Maybe you’ve heard as much chatter on social media as we have lately about young women being coached to use less exclamation points in business emails and cut the personal tone wherever possible to appear more polished and buttoned up. We get that. But it is female founders like Ellen Bennett of Hedley & Bennett that make us doubt that good-natured advice.
Ellen is one of about a dozen successful female founders I know who serve as living exclamation points, providing proof positive that being a force of unfurled personal enthusiasm has it’s place in business too.
Ellen’s first book
What we do in 3 words: Aprons + Kitchen Gear (since 2012!)
Our launch story in a nutshell: I worked in a 2 Michelin Star restaurant, hated our uniforms and wanted to make gear that looked and felt amazing. It would be gear that was proper for everyone in a pro kitchen. Now we not only outfit the pro kitchen, but the home kitchen too. It has now bloomed into this beautiful community of people who are in love with cooking.
The first moment I knew things were going to work out: When I got my first order for 150 aprons from Chef Bryan Voltaggio. I couldn’t believe that people wanted to buy product from me that they needed and liked. I said to myself this is real, this is happening.
My proudest moment so far: Having our aprons worn by Michelle Obama on her new cooking show Waffles + Mochi, Vice President Kamala Harris cooking on IG Live, and Martha Stewart for her Macy’s chains have all been proud moments. Every one of those women are incredibly brilliant and trailblazers in their own way. Also, we were on Saturday Night Live, and that was pretty exciting…not going to lie.
My best tip for creating balance day to day: People kick themselves around because they will say “I don’t have enough balance”, but balance is tricky. There is an amalgamation of different worlds coming together, when I am working, I am doing stuff that I love. The balance there is to continue to do stuff you love while you are working. When it stops being enjoyable, I recalibrate, to find what is not working or what I don’t like.
What I’ve learned about myself… I have learned that I am a creative and I like huge, big ideas that don’t exist yet. I definitely like to think outside of the box, and I like to be resourceful. Sitting in finance meetings and going over spreadsheets is not my cup of tea, but I absolutely have had to learn both sides of the business. I can’t just be a creative, I have to understand what is happening on the business front.
What I’ve learned about business… Business is a long road; it is not overnight or instantaneous. You have to grow as a human being and be very self-aware and humble to survive owning a business.
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You can’t be right about everything and when you are wrong you need to fully see what went wrong; when you can recognize those mistakes and get better, it makes you that much stronger as a leader. Learning, listening, saying please and thank you are some of the things I have learned about business.
What I’ve learned about people… People are the heartbeat of not only your company internally, but your company externally. Without your customers you have no one.
People are the hardest and best part about running a company. You have to know how to listen and learn from the people around you and be able to recognize when things are right or wrong. You have to be willing to have the tough conversations to push forward.
What I’ve learned about this industry… I would say that the food industry is a complex one, and the garment industry is even more complex at times. I am smashed right in between the two of them. What I have learned is that you could learn things every single day and still never know all the answers. There has to be a constant willingness to keep learning and keep adapting. In the clothing industry, a lot of what people are doing is inspired by what other people have done. You don’t have to recreate the wheel every single time, but you also need to be innovative.
What I’ve learned about wellness amidst it all…2020 was the year of adapting. I have learned to take a beat when I needed it – I have had more bathtub nights than I can count in the past year. Having a good soak in the tub is key for me to keep my head on straight. Seeing my chickens and enjoying my backyard space provides a sense of chill and calm. Getting enough rest is also important so I can wake up the next morning and be in alignment with everything else happening. So many things are being thrown at you throughout the day, and if you haven’t slept enough, it’s pretty tricky to navigate it all.
What I’ve learned about adaptability and resilience this year… IT IS THE NAME OF THE GAME! 2020 was the year of shifts and changes and reminding people that we are okay and we are going to get through it. Every shift is uncomfortable, but it is much more uncomfortable if you’re rigid about it than to let life drag you by the legs.
You want to make those adjustments, you want to make those pivots, you want to be proactive. That is exactly what I did at Hedley & Bennett. We shifted our entire 16,000 sq ft factory into a face masks facility within 24 hours on the day of the shutdown. That was the most radical pivot I have done in my entire life. I didn’t have all the answers, or all the solutions and I did it anyway alongside my team — it was the best thing we could have done. We were able to donate over a half a million masks to those in need, and we were able to use our company as a vessel of good. Step up for people and show them that as long as you want to have an impact, you can have an impact.
What are you most excited about currently: After 2.5 years I have finished my first book, Dreams First Details Later. The title says it all, it is a rally cry for the person who has been overthinking all of their dreams. It is a message to begin or just start trying, testing, and checking. When you are staring at the sea of life, why not just leap in and experience it. I am so thrilled because it is coming out with Penguin Random House, who has been a great partner.
Being raised by a single mother as a Mexican lady in the U.S., I am really proud to have grown Hedley & Bennett to where it is today — to share my message with everyone else is a dream come true.