Stephen and Nick Polando were in a parking garage on Mill Avenue one night in 2009. They decided to race each other, displaying their competitiveness as brothers. Nick, the younger of the two at 22 years old, won the race. Stephen, 25, was devastated and immediately blamed it on his struggles with alcoholism.
“It hits you hard when you start losing athletic activities to your younger brother. I was always dominant,” said Stephen.
Nick realized how much alcohol was affecting Stephen’s life, but turned a blind eye until that night in the parking garage.
“I had him by the shoulders and I was like, ‘Look, dude. You’re 25. What are you doing? Seriously, what are you doing?’” Nick recalled. “I couldn’t fathom the idea of having a 25-year-old brother who was an alcoholic.”
Both of them knew Stephen needed something to occupy his time and help him on the road through recovery. That’s when a simple idea turned into a life-changer.
Mike Spangenberg, Stephen’s roommate and boss at the time, was heavily into fashion. Stephen says that Spangenberg’s favorite activity growing up was back-to-school shopping. He loved it. So when Stephen was inspired with an idea to make an Arizona-themed clothing line, Spangenberg was all ears.
“Me and Mike, since we were 16, had Cardinals season tickets together … I know he is so passionate about Arizona. I’m passionate about Arizona. I knew Nick was even more passionate than I was,” said Stephen.
Stephen came up with the name StateFortyEight and they looked to Nick, the artist in the group, to make the logo. After those essential pieces were put together, however, things weren’t so easy for the three entrepreneurs.
“We went through six really, really painful months of disagreeing about all kinds of stuff about how we’re going to run this company,” Stephen said.
The close bond that the three have with each other allows them to compromise and get through any disagreements that they may encounter.
“All three of us are very different. We still have very different minds … it always allows us to show very different perspectives,” Nick said.
One of the first hurdles they had to work through was when Spangenberg began spreading the word about the shirts to anyone that would listen before they even discussed what the marketing strategy was going to be.
“My vision of the whole thing going down was we were going to get the shirts and then talk about how we were going to distribute them and market them and all that kind of stuff, but apparently Mike had been telling everybody that he knew,” said Nick.
Not one of the three business partners regret Spangenberg’s actions. In fact, they continue to believe his fast pace is a great quality to bring to the business.
“My natural instinct is pushing and getting the most out of everybody, including myself,” Spangenberg said.
Although there are personality conflicts, one thing they all have in common is being alumnus of Chandler High School. In fact, one of the original StateFortyEight shirts featured the school colors of royal blue and white. The connection runs deep and attracted the attention of fellow Chandler High alum and 2013 Miss Arizona Jennifer Smestad, who models for the company.
“It’s just an awesome company. We did a photo shoot at the Grand Canyon and some other cool Arizona landmarks … I love that they make a state that a lot of people view as old and boring actually new and cool,” said Smestad.
During his Chandler High days, Spangenberg was in a marketing club called DECA. He continues to help the club any way he can and is still in touch with the program’s instructor, Kim Frahm.
“Mike is such a great guy and has shared his new-found marketing and business experience with the kids here at Chandler DECA. It is so awesome to see former students take what they learn in here and be successful with it in the real world,” Frahm proudly said.
StateFortyEight has taken off and the brand has produced a line of popular products for those who love the Grand Canyon State. It was not an easy journey to get the business where it is now, but the group takes immense pride in how far it has gotten them in their personal lives.
“Four years ago, I couldn’t stop drinking vodka. Now people talk to me like I’m a freakin’ celebrity,” Stephen said with a satisfactory grin.