Ban.do founder Jen Gotch takes leave of absence after accusations of racism

Former employees allege that the founder created a toxic workplace environment.
"It took a public outing for me to get the message but I got it and I am incredibly grateful for that. I am sorry and I am ashamed," Gotch wrote in an Instagram post.
"It took a public outing for me to get the message but I got it and I am incredibly grateful for that. I am sorry and I am ashamed," Gotch wrote in an Instagram post.Kara Birnbaum

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/ Source: TODAY
By Kerry Breen

Ban.do founder and chief creative officer Jen Gotch announced on Instagram that she plans to immediately "step down" from her position.

Over the weekend, a former employee accused Gotch of cultivating "an overall toxic culture" at the lifestyle company that sells everything from clothing and accessories to day planners and home goods. Gotch and style director Kelly Edmonson were accused of making racist remarks and creating an environment where employees were "fearful of repercussions" from speaking up.

The former employee, Gabriella Sanchez, shared a long essay on Instagram about her experience at the company and included some screenshots of a conversation with Gotch.

Sanchez also noted that employees at ban.do had asked superiors, including Gotch, about having more diverse and size-inclusive models for campaigns, but were met with "evasive responses," sharing screenshots of emails about the topic.

Other commenters quickly backed up Sanchez's claims with stories of their own.

"As a former employee, I too witnessed and experienced the overt and convert racism that occurred during my time at ban.do," wrote one user, under the name @checorpus. "A colleague who is a (person of color) being described as someone who looked like 'he didn’t speak English,' to HR in Kentucky stating that they 'don’t hire black people, as they would feel out of place.' I made numerous complaints to upper management about a former colleague ... who habitually made derogatory and racist comments about my accent and the way that I spoke ... right down to the way I dressed."

Ali Labelle, the senior creative director at ban.do, commented on Sanchez's initial post saying she was ashamed of her "complicity" and apologizing to employees who were affected by the company's culture.

In a second post, Sanchez shared the stories of more people who said they had had negative experiences at ban.do.

"There are many, many issues with the hypocrisy and culture at ban.do that management created and perpetuated, but racism, suppression, and in my experience mistreatment, are by far the loudest," wrote one person, identified by Sanchez as Brent Peters.

Another former employee noted that in her time at ban.do, which she claimed spanned years, only one black full-time employee was hired at the company.

"(Gotch) created an environment where we could not bring up conversations around racism," wrote another user, identified as Rachel Gannon. "They were met with discomfort, inconvenience, and dismissal. I asked for diversity in photography and was met with a response that basically said 'Please stop bringing this up.' How were we supposed to bring important matters up when there was an environment created by (Gotch) where we couldn't?"

As the complaints mounted, Gotch shared a long apology on her Instagram page on Saturday.

"Yesterday I was called out on social media by multiple current and former employees for being racist, for creating and helping to propagate a racist company culture and for building a brand that espouses inclusivity but doesn’t consistently reflect that," she wrote. "I am guilty and not only am I guilty, I have been so ignorant and so insulated by the ease and comfort of my white privilege, that up until just a few days ago, I would have passionately and sincerely denied negatively impacting others."

Gotch said that she would "do the work to change" and said she was ashamed that it "took a public outing for me to get the message."

"Right now I realize my credibility is thin and for both myself and ban.do, actions speak louder than words," Gotch wrote. "It won’t happen overnight but I’m committed to educating myself on how to make meaningful change and contribute to solving the problem rather than being a part of the problem. Within 24 hours the first phase of action will be shared on the @shopbando instagram account. We will do the work, you will see us doing it no matter what but want you and those that helped to inspire this change to have the option to hold us accountable."

Many commenters supported Gotch, but others called the apology "disappointing."

"This is incredibly disappointing," wrote user @theycallmemels. "Also disappointing are all the white women in this thread showering you with their praise and accolades and, even worse, defending you by saying you’ve done nothing wrong. I sincerely hope you do the difficult work and produce some authentic change, in yourself and your company."

Another user, @gatospantalones, said that she would believe any changes "when (she saw) it" and called the apology self-centered.

On the Instagram page for the company, ban.do announced a six-step plan for "creating change, which included "investing in education," "creating and implementing intentional hiring practices that welcome BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) applicants," diversifying their freelancers, vendors and models and using the brand's platform to "amplify Black voices, art and resources wherever we can."

Currently, the brand's Instagram bio links to a list of resources and funds.

On Monday, Gotch announced she would take a leave of absence from the company.

"The first step toward change is recognizing that I have been part of the problem at ban.do, a company I built and a company I love," Gotch wrote in an Instagram post. "I have expressed my desire to the team at ban.do to immediately step down from my position as Chief Creative Officer and take a leave of absence to give them a chance to learn, grow and heal while I do the same. They are in full support of this decision. I am deeply sorry for the hurt and pain my actions have caused in our current and former team members as well as our entire ban.do community."

The statement was also shared on ban.do's Instagram page.

There have been no announcements about who will take over Gotch's role, or how long her leave of absence will last.