Take a tour of the Hedley & Bennett apron factory
Walk into the Hedley & Bennett factory and you'll immediately be faced with a playground set, complete with treehouse, slide and swing. The space underwent massive renovations before H&B moved in, and the main goal was to create a bright, fun and inviting space. Bennett's own office overlooks the factory floor, and a zipline—yes, you can ride it—stretches across the reception area.
Bennett has always maintained an open-door policy at her factory, but this is the first time it's been official. "There’s not a right way to do business, but I want to do it my way and I want it to be special," she explains. "So we hired a Happiness Deliverer to receive people with hugs, give them ice cream, walk them around and get them whatever they want.” Free ice cream? We're sold.
The tour, which is free and doesn't require a reservation, starts with a timeline of H&B's success: Bennett quitting her restaurant job, 50k Instagram followers, partnerships, an article in Food & Wine. When asked whether it feels like the past three years have flown by, Bennett explains, "It feels like eternity. It feels like I don’t remember what it was like before I was making aprons. We work our asses off every day, so we live, eat and breathe aprons.”
The company has grown at such an astonishing rate (Bennett says they now make, on average, 1,500 aprons each week) that it's hard to imagine her sewing aprons on her living room floor (which she totally did). Now, 40 employees work here. "You can walk in for a tour at anytime," says Bennett. "We want it to be very open and tangible. I want to show people: This is what 'Made in America' looks like."
Past the pre-production area and the sales office is the printing room, where different fabrics are stored and the signature H&B ampersand logos are arranged by color. While there are plenty of pre-made aprons, people often come in wanting one custom-designed. "But not all the ideas are well thought out," she says, "so that’s where our team literally walks them through it. It’s almost like a doctor diagnosing someone. We ask them questions and decide what path we can take, whether it’s screenprinting or custom colors. You’d think we’re building rockets.“
The shipping room is a brightly colored space where apron orders are prepared with care. "A lot of restaurants will place a big order," Bennett explains, "so we'll house it for them. It's great for us too because it's all in one place. And we hand package every single order."
To have a H&B apron arrive in your kitchen is a cause for celebration. "We send everything out with hand-tied bows," says Bennett. "Every package gets a note. Every sales rep writes a letter and sometimes puts candy in the box. It’s a special thing when someone gets our aprons, and we want them to feel that." The Apron Squad—Bennett’s name not only for her customers, but for her friends, coworkers and and industry colleagues who wear her product—has an impressive roster: Nancy Silverton, Richard Blais, Mario Batali, David Chang, Brooke Williamson and Jesse Tyler Ferguson, to name a few.
The H&B factory walls are peppered with inspirational quotes. And back at the front of the factory, next to the treehouse, is this Apron Squad creed (pictured above). "We want to make the world a happier and better place through aprons," says Bennett. "We’re using aprons as a vessel. To be able to do that and have a space to offer chefs, to donate aprons to a charity—those are the things that drive me. We appreciate the success that we have and never take it lightly. I make sure everyone who works for us thinks like that and has that happy factor to them." It's clear that her happiness is contagious—and once you take a tour of the factory, you'll be smiling from ear to ear, too.