Pivot A+D Director Edward Woodill and Herman Miller's Sylvia Yoo discuss their latest design collaboration with Ellen Bennett, the superstar CEO and founder of Hedley & Bennett.
Edward: How did you get started and grow Hedley & Bennett into what it is today?
Ellen: I started the company six years ago while I was a line cook at Providence, one of the most exquisite dining experiences in LA. The food we made was amazing, but we didn't look or feel like a team. I decided I was going to change that. I wanted to make people feel dignified and proud of what they are doing in the kitchen. I didn't have a clear business plan, sewing skills, or a design background. Essentially, I had no relevant skill-set except for a ton of conviction, and a clear vision of what was not working. At first, my strategy was to find famous chefs and let them know I have incredible custom products made in LA. I built the company one sale at a time, chef by chef, street by street, and slowly scaled it. Eventually, we got incredible, influential people like Martha Stewart and David Chang to start wearing our aprons. I worked hard, and along the way, I would adjust, pivot, and figure things out. That's how I built Hedley & Bennett.
Edward: In your opinion, what makes Hedley & Bennett so special?
Ellen: I noticed there was a critical gap in the market. Hedley & Bennett is more than just aprons. We make all the essential tools needed to help build a good meal. At Hedley & Bennett, we see the the apron as the core tool that chefs use everyday but don't necessarily think about.
When we designed our first apron, we experimented with different fabrics like Japanese denim or Italian chambray which was unexpected and looked great. We'd try brass hardware instead of plastic. We'd craft the straps to fall flat so they didn't wrinkle on the back of the neck. We're creating a truly better quality product. We are intentional and we focus on the details that matter the most.
Edward: Let's talk about your space and how your office operates.
Ellen: Before the redesign, I used to be tucked up in front of the office. I felt very disconnected from my team and I didn't know what was going on. I wanted to be in the middle of the action so I could see my sewing team, sales team, and marketing team. Now with the redesign of the office completed, I'm in the heart of the building, and readily accessible to everyone. My office now acts as a high functioning command center, and I'm so much more productive.
Edward: What were your goals for this space?
Ellen: The first goal was being physically closer to my team. Second goal was setting up the space to allow me to be as productive as possible. Everyone works differently; I experimented and found what worked best for me. I installed a sit-to-stand desk and realized I could get much more done when standing. I noticed when I put music on and closed the door I could get through 10 times more emails in a short period of time rather than doing emails throughout the day.
Sylvia: Ellen intuitively did her own Herman Miller Living Office discovery. Then when we came in, we talked more specifically about how she likes to work, and what type of work she was doing. We were very strategic and intentional. Ellen is a very tactile person so the mood boards and walls are part of the functional space. The result is a high performing, visual and comfortable workplace.
Edward: You mentioned Herman Miller earlier...how did you become a Herman Miller fan?
Ellen: I've always admired Herman Miller's aesthetic for being timeless and classic, but also modern. Our company is very old school at heart. Even the name has a similar vibe to Herman Miller. Hedley was my English grandfather and Bennett is my last name. Hedley represents my English side - dignified, timeless, elegant, proper. But I am also very in touch with my Mexican culture, so Bennett represents that lively, colorful, and wild side. Combining the two together perfectly represents Hedley & Bennett's style.
Herman Miller is timeless, authentic, and their amazing colors reflect a fun and lively vibe. Their products are incredibly well made and comfortable. You can have pieces today that could be passed down from generation to generation. It's a brand that you may have to learn about to appreciate, but once you do, you'll have a profound respect and admiration for Herman Miller.
Sylvia: Human-Centered Design is at the heart of Herman Miller’s business... which aligns very closely with Hedley & Bennett too. Considering brand alignment is so important for today's consumers, it makes perfect sense that Hedley & Bennett would select a company that lives and breathes the same core values.
Edward: Now for the age-old question in design... What is more important - form or function?
Ellen: Function of course...everything about our aprons starts with function. We ask, how and where is this going to be used? What are the conditions around it? What is the context? What does it need? Everything has a specific purpose and a reason, and then we apply the cool design around it. But it really starts with the why.