The wellness industry is expanding at a breakneck pace, and women are leading the charge. Our series profiles the brand founders and influencers who are breaking the mold. Follow along as we learn about the ins and outs of their daily gigs, how they're looking to change the collective conversation, and what they envision for the future of wellness.
On my first day of the fashion internship that would ultimately become my first full-time job, a supervisor offered what she intended as sage advice. "Make sure no one ever sees you cry at the office," she said. "It's so unprofessional." Twenty-one-year-old me nodded, wide-eyed—and then proceeded to cry in the bathroom later that afternoon.
But when I tell Jen Gotch this little story over the phone, we both laugh. I knew that Gotch—the founder and CCO of the cult-beloved, happiness-oriented brand Ban.do—would appreciate and empathize with this impressionable experience. By opening up an honest discussion around mental health and offering an unfiltered look at her emotions on social media, she has earned a sizable following. In effect, Gotch is also chipping away at the old, tired notion that successful women better leave their emotions at the door.
Gotch didn't necessarily anticipate becoming an emblem for transparency around mental health but has embraced her newfound role nonetheless. "I didn't have anyone to talk to, and for some reason saying it publicly felt great," she says. "So the response was really icing on the cake, honestly, and has definitely guided probably the last year or six months." One of the byproducts is her aptly named podcast, Jen Gotch Is OK… Sometimes, which was launched via Girlboss Radio earlier this year. Episodes cover themes like therapy, rating your emotions, and Gotch's bipolar diagnosis—all told from her unflinchingly honest, upbeat, and often hilarious POV.
As Gotch and I speak about all this, my mind continues to drift back to that younger version of myself and the sheer terror that gripped me when my feelings inevitably made themselves known. Making space for my emotions and my mental state is a longwinded, hard-earned lesson that has radically changed me—which is why, like so many of Gotch's fans, I find her voice so refreshing and necessary.
With that in mind, I asked Gotch about "oversharing" on Instagram, embracing a non-linear career path, and where optimism overlaps with realism in the workplace. Take notes—she shares her thoughts below.
On the importance of just talking about mental health…
"I think talking about it demystifies it and takes away the stigma. I think that even just growing up as a kid—and not even just about mental health or mental illness but just those taboo subjects that actually aren't even that big of a deal—when they're silenced, it just makes it scarier. For me personally, because I have a really hard time keeping my private thoughts private, it always felt really effortless and really important to me. And honestly, to see the change that just even my small influence could have on people and hear it recanted back to me, it's such a good reminder of how important words are.
"I think once people start to destigmatize it—and then, people of influence start to destigmatize it—it normalizes things so quickly and it's at least less scary to talk about. For all of the cons of social media, I think there’s a major pro in that it can escalate something a lot quicker. And for a lot of people, it’s just easier—there are so many introverts out there that actually have a voice on that platform."
On oversharing in a productive way…
"[My Instagram presence] is definitely much more intentional now that it's not just for me. I think that when you get that sort of response for something, it's your responsibility to do something with that. I think that there's a kind of oversharing that is very self-serving, and the only intention is to show and tell and just share for the sake of sharing—which actually makes it really easy to identify when people are sharing with [a different kind of] intention. I think that's really important.
"I recorded a podcast episode just about social media and what I was going through and learned that my audience uses social media as a way to connect and find like-minded people and discuss really serious topics. So I think I came away with the fact that everything is going to have pros and cons and this isn't about quitting or everyone turning their phones off but [being more conscious of] how we are abusing it."
On Ban.do's unapologetic positivity in a chaotic world…
"I do feel like people are looking for bright spots. There's just so much emotional suffering right now, and I think that more people are looking for relief than before. We've been unapologetically positive since day one because that's my personality. It hasn't always been cool for everyone—a lot of people felt like that's too childish. I think people are now craving it and definitely something that we're going to continue to lean into and really understand the dynamics of that—that it's not just fun and colorful, but why is this happening and how can we empower that even more? It's definitely been a through-line for us, and it's been nice to actually see it be something that feels refreshing for people now."
