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How One Millennial Turned a Simple Apron into a Million-Dollar Business

Ellen Bennett used to make $10 an hour as a line cook in Los Angeles. Today, her Hedley & Bennett kitchen-wear line is disrupting the food industry.
Ellen Bennett in her luxury apron factort, Hedley & Bennett.

Ellen Bennett was working hard as a line cook and only making $10 an hour at L.A. hotspot, Providence. Frustrated with the poorly made, cheap white apron that she donned daily, this self-proclaimed hustler cooked up Hedley & Bennett — an aprons and accessories line that would revolutionize the kitchen-wear industry.

“No one ever thought about making an apron that looked good and was functional,” said the 29-year-old entrepreneur. “I really wanted to make a better uniform, something that people felt proud to wear in the kitchen.”

Bennett never let her lack of design experience and business know-how hold her back. “I had fabrics and I had dreams and I had ideas,” said Bennett.

Fast forward five years, and Hedley & Bennett’s high-end, hand-crafted aprons have a fan base that stretches across 4,000 kitchens in the country. Celebrity chefs like Martha Stewart and Mario Batali have also been spotted wearing these vibrant, stand-out designs.

From the hardware to the fabrics, fashion in the food space has never looked better. “Teams are feeling way better and are more on brand,” says Bennett. “It’s like put this on, hold your head up high, and do a damn good job today.”

Her collection of what she calls “proper bad-ass aprons,” are created in a 14,000 square-foot workspace that is equipped with two tree houses and a zip line. When people stop by for a visit, Bennett says she often hears, “it’s like Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.”

The whimsical wonderland is bursting with creativity and bubbling with spirit, but make no mistake about it. This CEO is all about getting down to business. “That mentality of working with a sense of urgency really is a game changer, especially when you have a start-up.”

Bennett’s company is also serious about shining a spotlight on other innovators and start-ups in her industry. Not only does she open her factory doors to host events for brands like Shake Shack, but Bennett also likes to introduce products from other companies with every Hedley & Bennett shipment. “It’s connecting the community and being willing to share that platform. I think it’s awesome and I want to help my community grow.”

Already, Bennett has developed limited edition lines for big names like Sur la Table and Bon Appétit, and most recently, RED, a non-profit started by U2 front man Bono. “We’re growing together and doing something bigger and better for everybody.”