When we first learned about Ellen Bennett, we didn't realize the enormous following and business (Hedley & Bennett) she has created. But after a few more clicks on our computers, we came to understand her powerhouse. She is one heck of a woman with the ultimate apron company based in Los Angeles. Ellen is the epitome of today's female entrepreneur and she's got skills and advice to prove it.
With just a Google search on you (Ellen Bennett), we see a plethora of articles on the greatness of you. Would you have thought that in just two years, you'd be where you are today?
It's amazing and awesome, and I really hadn't envisioned that we would have been where we are today but in no way does that mean I am satisfied with where we are. There's so much more to be done, to be changed, new products to create, and a whole world to conquer! I do have to, regardless, still remind myself of everything we have accomplished in these two years because you tend to forget it when you're in the thick of things and as one of my mentors always tells me, "You are too hard on yourself and you need to recognize triumphs along with your failures."
Tell us about your background in the apron-making world! What made you want to start this company?
When I was a line cook at Providence and Baco Mercat in Los Angeles, I wanted to make a better uniform; something that made people feel better about themselves even if they were the lowest of the low-line cooks in the kitchen, I wanted them to feel like they were somebody, not just nobody. Just how when you go running and have an amazing outfit on, you feel better about yourself. I felt that the same theory would applied to the kitchen.
I'm also the type of person who loves to look at something and see how it can be better, so when I drive through neighborhoods, I love to look at houses and imagine how I would fix them up or make them better and I tend to always do that with everything... Even if it's going to my friends house and telling her, "Hey, what if we redecorated and reorganize your bookshelf, because it'll look better if we color-coordinated?" I imagine I tend to get obnoxious sometimes.
How does your apron differ from those you can buy in the market? (P.S. Love that's in USA-made!)
Not only do use amazing sewers who we have really incredible relationships with, but we also put so much care into every single apron that we make starting from sourcing amazing fabrics test washing them, making sure that every single thing that leaves our office is seriously a good garment and is built to last. That has really helped our business grow, because when a product works you don't need to sell it, it sells itself. We also have 100% guarantee on our product so if something happened to your pocket or you spill something on it it's horribly damaged, we will actually fix it for you no questions asked. I really love Zappos theory on how they deal with customers and customer service, and being as I used to work in the restaurant industry, I completely and thoroughly understand how to take care of a customer. I also have several people I look up to in the world and love their theory on how to run a company, particularly Danny Myers. He who owns Gramercy Tavern 11 Madison Park and a few other restaurants that are epically awesome, as though he tracks Zappos' entire company and how they run it.
On top of that, we're constantly evolving and trying to figure out better ways to run our business and literally any time we get a complaint of any kind, we get to the root of it and figure out exactly why it happened. Then, we come up with solutions and a policy, so it will never happen again. Thus, thanks to the errors and mistakes, we grow better and stronger every time.
How has the signature apron evolved from when you first started producing them? Because we have a friend who bought one of your first ones, and she still wears it everyday while working at her bakery!
That is so awesome you have a friend who has one of the original gangster aprons. I can't believe those are still around... amazing! It really is super crazy to think where I started with the aprons and to what they have evolved now. When I first began designing these, I was kind of hesitant and nervous to use bright colors so I transitioned to subtle tones in the grays and blues.
As time went by, I felt little bit more confident about what I was doing and how I was doing it. So, I started to use a red fabric and then from there it got crazy, now I use everything from coral to yellow to blue and everything else under the sun moon and stars and I freaking love it.
Also, back in the day, the aprons had no wash tag, no label, and little by little I started developing our wash tag and that was a huge achievement. I was so proud because I chose to have a label especially made that said ______ wears this apron loud and proud which is and forever will be our slogan. Then I thought about how I could label or brand my aprons without putting an actual word on them and that's when I decided to do a patch with the "&." This was about seven months after I had begun Hedley & Bennett, so there's several hundred aprons out there that are OG.
You've built quite the empire and everyone is obviously really inspired. What's it like to be such a role model to other inspiring business owners? What's one of the greatest pieces of advice or life lesson you've learned along this journey?
One of the best things that I've learned from running my own company is mistakes are going to happen no matter what. The trick is to get up after you've fallen on your face and keep on going... As fast as you can and learn from the mistake. Implement systems to avoid these mistakes in the future and move forward. Don't get stuck in the past. Just move fast so you can solve them and become better in the future. Sometimes, I find that we move so quickly that even if we bash our selves into a wall, we pick ourselves up so fast and keep going that we actually didn't lose that much time at all. We (Hedley & Bennett) recovered the lost time or money by how fast we dealt with the situation and kept moving along!
Another thing I've learned in business is that you have to deal with problems and issues as soon as they come up and fully resolve them, don't let the fires burn you down, put em out while they are still small.
And what are some new things you're working on? If you can spare the deets! What's the next goal for H&B?
Hedley & Bennett Mexico! That's my latest and greatest project. Also, we just launched our intelligentsia aprons nationwide so that was really exciting and we also are in the middle of developing a full line of crazy amazing and super intense chef coats for Spacex, the rocket company. Besides that we are working with Patagonia to develop a totally brand new line, which is very exciting for us, because we are collaborating on creating an amazing, organic cotton line of aprons for them. They have some of the highest standards in the world for clothing manufacturing, so it's been a really wonderful and insightful process to raise our own standards even more than we knew possible.
And you just turned 27, which makes you oh-so-young. Do you have a list of goals you'd like to achieve by 30?
I want to grow H&B to be on the Fortune 500 companies list.
I want to be on the Forbes' 30 under 30 list.
It's my dream to collaborate with Kate Spade and MARNI.
I want to become a household name to the degree that when you think of getting someone a wedding present, you think of kitchen aid blenders, all clad pans OR a Hedley & Bennett apron.
I want to be the best boss and leader I possibly can be for my team and guide them better and better everyday.
I want to really develop our product line to include other functional and needed items in the kitchen both for professional and home use.
There's a few goals for the next 3 years...
After working at the studio, do you head home and continue to work? Is there such a thing as balance? Because we sure know what it feels like to get back home, and hit the computer for more planning and production, etc!
Absolutely, but I'm like an old lady so I constantly find myself falling asleep on my computer when it's after 11 and I'm working at home in bed.
I do believe in balance, but I also believe in the true hustle. Opportunities are everywhere, but you gotta go out there and get 'em sometimes so I definitely feel like right now my life is slightly unbalanced, because I work like a maniac, but I still manage to go on crazy trips to visit chefs and far off lands like China. So, I suppose I balance all my work with a bit of play!
What's the remedy for a long day of work? Mexican food? Oh, you bet we know you love Mexican food (who wouldn't!).
(Laughs) absolutely, a few things that make my world go round are: the fire escape at my office, which overlooks DTLA and gives me lots of space and alone time (that always helps), gummy bears, spinning class where I get my ass handed to me and I think about nothing more in that class than surviving and not falling off the bike. I love soup, because it's soothing, slurpy, delicious, and last but not least: tacos from anywhere. But, tacos from La Estrella, which is blocks from my house in Highland Park, always make a long day way better.
Lastly, because we're all about entrepreneurship (especially with the ladies), you have to share one piece of advice or tip to becoming a successful business owner!
Be humble enough to listen to people and to admit you don't have all the answers. Read as many books as you can on anything you don't know how to do, take care of your body, and sleep enough because without that little engine, you ain't got nothin.
Photography // Asami Zenri Assistant // Charity Baker