After about a year working in kitchens, Ellen started thinking about the disconnect between the commitment and discipline it took to produce such beautiful food, and the discomfort and shoddy design of the kitchen wear in even the highest of high-end kitchens. “Here are these people who are busting their balls so hard,” Ellen says. “They should have a uniform that gives them some dignity.”
When Josef told her that he was planning to order 40 custom aprons for the cooks at Lazy Ox, Bennett’s gumption kicked in and she grabbed the opportunity. “Give me the order,” she remembers telling him. “And for some reason, he said ‘OK.’”
Ellen now describes the first aprons she produced as “terrible.” She knew nothing about sewing or garment manufacturing, but she sought out anyone who would speak to her and teach her, sometimes bartering her cooking for knowledge and advice. “I basically pulled those first 40 aprons out of my bum,” she says.
“Josef basically let me use him as a guinea pig. And I kept editing: Where was the fabric pilling? What was uncomfortable? What fabrics wore out? We started with the basics of what the chef wanted, and went from there,” she says. Today, any fabric used for a Hedley & Bennett garment has undergone rigorous testing that includes the wear of friction, fire, and hot grease.
The aprons were quick to catch on in the restaurants of Los Angeles. Not only were they designed by a cook with the realities of cooking in mind, they were beautiful to the touch and the eye. Aprons could be customized to match the décor of the restaurant. Often Ellen would start speaking to owners when new restaurants were in the development stage, designing uniforms for cooks and wait staff based around the overall vision of the project.
But eliciting pride in the cook who wears the product has always been foremost on Ellen’s mind, a philosophy that’s driven everything about the brand. Fabrics are breathable or have strips of mesh to let heat escape, chef coats for women are actually made to flatter women’s bodies, and pockets are added for common kitchen equipment. “Everything I do comes from a sincere place of understanding the brutality of working in a kitchen,” Ellen says. “I want people to look and feel great. Hold your head up!”