s almost like a love language. If I’m doing these things for you but it doesn’t resonate with you as an employee as an incentive then we both lose. I think a lot of times that that generation is labeled “entitled,” and I understand why, and I think there’s good and bad things about that. This is a group of extremely hardworking people. I think just the way they want to be rewarded and recognized is a little bit different than what I would expect. So that’s been the biggest learning curve for me. … It’s not like me against the millennials or anything like that. I love millennials.
AK: When you say there’s a difference in how millennials want to be recognized, do you have an example versus how you would want to be recognized?
JG: I think generally it’s probably less to do with how they’re recognized and more like the expectations of what comes with a job. What they think should be expected of them and also what they expect of a company or an employer. You get into company culture and you think about the tech world and what job perks they created that are a little bit more challenging for smaller companies. When I look at free La Croix and snacks and happy hours and free yoga in the office and meditation and cool places to sit, these are perks [to me]. For them, they just assumed that was part of it and are like, “What are the actual perks?” It’s been a good challenge to get better about articulating why these things are perks and also to challenge myself and the executive leadership of the company to say, “Well what are the other things we can do that would make them feel encouraged?”
AK: We just got free coffee at our office.
JG: Yeah, we’ve had free coffee. What I found out the other day at our last group conversation is that they would also like free cold brew for later in the day. [They said], “We don’t need as many chips but we would take more cold brew.” And that helps because again, for me so much of it goes back to love language. If I’m showing you love with something and you’re like, “If you really loved me, you’d give me the cold brew,” I’m like, “I think we can get you the cold brew. No problem.”
AK: Well, I hope that works out for you.
JG: Me too, fingers crossed. Follow-up article.
AK: You tell the story of how your mom told young Jen to “dare to be different” and how you frame your life through this sentiment. You are also very active on Instagram, a place where people are doing the same thing over and over again. How do you manage originality on this platform? Can you talk a little bit more about that and your thoughts on Instagram culture in general?
JG: My mom kind of encouraged that at a pretty young age. I didn’t really embrace it until I was much older. There are a few perks of getting older, and the fear around being different really kind of just dissolves. I realized that being different and cherishing originality is what I attribute a lot of the success of Ban.do to.
And as far as Instagram goes, I always say that when I started I was doing the same thing [as everyone else], too. To me, the hardest part [of Instagram] is the misrepresentation of what’s actually happening. The stories telling younger people about what life looks like, when it actually does not look that way, was discouraging from the beginning. But because I’m a visual person and I have a photography background, when I started, I was like, “Um, here’s a cool picture of my brunch.” I think I just metabolized that quicker and was like, “Wait, does the world need another picture of bacon and eggs and a Bloody Mary? Probably not.” So I tried to use the platform to connect with people.
I think people are starting to get to the other side of it where they just had enough. And that’s going to have a long tail. That doesn’t mean anyone’s going off Instagram yet, but I can see people really starting to champion being real.
AK: You bring your parents into a lot of podcast episodes, where you discuss your childhood and their parenting. How are they reacting?
JG: My dad is always the first to get in the review. He texted me at like 6:30 this morning to say, “Nailed it again.” It’s actually been really great. I didn’t really go in with a plan. I thought it’d be interesting to start interviewing them, and it added a whole other layer to our relationship. We’ve always talked a lot in our family. It’s not like they’ve been very stoic and haven’t shown any emotions, but this is like a whole other level. I think they’re really invested in it, and they’re just proud parents. It’s nice. They’re good people.
AK: You spend a whole episode talking about self-doubt, and how it’s possible to have both self-doubt and self-esteem. But your dad says self-doubt isn’t in his makeup. Do you think there are people out there who don’t have self-doubt?
JG: I think if I pushed it further with him, we may be able to find something, but he’s generally a content, confident guy. ... I do think that that’s possible [to not have self-doubt]. We all connect to our inner voice in different ways and for some of us it’s just a louder, noisier thing that keeps our attention. I hope it’s possible, because I would love to get closer to that side. I feel like I’ve been slipping so much further into self-doubt since I’ve been doing this stuff, that I’m actually super worried. I’m just like, “Waaaait. Where does this end?”
AK: You mentioned you’re going to spend a lot of time in a future episode talking about how to find a therapist, and that a lot of people have been asking you to talk about this. What’s one piece of advice you can give people looking for a therapist?
JG: The one thing that I would say is it’s really a lot like dating, and I don’t know that people ever contextualize it in that way. You have to feel comfortable pretty early on to get a second date. If you’re not being completely open and honest and able to dig deep, and say things that are super vulnerable and scary, you’re just spending money on something that’s not going to truly help.
When I started [therapy], I was 24, I didn’t have any money. I was lucky enough to have my parents pay for it but they also negotiated with the therapist to cut her rate in half. A lot of times a therapist will do a sliding scale so I always encourage people to ask.
AK: I have a few minutes left for the fun question section. First, are you still into Tate’s cookies?
JG: Absolutely. Now listen, I mean that’s the devil’s playground right there because you open the thing and you’re just done. I will say I don’t lean on them as much as I did during the time when it was like every day. I save it for special occasions because I really kind of committed over the past six or seven months to being a bit more discerning about what I put in my body because I have a lot of work to do. If I’m hopped up on sugar all the time, nothing’s going to get done. But man, yes, number one cookie in the world.
AK: What is your favorite item on Ban.do right now?
JG: That is so hard. There are so many. There’s a section called Jen’s Jams where I put in my favorite things. There’s a really cute yellow jumpsuit that I’ve been obsessed with because yellow is my new power color. Every time I wear it I get so many compliments from both men and women, which is new for me because I’m usually like a magnet for women compliments but men don’t normally know I exist.
AK: Is there anything you can share with us about the book you recently announced?
JG: I’m so excited about this and it’s something I’ve wanted to do since I was very, very young. It’s a memoir, and the idea of me writing a book has had many iterations. This particular one will be a mix of creative entrepreneurship — harnessing your creativity, embracing your flaws and still reaching goals — all the while dealing with mental health. That’s a huge through line in my life. Destigmatizing mental health issues is important to me. [The book will] deglamorize success but also let people know [they] can do it too, which I think is an important thing to do. [Success is] hard, it’s ugly, but if I can do it, you can do it.
Handlettering by Dave Coleman for The Lily. Photos courtesy of Jen Gotch and Bando.com.