NextUp: The Startup Making Specialized Footwear for Nurses

Clove has worked with top medical experts to design a sneaker that meets the unique needs of healthcare professionals.


Clove founder, Joe Ammon, designed Clove sneakers to meet the needs of nurses like his wife, Tamara Ammon, and other healthcare professionals who take as many as 60,000 steps a week. / Courtesy

“NextUp” is a weekly NextHealth PHL feature that highlights the local leaders, organizations and research shaping the Greater Philadelphia region’s life sciences ecosystem. Email qmuse@phillymag.com with pitches for NextUp.

Who: When Joe Ammon first moved to Philadelphia with his wife Tamara in 2017, he was an aspiring entrepreneur attending Wharton and she was a nurse working at Penn Medicine. A few months into Tamara’s new job, the couple realized they were spending hundreds of dollars on sneakers, all of which failed to withstand the rigors of her average workday. As a nurse, Tamara was taking an estimated 60,000 steps a week — the equivalent of a full marathon — which made comfort and endurance basic must-haves for Tamara’s ideal work shoe.

“In the first four months, she went through about four pairs of sneakers that cost a total of around 500 bucks,” Joe Ammon said. “I spent hours looking for something that would meet her needs, and I uncovered something that I knew anecdotally from all the shoes she had. What she needed didn’t exist.”

What: In 2018, Joe Ammon founded Clove, a footwear startup that designs products specifically for healthcare professionals. The company teamed up with medical experts at the University of Pennsylvania to conduct a clinical trial, product design surveys and focus groups to get feedback on the design and test the durability of the company’s flagship sneaker.

The trial enrolled seven testers who wore Clove sneakers daily for six weeks and participated in interviews and surveys to share their experience. The study also gathered feedback from 68 survey respondents including physicians, nurses and nursing students who shared their advice on the features that are most important to healthcare professionals.

Clove sneakers are designed to meet the needs of nurses and other healthcare professionals who take as many as 60,000 steps a week. / Courtesy

“The idea was to give them as many opportunities as possible to give true, candid feedback about whether the product really resonated with them and what mattered to them,” Joe Ammon said. “Once we started doing the research, we realized all the really cool things that we could do with the product to tailor it specifically to healthcare professionals.”

The study revealed shortcomings in the first Clove sneaker prototype as wearers shared complaints about problems they’d also encountered with other sneakers. The laces kept coming undone, and there was poor odor protection and a lack of breathability. The earlier style also looked more like an orthopedic shoe, a sticking point for many nurses who aim to express their personal style through their footwear since they’re required to wear plain scrubs.

While they may look like other popular brand sneakers, Clove sneakers, now in their tenth prototype, stand apart in the details.

For healthcare professionals who encounter all sorts of fluid spills from blood, sweat and saliva to liquid medications, Clove sneakers are made with stain-resistant, anti-bacterial outer fabrics and fluid-repellant laces and uppers that can easily be cleaned with a sanitizing wipe. They’re also designed to slip on and off easily and have a seamless upper unit (without a tongue) to protect the foot and make them easy to put on and take off.

And, according to the healthcare professionals who participated in the clinical trial, they’re breathable, comfortable and supportive enough to endure a 12-hour work shift. They also come in a range of sizes and stylish colors, aptly named with healthcare jargon, like “night shift” and “grey matter.”

When: In December, Clove held a formal launch event in Philly and launched its website for direct-to-consumer sales. In 2020, the company has plans to launch additional products including compression socks to help address many healthcare professionals’ struggles with varicose veins.

“We’re just going to keep listening and whatever they tell us the most pressing issue is next, that’s what we’re going to try to tackle,” Joe Ammon said.

Why: The healthcare sector is growing. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment in healthcare occupations is expected to grow 14 percent between 2018 and 2028, adding about 1.9 million new jobs, more than any other occupational group. Ammon estimates that roughly 110,000 of the 20 million people working in healthcare professions today work right here in Philadelphia; that’s one in every six employees.

As large as the healthcare sector is, not many companies are designing sneakers with industry-specific needs in mind. Ammon hopes Clove can help fill that void.

In medicine, the letter C with a dash above it is shorthand for ‘with,’ so the company’s name (Clove) literally means ‘with love’ to healthcare professionals who recognize the reference.

According to Ammon, Clove is all about making life easier for healthcare professionals. Even the company’s name is an ode to its target audience. In medicine, the letter “c” with a dash above it is shorthand for “with,” so the company’s name literally means “with love” to healthcare professionals who recognize the reference.

“Everything we do comes from an authentic place,” Joe Ammon said. “We wanted to fix this problem, not just for my wife but for the 20 million other healthcare professionals in America.”

What It Means: The medical clothing market in America is a $10 billion industry. While this doesn’t include footwear, it’s worth noting that other companies like Barco Uniforms and Figs have seen success in tailoring their products with features like wrinkle resistance and anti-microbial fabrics that cater specifically to employees in the medical field. By tapping into this trend, Clove could become the standard for footwear in the healthcare industry.