Apron entrepreneur Ellen Bennett on surviving and thriving in LA
With the launch of Hedley & Bennett in 2012, the chef and designer set out to create nothing less than the world’s best apron. Eight years later, the company’s full line of workwear, accessories, and even facemasks are essential items in LA’s top kitchens. Here, she talks about the idea that started it all, the relationships that keep her going, and the challenge that became an opportunity.
Like so many great small businesses, Hedley & Bennett started as a solution to a problem.
The problem, according to the company’s founder, Ellen Bennett, was the poor quality of aprons, particularly those she was given to wear as a chef in some of LA’s most renowned restaurants. They just couldn’t stand up to the rigors of a professional kitchen. Thin and delicate, they would fray, tear, and literally fall apart—the last thing she needed to deal with in the middle of a busy shift.
But rather than complain, she got to work, designing a line of aprons with everything a chef could want: durable materials, rugged fasteners, lots of functional pockets, and a range of inspiring colors. Not surprisingly, they were a hit.
Fast-forward to 2020 and Hedley & Bennett aprons are now worn by some of country’s top chefs. Their success led to a whole line of workwear and accessories, from chef coats and work shirts to potholders and bags. And when the coronavirus pandemic hit, Hedley & Bennett even began making facemasks.
In a recent interview, Bennett reflected on the company’s modest yet ambitious beginnings, and the amazing journey ever since.
“I started my business eight years ago because I wanted to make the best apron that made people look and feel amazing,” she explains. “Whether they were the head chef or a line cook, in the kitchen they mattered.”
That respect for her customers, and her acute understanding of their needs, not only led to a flourishing business, it launched a whole movement.
“Hedley & Bennett motivates me because we are inspiring people to show up, get out of their comfort zone, learn to make messes, and try and try again,” Bennett explains. “The fact that it was just an idea that bloomed into this huge community of people who love to cook is cooler than anything I've ever imagined.”
Thanks to the support of that community, the company was able to adapt to the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic, quickly launching a line of masks and developing a buy-one, donate-one program.
“Our community rallied behind us on our masks initiative, and because of that we were able to sell over a million masks and donate over 350,000,” she says. “No matter how small your business is, you can have a large impact on your community if you care and you’re thoughtful about it.”
With its products made in LA, Hedley & Bennett’s rise has coincided with the revival of the city’s manufacturing base, spurred on by a healthy appetite for ideas. According to Bennett, that’s not a coincidence.
“I don't think that I could have started this business if I wasn't in Los Angeles—it's one of the most innovative cities in the entire country and I love that,” says the long-time resident. “The LA entrepreneurial world believes in believing.”
Among her biggest points of pride is the fact that that Hedley & Bennett products are embraced by both pros and amateurs alike.
“I love that our business intersects between home cooks and professional chefs, because it's two totally different worlds with completely different expectations, but they are united by this bond, which is cooking,” she explains. “It's mind-blowing getting to see them both using the same gear, because, at the end of the day, Hedley & Bennett makes everyone look and feel awesome.”
A selection of Hedley & Bennett products is available as part of a Priceless Experience featuring a private cooking class with Chef Susan Feniger. Attendees will receive a package that includes a custom embroidered apron, H&B socks, H&B Wake Up & Fight Mask, and a bottle of H&B x Brightland olive oil. Register now at Priceless.com.