If you're not already familiar with the cheery lady behind Hedley & Bennet aprons, allow me to introduce you to Ellen Marie Bennett! You've probably seen her aprons worn by chefs & servers at one of your local restaurants, and they are also the official apron of the Charleston Wine & Food Festival! The 2018 festival is why I had Ellen on my mind lately; she's here in Charleston to moderate my favorite CHSWFF shindig (Pecha Kucha), and is hosting another fun event called Brunch Squad.
Last August I had the chance to visit Ellen's apron factory for her School of Hustle conference. I learned so much, so I really wanted to have her share some insight for those other hard-working entrepreneurs out there. I know you'll be as inspired by Ellen as I am!
Liz: A brand is so much more than just a logo, but that really is part of what makes your business so recognizable. Tell us how the name Hedley & Bennett and the decision to use the ampersand logo came about.
Ellen: Hedley is the last name of my English grandfather and he was a rocket scientist way back then. His name brings in the proper functionality aspect of the brand. We want to design aprons that perform better and last longer than what’s out there. Then there’s the other side… Bennett is me, colorful and vibrant. Design matters. The ampersand stands for the balance of those two things and the dignity that we offer people when they put on our aprons.
Liz: As a fun-having soul with a big personality, can you share your pros (or cons) of being the own face of your brand?
Ellen: Being the face of your own company is A LOT of work! Between juggling my role as CEO and managing a business, to running around to events and being the face, I’ve learned that it definitely isn't for the faint of heart. I mean I definitely love both but it’s a daily struggle. The pros are having creative control and being able to direct where we’re headed--I’m able to guide the growth of the company and how our message is perceived and be the translator of our narrative. In terms of cons, IT’S REALLY HARD! I’m working long hours around the clock--it’s literally like working three full time jobs. It’s exhausting but something I truly enjoy.
Liz: Hedley & Bennett is more than just a product (aprons), so what are some of the best ways you have found to spread your brand message?
Ellen: Collaborations have definitely played a role in spreading our message--they’re really fun and exciting! Being able to collaborate with like-minded brands and sharing our stories along with theirs have helped us reach new markets, and is something we’re continuing to grow this year.
Instagram Stories has also been an amazing channel that’s helped spread our brand message. It’s a lot of fun being able to show people how a company exists and how we operate between my personal Instagram and the Hedley & Bennett account. We collectively get to show our audience the people behind the business; it’s human and relatable and I love that because it’s real. Our entire Instagram in general has gravitated more towards showing that we really care about our community. It’s a place where we can show people who they are and why we do what we do. Our new Test Kitchen is something we’re really excited for, too. We have this opportunity to collaborate and share our message with our community on another scale by being able to have them come cook with us at Apron HQ --it’s something that makes us truly unique and we’re really excited for it!
Liz: One of the things I loved about the School of Hustle was Ellen's advice about putting yourself out there at all times- now at conferences I try not to eat with people I know and I strike up conversations with anyone I can. What are some ways people can get their brand message out there when they step away from the computer?
Ellen: You have to put yourself out there! Even if you're uncomfortable, you should do it--don't let being afraid hold you back. Find what makes your brand special--what makes it real and hone in on that. Be real, don’t copy others and find what’s original to you. For me, color has always been my art. Over the years, my color choices and clothes have gotten crazier and crazier, but it’s apart of my identity and the message Hedley & Bennett is getting across. We’re loud and proud and we know it’s important to have fun in what you’re doing and we stay true to that. At the end of the day, it’s just really important to identify your brand in the most real way possible--be as human as possible, be honest, be unique. It’s so important.
Liz: Your brand story & identity has really made a mark within your industry, and you've successfully grown your company within a relatively small amount of time. What advice would you give other up and coming brands to be able to scale at a more rapid pace?
Ellen: I think it’s really important that you find your own path, and follow it. No two paths are the same and we can take advice and inspiration from other people’s journeys, but at the end yours is your own and for you to trek. When I first started making aprons, everyone thought it was ridiculous, but I was determined. Find what makes you want to get up in the morning and make it yours--make it original. It takes time but you have to try and figure it out. Try everything and if it doesn’t work, you learn from it and learn not to make that mistake again. You can’t wait for the right moment because it may never come. I always say look and then jump because you’ll figure it out on the way. Bring to the table only something you have the ability to do, and believe in it!