Spotlight: Claire Yan, Fashion Designer and Founder of Cobbler's Suggest

By Cristina Ng, June 19, 2019

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Spotlight is a regular series where we feature a prominent person in the creative scene. This month we speak with fashion designer Clare Yan.

Entrepreneur Claire Yan damaged a lot of pairs of shoes while running around Shanghai’s rough concrete streets. When she struggled to find a dependable cobbler’s shop, she drew on her marketing background to solve this problem with an app and personal delivery service that repairs shoes, bags and other leather goods. Since founding her unique business in 2016, Cobbler’s Suggest has repaired over 2,000 pairs of men’s and 13,000 pairs of women’s shoes. The environmental and social benefits of her startup caught the attention of the Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards (CWIA), who named her as a finalist this year. We caught up with her to discuss her work and find out how to repair our favorite pair of heels.

Congratulations on being selected from among 2,900 applicants as a finalist for the CWIA 2019. What has it been like to go through the process and become part of the laureate community?
Thank you very much! I am very grateful and honored to be selected as it carries credibility and is a reminder of how far we have come. It’s also great motivation to keep up the good work going forward, because we are a start-up and recognition from the public is a reassurance that we are doing the right thing. 

artisan-4.jpgBehind the scenes at Cobblers Suggest. Image courtesy of Claire Yan.

This year’s theme was ‘The Ripple Effect’ – can you tell us how that applies to your business? 
‘The Ripple Effect’ means starting with something small that generates greater impact later on. We began as a simple idea that brought change to the artisans that work with us. For example, our Head of Craftsmanship came to us with excellent skills, but he was shy and lacked confidence. After one year with us, he told a CCTV reporter, “Before people only believed that Swiss watchmakers are great craftsmen, but today I believe we can become great craftsmen by fixing shoes and bags through Cobbler’s Suggest.” 

What is your social mission?
We are in it to save the industry and the products. The traditional model of artisans running a small shop in major cities is dying. If cobblers are unemployed or pushed out of the city, the industry and the craftsmanship are lost. Our services provide stable jobs to these artisans and encourage sustainable consumption behavior. 

“When cobblers no longer need to worry about their livelihood, they can focus on the quality”

Why is that important to you?
I felt it was the right thing to do, and the only thing that can make Cobbler’s Suggest work. My background is as an advertising gal, which usually means dealing with a brand. A strong brand is determined by the product and culture of the company. For Cobbler’s Suggest, our product is the quality of repair, and the culture is our attitude toward craftsmanship, and they are both rooted in the artisans we have. We hire them to work with us full time, with a salary, benefits packages and insurance. When cobblers no longer need to worry about their livelihood, they can focus on the quality of their work. 

What about the environmental benefits of your service?
Well, that’s actually a side benefit of encouraging sustainable consumption. When we started, we set out to protect craftsmanship, and along the way, products are saved and are kept away from landfill. In terms of waste management, repairing and recycling instead of replacing is a much better choice.

If I want to repair a pair of shoes, what is the process like? 
The standard process is to follow our WeChat account, and then you can go to our ordering app where you identify the problem, and place orders accordingly. Next, a pickup service is arranged to send your items to a repair center. Within 15 days the process is completed, and your shoes are sent back.

I have a pair of Prada heels that my dog chewed up, can you help me fix them? 
Of course, we would love to help. We have a service just for problems like this listed as ‘renovation of major wounds’ under ‘special repair’ on our app. 

artisan-5.jpgA look into the shoe repair process at Cobblers Suggest. Image courtesy of Claire Yan.

What shoe material is the most difficult to salvage? 
Satin and suede can be very tricky when they get dirty, and also very tough to fix when they are scratched. We recommend that you watch the weather report before going out in shoes made of satin or suede, and don’t wear them on bumpy roads. 

What’s the next step for you and your company after receiving this honor?
We want to leverage it to increase awareness about our service and to win more business-to-business clients. The entire experience with CWIA is nothing but inspiring.  From now on, I have 20 wonderful sisters, mentors and friends to talk with as well as a network for management, consulting and fundraising that is very helpful for growing the company. 

For more Spotlight posts, click here. Find out more about Yan's app here.

[Cover image courtesy of Claire Yan]

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