From the walkways of Scottsdale Fashion Square to the seats of the Footprint Center and beyond, State Forty Eight apparel has become an iconic brand for Arizonans who want high-quality, stylish gear to represent their home state. And it all started when CEO and Co-founder Michael Spangenberg studied hospitality at Scottsdale Community College (SCC).
In 2011, when Spangenberg split his time between working at hotels and attending hotel management classes at SCC, no one was making the kinds of clothes that he felt encapsulated the spirit of Arizona. So together, he and two childhood friends founded State Forty Eight to fill that need, and over ten years later, Spangenberg is the CEO of one of Arizona’s most recognizable local brands.
“You have to love the grind, and I do. I love learning,” he says. “I love improving our business, and yeah, it's a ton of sacrifice, but that’s why entrepreneurship is so great – you can control your own destiny.”
A native of Chandler, Spangenberg fits the classic mold of the American entrepreneur, crediting his genuine love of hard work and tenacity for getting him where he is today. “What I've always taken pride in is the hustle. My work ethic is always what's going to take me to the next level. I'm not the smartest dude in the world, but I will work until I figure it out.”
That mentality manifested even as a teenager. On the first day he was legally allowed to work, he started washing dishes at a Residence Inn, where he tirelessly worked his way up for years until becoming a general manager. Meanwhile, he attended SCC at night, pursuing his Hotel Management degree. “I loved the classes about hospitality more than anything…I just loved anything to do with business in the real world.”
What little spare time he had between working a full-time job and going to school, Spangenberg spent dreaming up ideas for a business of his own. After starting a few ventures that found mild success, he and two childhood friends landed on the idea that would eventually become State Forty Eight.
The idea that would change their lives was the combination of a handful of genuine passions and a lot of hard work. “I’ve always loved clothes,” says Spangenberg, “Going back-to-school shopping was my favorite thing about school. I've always loved our state, and I’ve always loved business. [The marketing club] DECA was probably my favorite subject in high school because I could see how marketing worked in the real world.”
He explains that he and his business partners are diehard Arizona sports fans and felt there needed to be more fun, high-quality t-shirts to represent their home state and the sports teams they loved. With that in mind, his roommate and eventual co-founder, Stephen Polando, came to Spangenberg with what he thought was a catchy name before they turned to Stephen’s younger brother and budding graphic designer, Nicholas Polando, to create a logo. And just like that, State Forty Eight was born.
Soon, the three were pressing shirts in their garage between classes and work. Slowly but surely, the business grew until Spangenberg needed to leave SCC and his hospitality job behind to focus on the new venture full-time. Looking back, he remembers those days as tiring but worthwhile. “It just takes so much to get to where you want to go in life. It takes passion to be working a full-time job, going to school, and then wanting to put all your extra time into your side hustle because it’s your calling.
“If it’s meaningful, it’s not going to come easy. You have to be willing to fight for it.”
“Thankfully, we were able to get in at the right time and solve a problem by filling a void for Arizona swag that's high-quality, and that represents our hometown. It’s cool to see how far it's come. I keep seeing the shirts when I’m out, and it's very humbling. And it's rewarding because our whole team works so hard. Seeing your brand out there is just one of the best feelings in the world.”
Now firmly established as one of Arizona’s most recognizable brands, State Forty Eight prides itself on collaborating with local businesses and supporting other entrepreneurs through the State Forty Eight Foundation. By providing grants and hosting an annual speaker series to educate and uplift new companies, the goal is to lower the barriers of entry for new entrepreneurs to empower and enrich local communities. “Now that we’re seeing these other businesses take off, we want to help them be sustainable and then help make Arizona a better place to work and live. The future is bright, and we're going to make so much more of an impact.”
That community of peers is significant to Spangenberg. From his time studying alongside other hopeful entrepreneurs at SCC to the value he finds in his CEO coaching group, he reiterates the importance of “surrounding yourself with like-minded people that will motivate you, inspire you, and push you. You're going to learn so much more, and especially in entrepreneurship, where it gets lonely, you have got to find people you can talk to and learn from.”
Getting back to Spangenberg’s roots, State Forty Eight is collaborating with SCC on exclusive designs that will be available in the student bookstore. “I’m super excited to be doing some Artichokes gear!” he says. “I'll be rocking it.”
Order your SCC State Forty Eight t-shirt through the SCC Bookstore.
To learn more about State Forty Eight, the State Forty Eight Foundation, or to grab some gear, visit statefortyeight.com.