The American Nurse team is delighted to have had an opportunity to speak with Joe Ammon, the founder and CEO of Clove, a footwear company specializing in shoes for nurses like Tamara, his wife, and other healthcare providers.
At American Nurse, we aim to highlight nurse innovators and entrepreneurs, especially those who focus on the health and happiness of frontline nurses. Clove is a company that amplifies that—it drives a mission to help working nurses make their lives easier by addressing one of their most common challenges—finding effective footwear for the healthcare environment. With that, we are pleased to share more about Clove with our readers.
American Nurse: Before we get into the questions, I first wanted to thank you, Joe and Tamara, for taking the time to speak with us and share some information about Clove and its products with our readers.
Thanks so much, we’re honored to have the chance to share our story with American Nurse!
Could you tell our readers how Clove started? What, or who, rather, was your inspiration?
Joe: Clove was inspired by my wife, Tamara, a registered nurse. We’ve been together from the very beginning: nursing school, graduation, and many career milestones since, but it wasn’t until she went through four pairs of shoes in four months at the end of 2017 that I finally started asking questions and thinking more deeply about why she was spending so much time researching shoes; Tamara was trying to find a shoe that had sneaker-level comfort but with functionality built for the hospital. We quickly realized she was looking for something that didn’t exist!
Fast forward to 2019, we were proud to launch Clove after Tamara and a team of fellow Penn Medicine nurses put thousands of hours into Clove prototypes and really helped us shape every single decision point on the shoe and the brand.
Tamara, how does knowing you were such an integral part of Joe’s inspiration and process for creating Clove make you feel? What input did you provide from a nursing perspective during the initial creation process?
Tamara: Honestly, in the beginning it felt very organic – it was just Joe & I exploring an idea that we steadily found ourselves getting more and more passionate about. What’s been the most rewarding is seeing how a problem I personally had has resonated with other healthcare professionals across the country as they’ve begun to discover Clove.
From an input perspective, Joe’s always said he felt like he was cheating by having an “insider” to help him navigate the rules – written and unwritten! – of the profession. I think my favorite memory is realizing that we had finally perfected the comfort design when I was 9 months pregnant and refused to wear any other shoe than my Cloves, in and out of the hospital!
The logo for Clove is clever! How did you come up with it?
Joe: Thank you! A few months after having the idea we realized we really needed to name this crazy endeavor we were so excited about. On a drive back to the East Coast after visiting our family in Ohio, we decided we wouldn’t get out of the car until we had a name.
I remembered how I used to poke fun at Tamara that nursing school was hard enough, why couldn’t she use “w/” as shorthand for “with” like everybody else instead of “c-bar”.
Tamara: It hit me instantly, I mashed together “c-bar” and “love” and we had our name – Clove. It was perfect, I loved that it had a second meaning that healthcare professionals would connect with, but something that also had a real message – with love – that’s so important to how I approach my job every day.
Could you explain how you tested the original design? I think your methodology highlights the fact that these are designed for healthcare professionals, so you used a process that was different than how other apparel companies normally test their products.
Joe: Yes, one of our most important core values is to listen deeply to our customer, and we really built this into the fabric of Clove from day one. I did hours of one-on-one interviews with healthcare providers in and out of Tamara’s network, focusing on their experience with clogs, sneakers, crocs, running shoes, boots…you name it, I’ve heard about it! All of this early work turned into a formal trial at Penn Medicine with the innovation group, where a group of nurses put over 2,000 hours into prototypes of our Clove shoes. Their feedback was absolutely fundamental in the development of the product that we proudly released in November.
Tamara: One thing Joe didn’t mention is that he would sit for hours in the main lobby of my hospital, taking tally of every shoe that every nurse and doctor wore on their way by and striking up seemingly random conversations about people’s shoes. Initially I kept shooing him away out of embarrassment, but I realized he was crazy about doing this right and putting in the hours to really understand what shoes we were using and why this was so important to him. Eventually had him split his time between a couple other buildings!
That research is really amazing, and again, highlights your focus on creating a product aimed at nurses. What changed with the overall design or features of the product after the formal trial?
Joe: I think a great example is how our lacing system evolved. Based on all of our research, I was adamant that Cloves had to include laces to be able to customize fit to maximize comfort. Unfortunately, the vast majority of our research base of nurses and doctors had very negative opinions on laces; they noted the need to be able to slip on and off, laces coming untied, fluids (and other things) getting caught in them.
Fast forward to the trial – I pushed laces into the design and nearly unanimously got the same feedback – our testers hated the laces! So the design challenge became how do we satisfy the needs of both of us – a lacing system that allows for fit customization while still responding to what we heard loud and clear from our testers. Through that challenge came an elegant system we’re really proud of – liquid-repellant stretch laces that allow you to customize your fit on your first wear and slip-on every other time thereafter.
Joe, as you know, nurses have one of the hardest jobs, and have to deal with intense work environments. How do you think your product can help alleviate some of those challenges, or make their lives a bit easier?
Joe: It’s true: we really think of nurses as shoe super users – the average nurse walks a marathon every week and encounters fluids and substances that could be dangerous to them and their patients.
We built Clove with the needs of the nurse at the absolute forefront – every decision point on the shoe fell in the way of the healthcare provider. From easy-clean, liquid-repellant uppers, and anti-odor insoles to super supportive midsoles and a slip-on design, we put premium materials and thoughtful design into every element — even the packaging! For example, with every pair of Cloves customer receive pens, badge reels, and a Clove clutch to store work essentials.
Tamara, as a nurse yourself, what about Clove’s products and mission in putting nurses first is so important?
Tamara: I know first-hand how nurses often don’t get the respect they deserve. We are educated and skilled at what we do, but there’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes that’s not always appreciated.
I’m really proud that Clove believes deeply in elevating the profession. It gives nurses a chance to show off who they really are. For instance, everyone we photograph is a real healthcare provider and we use our channels to share their narratives.
My hope for the brand is that people outside of healthcare look at Clove and have a deeper respect and better understanding of what we do every day.
What feedback have you been receiving from those who have used Clove shoes?
Joe: The response has frankly been incredible. To be honest, we really felt confident in the product at release because of all the testing and research we had done, but the biggest question I had was whether or not the brand and mission would resonate with folks. What we’ve seen in reading every email and review since launch is that our healthcare customers are resonating with both the product and the mission. They love all of the functional benefits we packed into the product and feel seen by the brand and how we talk about the amazing work they do every day.
And then there’s insightful feedback that will help to inform future product developments. From color requests to asking us to make a Men’s size 13, we’re reading every message and engaging directly with folks so we can implement feedback with our team real-time.
What are your plans for the future of Clove? Where do you see yourself in 5 years? 10?
Joe: It’s really to continue to act on our core value of listening. We’ll never develop a product that we don’t think will make a measurable difference in healthcare professional’s lives, so we’re using the feedback loops we’ve built with Clove’s earliest customers to listen intently. We actually already have some exciting new things in the works for later in 2020, so please keep your eyes peeled! Follow us @goclove on Instagram for the latest and say hello, we’d love to hear from you!
Check out Clove shoes here.