Chat with Kerri of Jake Robert & Co.

I’ve always been that person open about how hard it was to have my daughter, Micah. Even with strangers, it would quickly get awkward by my introduction “Hi, I’m Amy, I’m a lawyer, and, no, I don’t have kids because I’m infertile.”

Maybe that’s why after I had Micah, friends and friends-of-friends experiencing infertility contacted me, happy to talk to someone else who sacrificed a lot with no guarantees.

That’s how I met Kerri, the amazingly talented owner of Jake Robert & Co.

Kerri and I had very similar paths. She had a great career in technology, wonderful coworkers, and the opportunity to travel the world.

She also had her own Miracle Baby, Jake Robert – the namesake of her line of custom belts, belt buckles, and hats.

Unlike me, Kerri had passion and talent for design and fashion.

Kerri Gutowski

Kerri! It’s been years. How old is Jake now?
Would you believe he’s 4 years old? And my step-kids are 18 and 20! Time flies.

Can you tell us about your decision to start Jake Robert & Co?
At 43, I had Jake Robert. I had to decide: do I continue my career – which meant constant travel – or stay home with my son.

Even though being a mother has always been my most desired life goal, it was a tough decision. Thankfully, with my husband’s support, I could retire from my technical career, be a stay-at-home mom, and continue my creative outlet by starting Jake Robert & Co.

Many working women feel this way—like they’re forced to choose between motherhood and their career. Luckily, I didn’t have to choose between a career and motherhood. I just picked a different career that would give me the flexibility I wanted.

What’s Jake Robert & Co.’s core philosophy?
I created the company to offer custom and hand-assembled items and gifts that are both unique and affordable. I’ve always loved giving thoughtful gifts brings you personal, timeless pieces using the highest quality materials that withstand any expiration date.

I have a conviction in my belief that design and fashion do not have to carry a brand label or be found in a high-end boutique. My ability to stay current, coupled with my frugal mentality, has always been my gift.

What motivates and drives you?
Looking like a million bucks without spending a million bucks. Designing beautiful pieces that defy retail prices. My family.

How do you think about risk? What role has taking risks played in your life/career?
I always measure risk versus reward. I call it “shit to equity ratio.” Specifically related to retiring from my professional career to start Jake Robert & Co. That was a real struggle for me. I thought my career defined me. MY income. MY self-worth. MY identity all came into question. My highest risk was making far less of an income. But, the reward of being with my son every day far outweighed all the tough adjustments I had to make. I am now a professional working mother that’s never been happier.

What makes you happy?
Having a happy family by supporting each other. A happy family equals a happy life.

What advice would you give to people who want to support small businesses?
Supporting small businesses has such a greater impact on lives than the product you purchase. Small business means more love, more care, more thought into the products you buy and enjoy. But, above all, you are appreciated by the real person putting their heart and soul into that business.

If you’re not working on your business, what will we find you doing?
Helping my husband with the design portion of construction projects – from designing the architecture to the interior design and decor. If I’m not handmaking items for Jake Robert & Co, I’m picking out bathroom tiles or toggling back and forth between conference calls.

You said you’ve learned a lot through your Jake Robert & Co. journey. Any parting words of advice to our Clean Creeders?
If you are frazzled from working your career while running impromptu home schools, there is nothing wrong with you. You are amazing! For those having issues starting a family, whether it’s infertility or rebounding from a miscarriage, or starting over in a healthier relationship, there is nothing wrong with you. You are amazing! If you walked away from your dream job to spend more time with your family, there is nothing wrong with you. You are amazing!

Take a deep breath. Figure out what you’re good at, what process you enjoy doing, how it makes your life richer, and then honor that purpose passionately.

That is amazing advice, Kerri. Thank you for being part of our Clean Creed Crew!

To learn more about Jake Robert & Co. and Kerri’s collection on, click here.

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Blog Plan Your Pivot

Dear Clean Creeders,

Paraphrasing the New York Times, “small businesses are still having to pivot, pivot, pivot to survive.”

I agree, but would add:

Small businesses need to make friends with failure fast and plan to pivot, pivot, pivot to survive. Because that’s one advantage small businesses have over the big boys.

All businesses fail and encounter hardship. But small businesses are better equipped to adjust the way they conduct business — or shift their approaches – in a way that the it-takes-8-levels-of-management-to-approve-change companies can’t.

Small businesses have had to fail – then get out of their comfort zones and learn new skills, understand changing customer needs, and create new solutions to better serve their customers. Often with multiple hiccups in-between.

