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Upstream Focus: Clover & Cobbler CEO Jaclyn Jones on Sustainability, Small Batches & the Slipper Surprise

Upstream Focus is Sourcing Journal’s series of conversations with suppliers, associations and sourcing professionals to get their insights on the state of sourcing, innovations in manufacturing and how to improve operations. In this Q&A, Jaclyn Jones, owner and CEO of Los Angeles-based footwear factory Clover & Cobbler, discusses the benefits of small-batch production and the surprising footwear style that took off during Covid.

Jaclyn Jones Clover & Cobbler
Jaclyn Jones, owner and CEO of Clover & Cobbler Courtesy

Name: Jaclyn Jones

Title: owner and CEO

Company: Clover & Cobbler

What’s the number one question you get from your clients now that was never really a consideration before?

Believe it or not, “Can you make slippers?” Prior to Covid, we had only created slippers for one or two brands, but with so many people working from home and comfort being such a huge trend right now, we’ve been inundated with requests for slippers. New slipper brands are emerging, and existing brands are shifting their focus to comfort and slippers.

Which processes have you put in place due to Covid that you’d like to see continue even after the health crisis is behind us? 

Part of our daily routine includes our factory managers doing temperature checks and Covid symptom questionnaires for all our team members. These have turned into wonderful everyday check-ins with our team. We get a few moments of one-on-one time with each team member to ask how they’re doing, how their families are doing, and so on. Even when temperature checks are no longer involved, we still plan to continue these special daily check-ins.

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How are you evaluating potential brand and retail partners differently now compared to before the pandemic?

Because we are a boutique factory and already make small-batch production, we have found that our made-to-order manufacturing process is exactly what the industry needs right now. With many brands and retailers being hesitant to take on too much inventory at once, they are ordering smaller runs and shorter lead items that are more tailored to the current season and follow the active trends. With restricted access to in-person meetings, we find it is important to convey to potential brands that the process will require a clear vision, consistent communication and realistic goals to be successful in the current Covid times.

What is the main thing brands and retailers could do (or stop doing) right now that would immediately improve product development?

Flexibility is key! This year, we’ve all had to learn how to shift and to expect the unexpected. Before Covid, production timelines were consistent and predictable, however, there are now many outside factors that can cause delays. Shipping and receiving materials are taking longer than usual and unexpected delays and closures are unfortunately part of today’s world. Being able to adapt to unforeseen changes will only benefit brands and retailers in the product development process.

How are you adapting your operations to support quick-turn, small run orders?

Fortunately, this is already our business model! As a small-batch-focused factory, we did not need to alter our operations other than adding in Covid health and safety procedures. Luckily, we did not lose time trying to shift to a new way of operating. At Clover & Cobbler, we are rooted in sustainability and eco-conscious manufacturing, and therefore small-batch production is naturally built into our philosophy. Small-batch manufacturing helps to conquer overproduction and the massive waste the fashion industry is unfortunately known for.

In this challenging retail environment, how are you working with clients to balance sustainability needs with cost efficiency?

Our small-batch production model is designed with this balance in mind. We use fewer materials, offer zero minimums, reduce waste by repurposing scraps, and utilize local vendors to reduce transportation costs and our carbon footprint. With so many larger brands approaching us to bring their manufacturing to the U.S., we’re seeing a simultaneous shift away from both the environmental harm and industry waste that go along with overseas mass production.

When it comes to quality and compliance, what are the biggest challenges?

Adding in new Covid health and sanitization procedures has certainly impacted the overall flow of our production. In an effort not to budge on quality, adding in the processes inevitably increases our timelines. For example, every team member is required to fully sanitize their workstation and tools twice per day.

How has Covid enhanced your remote collaboration capabilities? Which piece of technology or innovation have you found most useful during this time, and what remaining hurdles still exist in managing projects with limited travel?

While we have always worked with each private label customer on a personal level, limiting in-person appointments has undeniably strengthened our relationships with clients, as we are required to communicate more often and more clearly via text, email and video conferences. One hurdle that remains in our industry is that footwear is a very tactile product for both brands and retail buyers. Our solution has been prioritizing product photography and being open to shipping samples as opposed to meeting in person.

What is the best decision your company has made in the last year?

As not only the owner of Clover & Cobbler, but also as owner of our in-house brand Californians, we joined Brands X Better, a coalition of brands that joined together to donate a portion of proceeds to Covid relief efforts. This experience proved that when our industry shares a common goal, brands of all sizes can make more actionable change together. To date, Brands X Better has raised $3.8 million. During this time, the Brands X Better leaders organized roundtable Zoom meetings with all participating brands (100-plus participants) where we shared experiences and offered suggestions to navigate the challenges we were all facing in the early days of Covid. Being part of such a movement and an amazing group of people during this strange and scary time was super inspiring and encouraging.

What keeps you up at night?

My concern over how dangerous and out of control the virus has become is my biggest stressor. I know that we are taking every precaution possible with our employees and implementing procedures, however, our control ends outside of our building. We must rely heavily on the outside community and trust that they are taking all of the same precautions we are taking here, which is hard to do.

What makes you most optimistic?

I feel energized and excited by the shift in our industry to become more sustainable and move toward smaller batch production. Covid has become a huge wake-up call to brands large and small about the challenges our industry faces, including increasingly longer lead times, supply chain issues, and turning an eye to unethical working conditions and massive amounts of waste and pollution. The consumer is becoming more and more aware of the gap between them and the manufacturing process and is gravitating towards more transparent brands. I’m excited to see so many brands dedicated to changing the process and to witness a transformation in an industry that has historically been very set in its ways. This movement is something that has been important to us since the beginning, but to see it happening in such a major way and ripple out on a global scale definitely makes me feel optimistic about the future of our industry and our planet!

What’s in store for Clover & Cobbler in 2021?

As the industry makes this shift, we are excited to continue bringing more brands on board throughout 2021!

We are honored to provide brands the opportunity to produce their product domestically, ethically and eco-consciously. We’re proud to have received an influx of inquiries from major brands dedicated to making these changes within their brand culture and looking to work with us as a manufacturing partner.