Ban.do Founder Jen Gotch Opened Up About Her Mental Health and Inspired a Valuable Change at Her Brand
Jen Gotch was diagnosed with depression when she was 23, and she’s always been open about it. “I never felt a stigma and didn’t keep it private,” says Gotch, now 47. “There was just no social media, so I didn’t have a platform.” Two years ago, that changed: Following a divorce, Gotch started talking about her feelings and struggles -- sometimes to the point of tears -- on Instagram. She didn’t think she was doing anything special; it was just a cathartic activity. But it proved powerful for her audience, too -- and her follower count grew to more than 200,000.
Gotch was happy to play the role of accidental advocate, knowing that so many people (and especially other entrepreneurs) suffered the way she did. And earlier this year, she decided to spread the message even further -- by folding it into her company’s product offering, releasing a line of necklaces that read “Depression,” “Anxiety” and “Bipolar.”
Ban.do is known for fun -- it’s an online retailer whose products are often bright, sparkly, pink and designed to brighten your day. So when the necklaces debuted, some customers were thrown. “A lot of it was my mistake, not understanding that people who follow the brand don’t necessarily follow me,” Gotch says. “People thought we were glamorizing mental health issues for profit, even though 100 percent of net proceeds benefit the nonprofit Bring Change to Mind. There just should have been more forethought on my part.”
Still, most of the feedback was positive -- each iteration of the necklaces sold out in minutes, and customers started sharing their own mental health stories on social media. It led the company to launch a “feel better” vertical on its website, asking the Ban.do community to send their personal stories to Gotch. In a single day, she received more than 200 emails. “It was like the universe was telling me to wake up and pay attention,” she says. “This kind of engagement is different. It just doesn’t happen.”
The response to the necklaces -- good, bad and confused -- has inspired change within the offices of Ban.do. In addition to teaching Gotch that she needs to clear up her messaging, it also proved that Ban.do can stand for more than fun. “We’re charting a new course,” she says. The mental health necklaces will stick around, and she’s taking a hard look at product moving forward to make sure the brand is three-dimensional.
“We’ve always been about personal betterment and have looked at everything through that lens, but it’s become a little diluted,” she admits. “We’re just like, Here! Fun! Color! And I don’t want to do that anymore. We’ve got a lot more to offer than just cute cups.”
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