It’s been key to survival.

Learning how to examine our mistakes and successes so we can pivot, is not a skill set only helpful during a pandemic. It’s a practice we should incorporate into our small businesses every day, with every win and every loss.

One way to learn to pivot is to routinely complete a “Project Review.”

At the most basic level, a Project Review helps you take an experience (a win, a deal, a loss, a good hire, a bad hire, a mistake, a customer compliment, a set-back, a home-run) and break it down into actionable conclusions about what went right, what went wrong, and what could be done better.

But these lessons won’t amount to much if they are not used for continuous improvement – which is how you pivot.

Continuous improvement leverages experience and ensures that each subsequent project can be executed at the highest quality, in less time, at a lower cost, and with fewer mistakes. It doesn’t mean “mistake-free,” it means not repeating the same mistakes repeatedly and continuing to replicate your successes repeatedly.

To that end, please find our Clean Creed Project Review Report form – a form that, if used consistently, can help you make friends with failure fast, and plan your pivot, pivot, pivot to survive.


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Clean Creed Welcome

Dear Clean Creeders,

This year has changed my group of friends in many ways. We think differently about the things we buy, the people we value most, and how we look at our days to come.

It made us want to find a purpose – a way to contribute to society, to live a more meaningful life, to be of service.

But how do we do that? We’re not first responders. We’re working moms that love our families, friends, and communities.

After some discussion, we decided we could help the most by purchasing our everyday items from U.S.-owned small businesses.

“Shop Small,” we agreed.

But shopping small wasn’t as easy as we thought.

Because small businesses are run by regular people – not by algorithms. Small business products get lost in the big-budget advertisements, complex search algorithms, and worldwide content churned out from the big boys.

That’s when we decided:

Let’s make it easy to Shop Small.

So Clean Creed was born. helps you find great products from U.S.-based small businesses that align with our CLEAN Core Values – the lens through which we evaluate how we operate and which products we list.

We also encourage our customers to shop from small businesses they believe in – whether that’s women-owned, minority-owned, family-owned, disabled-owned, LGBTQ+-owned, or military-owned.

We research small businesses while our kids are on their iPads past screen time alarms. We’re on the phone with small businesses when they yell down the stairs, “What’s for dinner?” We’re reading reviews, checking corporate filings, and stalking LinkedIn profiles while others are sleeping.

And we’re just getting started.

We all have choices on what we support with our dollars. We started Clean Creed to make those choices easier.

If you have a small business or know of a small business, that fits within our CLEAN Creed Core Values, please click on Join Our Creed.

Thank you, all! We’re excited for you to join us on this journey!

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; because it’s the only thing that ever has.

Margaret Mead


Clean Creed Signature
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I spent many of my undergrad evenings hunkered down in the comfy green armchair at the coffee shop “College Drip.”

Sure, it sounds like something you cure with a shot of penicillin, but it served exceptional espresso and was where I’d pretend to study when I was obsessing over life after graduation.

“Don’t worry,” Claire said. “Seventy percent of college students change their major.”

Claire was a whippet-thin barista with a cascade of skull tattoos lacing her arms. She’d worked there since ‘91 when she quit school to concentrate on her band appropriately named “Downward Mobility.”

“I’ve changed my major three times,” I mumbled.

“Let me guess,” she hummed. “You wanted to be—

“—an astronaut, then an FBI agent,” I finished. “But then I crushed on my parasitology professor and convinced myself I could spend the rest of my life studying tapeworms. . . . Until hot stool microscopic examination day.”

“Eww.” Claire wrinkled her nose.

While another student placed an order, I sat quietly with the folder of letters in my lap. “Congratulations,” they began.

“Take a look at this,” I said, handing her one letter. I fiddled with the strap of my overalls while she read.

“You’re going to law school?”

“I don’t know,” I sighed.“What do you mean you don’t know? Why wouldn’t you?”

“Let’s see,” I said, counting the reasons on my fingers. “Crazy expensive. Lawyers are usually the bad guys —”

“— like Blonde guys in The Karate Kid,” Claire said, nodding her head.

“What if I get there and hate it?” I banged the letters against my head.

“Listen,” Claire said, “Don’t stress. It’ll come to you. Now get out of here before you start sprouting roots. And eat something!

I reluctantly took Claire’s advice and went next door for Chinese.

The small restaurant was quiet – just a few students and a girl studying behind the counter. The smell was incredible, though, and my stomach sprang to life.