On not necessarily knowing what you want to be when you grow up…
"I was talking to a teenager the other day who knows exactly what she wants to do and has carved her path, and I thought, Wow, what would that have been like for me? I definitely thought I knew what I wanted a couple times. But I think that life experience, in general, is so valuable and there are so many lessons to be learned by not having a plan and not having technical experience, and I have a business built on that. Even the parent company of Ban.do—the couple who ended up buying us—were self-taught and self-made. I think there's a lot of strength in that, and I don't think I've ever been comfortable being tethered to any kind of plan.
"I mean, think about our world now. It changes every three weeks. And I feel different all the time. I'm a different person than I was a month ago. And who knows what will happen in six months! While it was happening, my 20s were really hard because the standards of society tell us that when you graduate college, you've got to figure it out. And nothing was really resonating with me. But I'm glad that I did all that other stuff. It all served me. There isn't one job I had that I didn't take something from. And it helps you learn more about yourself. I'm a huge advocate of that."
On making room for emotions as a boss and manager…
"We talk a lot about that here. We produced a shirt that says 'I Cry at Work,' which was so well-received that we're re-releasing it soon. For me, as someone who didn't have any corporate experience, the idea of an emotionless workplace was really foreign to me because my emotions are with me no matter where I am. The idea of leaving them at home was not something I was comfortable with. It's always just been that way.
"But that being said, there are emotions and there are emotions. With business and when you're making decisions and when you're interacting, you have to be aware of what's leading you. But having a bad day or feeling sad or being heartbroken over a relationship… We really try to make space for that here and be compassionate. Just the idea of someone saying that you can't emote is so weird to me. We're 99% women here, and we're great at emoting. And I'd like to foster that in people who are younger than me because I think it's more about management than it is exclusion.
"For me, just because of the type of person I am and what I put out there, I have a lot of people who come and cry in my office and I love it. I've cried very publicly, and I went through a divorce in this space, and I've been super stressed by work. I think it really just boils down to being able to take responsibility for your emotions instead of not having them. With all this mental health stuff, we're trying to open up conversations about what that means."
On the coexistence of optimism and realism…
"We thrive on [positive emotion]. I try and make room for the whole spectrum. Hope, positivity, and optimism are really important to us too and it's something I look for in employees. I don't actively hire pessimists. The idea of company culture—which to me, is ever-changing—is about how we can make you feel joyful at work. All emotions are acceptable. It's a safe space.
"I do think that there's a place in which optimism can impair judgment, and you just have to recognize that. There's a place where hope is more fantastical than it should be. The brand is aspirational, and I think the people behind it are definitely more grounded in reality, but it's something I think about a lot. Especially because so much of it is tied to brain chemistry. If I have a spike in dopamine, then I might misjudge, even though it feels very real. We thankfully do have some people in place who are very healthy with optimism but are also complete realists which is super helpful."
On working to build an ideal work environment…
"I think it really goes back to intentions and communication—true communication. I think for workplaces, because there's so much legality to what you say and how you say it and to whom and when, I think that tends to [be an obstacle]. There are times that it feels hard to be honest just because of the type of society that we live in.
"I know that what we're really working toward is how can we have these conversations without it being a liability, and that needs to be figured out. There's no quick solve. The intention behind it is to create a space where people can be forthright about how they're feeling and what they're thinking and in a way that feels like a community and collaborative but also doesn't feel like a free-for-all. We're not there yet, but I feel like we're probably ahead of a lot of places.
"The thing is that when you're a startup, anything goes, but once you start to grow, the liabilities change and the freedom of conversation and communication has changed. That can completely affect a business, which is a shame, but it is what it is. So I think it's going to have to come from all ends. You're at work more than you are anywhere else when you're a grown-up. And then you're not supposed to operate like a human being because you might get sued or fired? So we're definitely heading in the right direction, but there's a long road ahead of us."