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Food

Ellen Bennett

The Woman Outfiting the World’s Top Chefs

In just six years, Ellen Bennett took an idea—better-looking aprons for chefs—and turned it into Hedley & Bennett, a line of chef wear worn in 6,000 restaurants and sold in national retailers like Williams Sonoma and Sur La Table. How? The former chef never once shied away from asking for what she wanted or going out and getting it.

When did you realize what you wanted to do with your life?

“I didn’t have an epiphany moment of ‘I want to start an apron and chef wear company,’ rather I had a realization that ‘entrepreneur’ is in my DNA. It all started when I was nine, and my parents got divorced. My mom worked long shifts as a nurse, so I had to fend for myself at home. I taught myself how to cook, do the bills, take care of the house—a proactive impulse developed in me, and it never went away. This ‘got to figure it out’ mentality that every entrepreneur has is what led me to start Hedley & Bennett at 24 years old.”

What is your biggest accomplishment to date?

“Building the team I have around me today. One of the greatest challenges of building a business is knowing when to hire, who to hire, and then guiding those you do hire in the right direction. It’s like being the captain of ship: You have to ensure everyone on board that you’re going to steer the boat toward the North Star, and get them to row in the same direction as you, even when you’re going through some bumpy storms.

“Meanwhile, there are a million other things you’re responsible for as the captain of your ship/business (production, sales, marketing, finance). Keeping everyone rowing is a lot of work on a personal, emotional and business level, but now I have a crew that is not only incredibly talented at their respective jobs, but also willing to help me and each other. At the beginning you never have all the people or resources you need, and I finally feel that I do. I feel so grateful for all the people who keep the ship sailing!”

What’s something you’d like people to know about you or your job that they probably don’t?

“People think I’m bubbly and effusive all the time, and they don’t know about my persistent nature and that I even have a bit of an edge. If something’s not right, I’m going to say it. If a hard conversation needs to be had, we’re going to have it. I learned this when I was a line cook in the kitchen. You don’t have time in the middle of dinner service to mess around. You need to communicate efficiently, and sometimes that stings a little bit. It’s not personal, it’s just the way it has to be. I’ve taken a bit of that with me into the CEO role, and to be honest, I don’t think I could be a CEO if I wasn’t able to have tough, direct conversations. People don’t necessarily see this off-Instagram, reality-of-being-a-business-owner life.”

What does being a woman mean to you today?

“I feel a moral obligation and responsibility, today more than ever, to make things happen and be the change I want to see in the world, create opportunities for other women. I grew up around a lot of Latina women (my mother is Mexican), and there was often this undertone of trepidation tied to asking for or doing something out of the norm. I threw that completely out the window when I started my business. Being a woman today means pulling up your bootstraps and going and earning yourself a seat at the table.”

In today’s Instagram world, how do you stay original?

“People say I’m weird, quirky, crazy; I say live your crazy! My ‘crazy’ is that I go out of my comfort zone, ask for what I want and go and get it. That’s the way I go through life, and I make sure that my Instagram reflects that.”

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