After finishing my Mu Shu, I reached for the crunchy golden fortune cookie on the table. I tore open the plastic wrapping and broke the cookie in two, eating the first bit while staring blankly at the water dripping from my iced tea glass.

I pulled out the thin, white strip of paper.

Clean Creeders,

I’ve often thought about that fortune cookie when I’ve faced hard decisions.

But answers rarely come to us like that. And life isn’t supposed to be easy. Especially now.

You don’t reach a certain employee count or revenue number and then suddenly have all the answers. There’s not crystal ball that tells you to change your business hours, sell online, or let a trusted employee go – to keep the lights on.

But find comfort in this: You’re not alone, Small Business.

No one has all the answers – not the largest of the large companies or the most established entrepreneurs. No one knows what they’re doing. Especially now.

And while the “not knowing” can be frustrating, the uncertainty makes our journeys beautiful.

If you knew everything, then you wouldn’t feel that excitement when the day’s first customer walks through the door. You wouldn’t be surprised when your business receives 5-stars on Yelp because you gave more time helping someone than you had to give. You wouldn’t share a celebratory hug when your best salesperson tells you she’s having a COVID baby.

It’s how we handle the “not knowing” that dictates who we become.

Especially now.

So go out and make your mistakes. Appreciate the consequences. Learn from them. And when you lay your head on your pillow at night thinking about your small business, remind yourself that the voice of fear is not always to be trusted.

Fortune cookies, on the other hand. Trust fortune cookies every time.


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Sit with Us

There was one empty seat.

I sat down confidently while the girls twittered about homework, parties, and a sweater that would soon be on sale. They stopped and stared at me in disbelief.

“Hi,” I said to the girl next to me.

“That seat’s taken,” she answered, waving her fork in the air.

I looked at my chair on the left side, then to the right. “Yep, seems you’re right.”

Another joined in. “It’s just we don’t like to be crowded, that’s all. It’s nothing personal.”

The girls giggled under their breath.

I felt as if all my senses had gotten sharper since I had nothing to lose.

“Oh, I understand,” I bubbled. “I’ll just take this seat for a few days.” I pointed to the table of hot jocks that lobbed pieces of food at one another.

“That table over there already offered me a spot if I can’t find a seat at a girl table.”

The girls drew back suddenly. They dared not drive me away now – not if my only other option was the table of potential Homecoming Kings.

When the bell rang, I picked up my tray. “See you tomorrow,” I said. Then I walked away with my shoulders back, ignoring the fragments of stinging conversations happening all around me.

The next day lunch was about the same. As it was the next Monday and Tuesday.

But on Wednesday, things changed. Someone complimented my oversized blazer, which led to a conversation about my style icon – Denise Huxtable.

On Thursday, they didn’t flinch when I told them 2001: A Space Odyssey was my favorite movie.

On Friday, they invited me to Chili’s after the baseball game.

And the rest is history.

Twenty++ years later and in a pandemic, I still talk to those girls. Drinks are poured on FaceTime Happy Hour, stories are told, photos are shared, we laugh in ways our 45-year-old bladders are no longer equipped to handle.

We shake our heads in disbelief when we remember how hard we thought life was back then – when our moms still made us dinner, and we had part-time jobs at the GAP.

But it’s not about how often we get together or how often we text. It’s about loving each other and supporting each other during the ups and downs – no matter what. I’m grateful for that.

And boy am I glad they didn’t call my bluff.

Because the table of potential Homecoming Kings? Well, they didn’t actually invite me to sit with them either.

You can sit with us!

Clean Creeders,

I hope you can take a few things from this story. There will be times in your business – maybe now – when you begin the slow and terrifying search for a place to sit. As you hear the cruel word “taken” again and again, you’ll continue to hustle, wondering if there will ever be a place for you.

Trust me: There will be! You may have to try and try and try again, but before you know it, you’ll find your place.

Take ownership of your goals. Maybe it’s stepping up in times like these. Maybe it’s saying “No,” to a deal because it’s not best long term. Perhaps it’s saying, “Yes,” even though that means you’ll have to pivot your business in a way that you’ve never done.

I don’t know what it is, but I do know that if you don’t keep going, you’ll never know how to fail with grace or appreciate great achievement.

Most important, remember that everyone needs a safe place to sit.

Everyone needs a place where they’re welcomed and invited – especially if they’re struggling to keep their balance. If you see a co-worker, another small business, a customer looking for a seat, make it your CREED to lean-in and say, “You can sit here if you want.”

Finally, don’t believe them when people say, “All the good seats are taken.”

Because the best seats are just a little harder to find.


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