text by SHANI SILVER
photography by MARY COSTA
Hedley & Bennett makes cooking cuter. Everything from aprons to chef jackets, even potholders that deserve to be on display for crying out loud. It wasn’t shocking to us then to see the bright, fun-focused office and factory where these goods come to life. Okay, maybe a little shocking, there’s a zipline you guys. Ellen Bennett, Founder & Creative Director of Hedley & Bennett, gave us a look at an office where good moods come standard, right along with the playground.
HOW DID YOU FIND THIS SPACE? WAS IT WHAT YOU WERE LOOKING FOR OR DID THE SPACE ITSELF HELP PROMPT YOUR VISION?
A lot of companies we work with are located in Vernon, so we were always out here. One day, we were looking for a factory and we found the one that we have now. It was a big, empty space that used to be a Screen-printing company and had been around for about 15 years.
The inside was terrible yellow, but not the pretty kind – the old kind – and the ceilings were peeling. There were old terrible desks everywhere and it literally looked AWFUL. My team thought I had officially lost it! But it was one of those things like seeing a diamond in the raw so two days after finding it I took the biggest leap I had made for Hedley & Bennett and we signed the lease.
WHAT INSPIRED THE OFFICE ITSELF? (WE’VE NEVER SEEN ANYTHING LIKE IT!)
Imagine Willy Wonka had a baby with a chef and that’s sort of how this crazy place came to be.
WHAT WERE YOUR GOALS FOR THE SPACE?
I wanted to make a space where it was totally and completely this wonderland for chefs and foodies and anybody that was a maker. I love the idea of showing people what manufacturing is all about and how much effort it really takes to make something. I thought there was something really beautiful about bringing it back to the United States in a really fun way like an apron factory. Don’t ask me how I came up with these ideas, but from the get-go I wanted a zip line, it was such a long space that I figured we could install one no problem. Next came the thought of “how do we get a zip line” so we realized we would need to have a higher structure, therefore a treehouse seemed like the most appropriate thing to put in. I thought, well why don’t I put my office in the treehouse? After that it just was a chain of ideas that made sense together. We thought we needed a slide, a swing, another treehouse for more meetings….and before you knew it we had built out a sort of mini jungle gym.
There was still so much space so we thought let’s build out an apron store inside and also have an entire kitchen where chefs can come and host events and we can cook, teach classes, and do all the things that our aprons are meant for. It’s not about just cooking — it’s about doing and experiencing and learning and spending time with people and I think that’s exactly what this factory has turned into! It makes me very freaking happy to see this happening every day in here every time we have a class or an event.
WHAT IS THE BEST PART OF WORKING HERE?
There’s something very cool about thinking like a little kid in a big kid life. No matter who you are and where you’re from, the moment you step into the apron factory, it’s kind of like you transform yourself into a little kid whether you like it or not. I think children are some of the most incredibly unique thinkers and have some amazing perspectives on how things should be and I love that. It’s so fresh and new and that’s something that I strive to have in my design every day so I love that about the factory.
WHAT IS THE BEST REACTION YOU’VE SEEN TO THE SPACE SO FAR?
We had 25 people from the Nike headquarters come and do an afternoon immersion into the Hedley & Bennett apron factory, and theirs might been some of the best reactions I’ve ever seen. Here we had one of the most elite companies in the world coming in and looking completely out of their comfort zone and thinking what the f$%k? They were amazed to see what has been accomplished here with something so simple as an apron. Never underestimate a functional product– the way I see it, the sky’s the limit.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE MEMORY OF THIS DESIGN PROCESS?
My favorite part was meeting with this playground company and explaining to them in a very matter of fact manner how the zip line and two treehouses were going to look. It wasn’t exactly an easy situation, and we figured out that there needed to be a treehouse and that the zip line would be attached to the beam holding up the building and not lined it up with the beam against the wall. I have to say it was a very exciting moment especially when I got to ride down it.
WHAT WAS THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE?
Everything was a challenge and by everything I mean everything. There’s nothing like a good deadline so the second we got the factory we planned our three-year anniversary party at the new space even though it was not remodeled yet. That gave us literally one and a half months to get everything up to snuff and ready for the big day where we had invited 750 people to come celebrate with us. There were nights where we were there till one in the morning or weekends where I was literally laying on pallets of fabric thinking what the hell did I get myself into? This is insane while looking around at this empty dirty awful gigantic factory that now was all my responsibility to transform. I mean, our office before was 2300 sq. ft so jumping from that to almost 14,000 ft.² in one month’s time was crazy but it just felt and seemed so right.
WHAT IS ONE THING YOU WISH EVERYONE KNEW ABOUT YOUR COMPANY?
The amount of care and time and thought that goes into every single new product that we make and into every single apron that we create. We are literally pioneering the way that aprons are made in the way that we think we should run our business. It’s very unique because we come from a place where we wanted to better the world somehow, and for us it’s one apron at a time! Now we are building a business around that and navigating through that everyday. There’s real people who really give a sh%t that are behind this business and it’s a special place to have an apron factory (in the middle of Los Angeles) when so much of America’s apparel is being made overseas. We said screw the trend, we are going to do it here and that’s what we do every day.
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE THE AESTHETIC OF YOUR SPACE IN THREE WORDS?
Happy, spunky, colorful.