Ellen Bennett presenting at The Hun School of Princeton

On Wednesday, January 18, The Hun School welcomed Hedley & