Domestic Manufacturing Fit for Today
With Clover & Cobbler, Jaclyn Jones Creates a Factory She Couldn’t Find.
When Jaclyn Jones wanted to launch her namesake brand in 2015, finding a factory in the U.S. that would take her on was no easy feat. Now, not only does Jones manufacture her Jaclyn Jones USA product line of shoes, she owns the factory that makes it. Located in the Van Nuys neighborhood in Los Angeles, Clover & Cobbler currently makes three in house brands – Jaclyn Jones USA, Salpy, and Californias, which launched earlier this Spring. At any given time Jones also produces footwear for 10-15 private label lines in the 20,000-square-foot factory space that opened in 2018.
A busy showroom on the factory floor that features a swatch wall and samples from local resources serves as a multipurpose space for meetings, line reviews, and conferences. Jones and chief production officer Kim Thomas field so many inquiries from designers, manufacturers and retailers looking to create in-house brands that the execs crafted a formal interview process to triage potential clients as well connect individuals not yet at the manufacturing stage with area consultants.
Jones said this extra service is a direct response to her own experience of launching a brand. At Clover & Cobbler, Jones is determined to make American manufacturing simpler, more sustainable and more accessible to designers and retailers than ever.
“I had made all the designs, but there was no information about how to take the next step,” said Jones. “I looked heavily for six months. I had quit my job, and this was 100 percent my day job and my night job.”
While L.A. has a number of operating footwear factories ranging from small garage factories to big European-style operations these facilities weren’t a fit for Jones as they mostly made their own brands and didn’t do private label or had big minimums. As a result Jones ended up working with two smaller factories to create her shoes. One factory patternmaking and another specialized in hand-carved wooden heels that could do outselling and assembly.
A Turning Point in Production
It was the second factory, International Last, owned by Salpy and Kevork Kaladjian, which eventually changed Jones’ plans. After working closely on Jaclyn Jones USA and on Salpy, Kaladjian’s namesake line, the Kaladjians asked Jones if she’d be willing to buy both. The couple were looking to step back, and despite being approached by bigger labels and Chinese factories, they wanted the factory, and what they considered a family of workers, to be in the hands of someone who wanted to run the place, not just acquire its assets and contacts.
“I was saying, ‘I don’t know how to run a factory!’ But then I thought, I’m in here every day, and I do know how. And on top of that, I see all the things that could be done better,” Jones explained.
Enticed by the rare chance to pair a fresh start with the benefits an existing business, Jones took on the financing and made the purchase, leasing a new factory space 15 minutes from the old location and stripping down all the old equipment to be cleaned and tuned up. Having the factory floor be an inspiring, creative, feminine place was important to Jones; when the time came to re-enamel the machines, for example, Jones had it done in teal.
New & Improved
The new space gave shape to Jones’ vision of what a modern, forward-looking American Made production facility could be. She transitioned to water-based adhesives to improve both sustainability and workers’ health, and installed $50,000 worth of dust collection and air filtration systems for the same reasons. She also reset the layout so product would flow in a true production line to follow any given collection through the whole process.
Today at Clover & Cobbler, Jones and Thomas, as well as Salpy Kaladjian and marketing and sales people, work in the office, with 23 workers on the floor, half being women, including the three floor supervisors. “They’re artisans doing their craft,” Jones said. “They’re amazing people.” Together the company offers full service line development, lasting and production. And, Jones said, operations are geared to give new brands the services they need.
“We have zero minimums so new brands can start out,” Jones said. “And we break down our pricing: a style in this color way in four to 12 pairs, here’s your per-pair cost; if you make 14 to 25 pairs, this is what it will cost. We keep the pricing in short breaks so they can decide what they want to do.”
“A lot of people come to us and expect to make shoes that retail for $30, and that’s not realistic,” explained Jones. “It’s not apples to apples with overseas costs. With the [lower] price per shoe, you’ll also have to pay shipping and customs, and [account] for the time you’re losing on your timelines. And it’s your peace of mind: What is that worth to you?”
Jones said business has grown steadily, with increases in people looking for vegan and sustainable options especially. She sees further growth opportunities for boutiques: Only a small portion of her business is in doing private label for stores, but whenever Jones walks into a shop with their own apparel and jewelry, she can’t help but think, you know, you could put your own name on your own shoes, too.
Some of the business coming her way is the fact that she — unlike the factories she once tried to find — is active online. Being contacted through Instagram is nothing odd. But Jones also believes a cultural shift is driving people to seek her out, too.
“We’re in a certain economy where everyone wants to be an entrepreneur and can be a entrepreneur,” she said. “That movement within the younger generation empowers a lot of people to try it out.”