State Forty Eight Is Making Arizona Cool — And Doing Much, Much More
Friday, May 4, 2018
Posted by: Andrea Evans
By Tom Evans
Let’s face it — Arizona doesn’t always have, um, the best reputation on the national scene.
We’re still considered a growing state, with a lack of identity. People in other regions think everyone rides around on horseback, or everyone is retired, or that we lack our own sense of style and culture. And we — how shall I say this politely? — tend to occasionally make decisions that don’t put our state in the best light.
But three guys from the East Valley are trying to change that, one T-shirt at a time. And they’re doing so in a way that’s giving back not only to our sense of state pride and general coolness, but to our community as well.
The idea sprung from an investment of $500 each and maybe a little chip on a shoulder or two.
“It always bugged me that we were the weird ones, being Cardinals fans in a town where so many people are from somewhere else, and not having anything representing our state in a cool and fashionable way,” said State Forty Eight co-founder Michael Spangenberg.
He and State Forty Eight’s other two co-founders, brothers Stephen and Nicholas Polando, shared not only an apartment back in 2013, but a love of cool clothing. They found a brand in Detroit that played on civic pride, and thought to themselves, why don’t we have anything like that here?
“Stephen created the name while he was brushing his teeth, and Nick is a designer who threw out a couple of ideas for a logo, including the one we have now,” Spangenberg said. “Then anywhere we could go — trunk shows, whatever — we would do it just to get our name out.”
The name stuck, as did the brand. Now State Forty Eight is entering the realm of the ubiquitous. Their partnership with the Arizona Diamondbacks going into this season — with the Diamondbacks coming off the playoffs last year, and starting strong so far — has raised the company’s profile. So has their work producing shirts in support of the state’s schoolteachers and their efforts to improve teacher compensation and school funding.
Today, that $500 investment from each of the three is a company approaching $1 million in sales overall — and could eclipse $1 million in sales this year alone. But there’s more to it than just sales.
State Forty Eight has also found innovative ways to support Valley nonprofits and community groups. It started with their work with the foundation of former Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians, and has expanded into partnerships with organizations such as the American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, the Pat Tillman Foundation and the Arizona Hemophilia Association, to name a few.
Some of the partnerships involve revenue-sharing agreements that raise money for the causes, and some are just cool ways for the organizations involved to brand themselves that don’t involve cheap shirts. Spangenberg wants the organizations they work with to have clothing that people actually want to wear — which, if you’ve been involved with nonprofits, isn’t always a given.
“We’re trying to be that recognized brand but also finding ways to give back and use our platform,” Spangenberg said. “It’s not about just selling products. We’re trying to create a fan base and a local movement, to show that there’s something special going on here.”
In the process, they’re making a difference in the community. “There could be a million other T-shirt companies out there, but our niche is here,” Spangenberg said. “And when you help out these groups, all of it comes back to you — the exposure puts you in a great place for a small business.”
So when you ask Spangenberg what’s next, it turns stream-of-consciousness, which is a pretty good sign for a growing business looking to make its mark on the world.
“Collaborations, work with foundations, teaming with restaurants and local businesses that want to be involved with co-branded shirts,” he said. “The niche keeps growing. It’s an exciting Diamondbacks season ahead, so that’s a major focus. And we’re doing more of these collaborations. And we’re learning, and it’s all helping to grow the business.”
For three guys in the East Valley who started off by pitching in $500 each and doing a logo, that’s not too bad. And for the organizations they partner with — and our state as a whole — it’s a pretty neat way to build pride in our community.