29-year-old Ellen Bennet is a CEO of a multimillion-dollar kitchen-wear empire called Hedley & Bennet. This young woman creates “Kick-Ass Aprons”, which has such fans like Mario Batali and Martha Stewart.

 It took just five short years for Ellen Bennet to turn determination to do something about dull and common kitchen uniform into a multimillion-dollar empire of the “Proper Bad Ass Aprons”. These days her handcrafted aprons have won fans like lifestyle doyenne Martha Stewart and top chefs Mario Batali, David Chang, April Bloomfield, Nobu Matsuhisa, and Alton Brown.

It is obvious that the young entrepreneur is clearly having a good time storming the aprons world, as well as the workers at her 17,000-square-foot Hedley & Bennett facility in downtown Los Angeles. It may seem as in this company people does anything but work. For instance, the cavernous space has a full-sized indoor tree house. Moreover, there’s a slide, swing, and a zip line, just in case any of her employees need a change of pace as they go about their workday. Bennet says that everybody who stops by their headquarters gets a hug and an ice cream. But make no mistake, behind all of this playful exuberance; Bennet is a woman, who is deadly serious about the movement behind her business: She’s obsessed with creating more dignified workwear. Her purpose is to provide line cooks, chefs, and waiters with uniforms they would be proud to wear, made from materials that don’t tear or come apart in a hot kitchen.

Actually, Bennett never had a dream to become a CEO. After attending culinary school, she started working as a line chef at Providence, a two Michelin-starred L.A. restaurant. While she was doing her work, she found herself distracted by her poorly made aprons and shirts. As Bennet herself says, they were “total shit”.

As a matter of fact, old-school kitchen uniforms tend to be made of a cheap poly-cotton blend that doesn’t breathe. Chef coats are mostly thick, rigid, and oversized, so it makes it hard to move, so the working process slows down. It is a common problem when apron pockets rip off and usually straps are not arranged to be adjustable, and when they are, they’re kept in place with plastic hardware that would melt in a hot kitchen.

Bennet gives us disarming statistics, which is based on her real working experience: the two out of the three aprons she would wear every day at the restaurant “had dangling pockets because they had ripped”. She believes that everything at the restaurant really matters and creates an atmosphere – from the china to the way people stood. But the staff in the kitchen wasn’t able to cook a really good food as they looked and felt terrible all day long.

Bennett has always had an eye for design, so she began to do her own research into the kitchen-wear industry out of sheer curiosity. She found out that mostly restaurant suppliers generally prefer to import cheap products from overseas. Moreover, they are more interested in a low cost, so the quality is not so important. Bennet believes that all of the companies, that produce aprons, don’t really know the real situation on restaurant’s kitchens and what the cooking process really mean and need. This is the only excuse for them to use plastic buttons that melt. Besides, her research shown that there are some companies that make luxury denim and leather aprons that double as knife rolls for between $170 and $350 per piece. In addition, some restaurants, like Qui and Craftsman and Wolves, made their own aprons, which they also sold in-store. But no company was creating high-quality uniforms at scale.

Ellen found out that there was a hole in the market, as the uniform, which is actually one touchpoint that the customer sees, was the last thing that restaurateurs thought about. So eventually, Bennett’s business came about by accident. One day, the chef at Bäco Mercat mentioned that he was going to bring in a company to fit workers for new aprons. Bennett asked him to let her design and make the aprons herself. She took $300 from her savings account and developed her very first collection, as she had an order of 40 aprons. She had a clear vision if what she wanted to create so she did it even without any sewers. So that’s how Hedley & Bennett was born.

That’s interesting that the name of the company is derived from both sides of her family. Hedley refers to her English grandfather, a rocket scientist, and Bennett comes from her fiery maternal side of the family, who are Mexican. As Bennet says: “When you merge the two different cultures, you get a mix of timelessness and a colorful, “take life by the lapels,” positive outlook on life”.

Bennett has used the best-quality materials she could get her hands on in L.A.’s garment district, including Japanese denim, American canvas, and linens from around the world, plus brass hardware. Her aprons not just look beautiful, they are also breathable. While sewing, she ensured that every pocket corner was reinforced. And after working on straps, she created a cross-back system that would lie flat against the back, instead of getting twisted. She also thought carefully about what colors and patterns would be suitable in a formal restaurant setting but added a touch of style. She found an inspiration in works of her favorite designers, as she says: “I’d take a pocket from a Theory shirt or a collar from a Brooks Brothers blazer and incorporate them into these uniforms”.

After her first work on aprons, Bennett approached chefs like Mario Batali and David Chang at events said that she was an apron designer, and asked them what they wanted in kitchen workwear. Since then she has helped restaurants around the world to seriously up their apron game. Hedley & Bennett creates uniforms for 4,000 restaurants and coffee shops all over the U.S., including Blue Bottle Coffee, Intelligentsia, and Lazy Bear. Hedley & Bennett has created aprons for companies like Google, Coca-Cola, the New York Times, Lexus, Aspen Food and Wine, and SpaceX for special culinary events. Moreover, the company shows that people from other industries, such as artists, florists, nail technicians, tattoo artists, sculptors, and potters love these aprons too.

Despite the fact that Hedley & Bennett generates millions of dollars in revenue annually, Bennett still works hard to create the best, most beautiful aprons. Also, she is looking for new purposes of using her aprons. For example, the same night that the Met Gala was taking place, Bennett outfitted the actor Jesse Tyler Ferguson to host the James Beard Awards. As he walked up the red carpet, he wore a red Hedley & Bennett apron, decorated with a garland of red tulle. So, Bennett has just invented the first couture apron.

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