July 18, 2011

Jeans story pt. 1


This is the first jeans story. We’ll kick it off with a quiz: can you recognize those jeans? Everyone with a correct answer will get a free french fry or salad next time they’re in. Hint, it’s not an accident that you can’t see his face, this employee is our second most camera shy.

So the other day a customer wrote a comment on the website asking what’s wrong with us, why can’t we just sell food and not talk about jeans. Well, hopefully most of you will not feel as offended. But we talk about everything we do. And our uniforms are an important part of that.

We didn’t start out with uniforms, but I knew we’d need them someday. And I had no idea what they should be. I knew I didn’t like the polyester pants and collar shirt I had from Burger King, and I really didn’t like the $120 I was forced to spend on them. I didn’t love my Panera uniform. I wanted something that would allow employees some personal expression. But also understood we’d need a uniformity of look. And we’d need to be clean.

The very first item of the uniform was the blue apron. You can read more about them in earlier entries.

Then came hats. You can read about them on the website. First hats were organic cotton and really really expensive. Second hats were the cheapest hat you can buy after doing an internet search “cheap hat.” They were trucker hats with the logo embroidered on the hat. Now we can sell them to customers and employees for cheap.

A bit later we did our first T-shirt, Spring 2009. We made 50 for the MIT truck. They were also organic cotton, very very expensive. And they were thin, which didn’t work too well on those really hot days. LJ and Brian used to have de-facto wet T-shirt contests, just from sweating in the truck. And women didn’t like the unisex design.

So I found the cheapest T-shirt we could buy. Now we could give them to employees for free (1st shirt) and sell replacements cheap. So now the T-shirts are Gildan Cotton.

And then Hat, one of everyone’s favorite employees of all time, spilled boiling water on her legs and get nasty burns. It was time to start requiring pants and close toed shoes at all times.

We struggled on the pants one. They need to look uniform and deliberate. But we needed something that wasn’t a hassle to wear (e.g., polyester) and something that would work well for men and women.

I was stumped, so I started talking to friends. And around that time I was thinking a bunch about how important it is that Clover is routed in stuff that’s American, uniquely American. We’re all Patriots here. And I started thinking about the blue jean. My favorite blue jeans for years have been Levis 501 button fly. It’s probably my father’s fault. He grew up in California with a solid daily uniform of Levis 501 and white T-shirt every single day. So when I was a kid buying a pair of Levis was something my dad did once a year or so, and I remember it. I remember when the blue jeans he liked were replaced with fadded stone washed jeans at the local store and he had to drive 1 hour into Vermont to find the original navy color he preferred.

Around this time my friend Erik was going to start working at Levis. I got to talking about this stuff with him and he started telling me about ideas he had for Levis that would focus their efforts around “Pioneers.” So we’ve been super lucky to have been supported in our early efforts by Levis with 501 jeans.

Erik asked if we’d be willing to try out these new jeans they’re working on called “no wash.” They’re sort of an old idea apparently, I guess this is how the cowboys wore them. But since 90% of the environmental impact of jeans is due to the many wash cycles a no-wash or even barely-wash jean would be fantastic for everybody.

Everybody was a bit skeptical about this idea when I shared it with the company, but they gave it a shot.

So check these jeans of the mystery employee. Each becomes sort of unique without the washing. See the iphone outline in the front left pocket? And the wrinkle lines?

It’s really a beautiful thing. They all start indigo and re-shape themselves to the wearer’s habits. Always changing the way we are.

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