It could be a twirly skirt, leggings or a onesie. Jen Lushbough listed the possibilities of a bolt of fabric in her Lakeside home studio.
Lushbough runs Clover + Cotton, a baby and child clothing business, where she designs and hand-sews all of the above — including bonnets, dresses, shirts and more.
“Kids are fun to design for because their bodies are little rectangles,” she said.
Lushbough’s clothes are handmade in Duluth, she likes more gender-neutral prints and they have to be comfortable, so kids want to wear them, she said.
In one corner of her Lakeside home studio sat two sergers and one sewing machine, child- and infant-sized dress mannequins. Drawings from her children and shelves filled with fabric, which ran the gamut of hot dogs, unicorns, gnomes, “The Golden Girls,” Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
The hunt for aesthetically appealing-to-her baby clothes was a partial inspiration for making her own. When she and her husband had their first child, she didn’t care for the options.
“Everything for boys has trucks or dinosaurs or sports balls, and that’s fine for something, but I didn’t want a whole wardrobe of that.”
She’s always been crafty, knitting, weaving, spinning yarn, quilting. “Sewing is immediate gratification.” While her great-grandmother taught her how to sew, making clothes was intimidating. When a friend showed her how, she found it wasn’t as tricky as she thought it was going to be.
“Kids are fun to design for because their bodies are little rectangles.”
So, she started small, making wool bonnets and little long-sleeve shirts, and it snowballed. Lushbough launched Clover + Cotton about four years ago. Now, the mother of Jack, Ruby and Lily said while the business is her “fourth baby” — “Clover” was actually a name consideration for their third child — she’s a mom first.
Lushbough keeps her designs on her tablet, where there are notes for rib cuffs, print and color blocks on dresses. Questions about pockets, snaps. Brainstorming on red stripes, lemon or jungle prints.
And she designs for the seasons. “Dark colors, more earthy florals, and some Lizzo,” she said laying a muted seafoam fabric with tiny images of the flautist/hip-hop artist in pink.
Lushbough gets inspiration from child and adult fashion online, her kids, or what’s happening in the world. In her stock is a raglan tee with women of different ethnicities and the words “We will.” Also pants with notes to “throw kindness around like confetti.”
She keeps her cloth scraps and makes bra pads for breastfeeding mothers, and she donates some for Sew Duluth’s classes. She also handstamps the insides of her clothing to save on waste.
Meghan Morrow has watched the business evolve. First, meeting Lushbough in prenatal yoga, and then turning customer, purchasing swing tops and dresses when her daughter Hazel, now 6, was younger.
Morrow called the designs “fashionable and functional” art that children can wear.
“Jen is a mom to three great kids, a wife and a dependable friend. I don’t know how she has any ‘creative juices’ left at the end of her day, but she does.”
Creating the designs is Lushbough’s favorite part of the process, along with thinking about who’s going to wear it. She’s less excited about the production part; “Sewing 100 pairs of pants is sewing 100 pairs of pants,” she said.
So, she hires manufacturing help from Jeanne Langlois.
Lushbough has anything a kid or parent would want. “When they’re little, the parents get to pick what they wear,” she said, and Lushbough has Barack Obama on some, food, weather and pets on others, Langlois said.
Using Lushbough’s pre-cut pieces, Langlois estimates she’s done 500 pairs of pants for Clover + Cotton.
It’s great that you can make a living creating handmade clothing in Duluth, she said.
“You don’t have to be in the big city to be able to do it.”
Lushbough said it can be a change to balance motherhood with a small business. During the summer, it takes a backseat to be with her children. She’s garnered a lot of good advice from the Center for Economic Development, and she’s a member of entrepreneurial group The Rising Tide Society.
She has made some adult-sized dresses and tunics. That may be a direction she turns in the future, but for now, she said, “My heart is in the kid stuff.”
Find Clover + Cotton: facebook.com/cloverandcotton and local stores Whimsy, Little Neetchers and Two & Co.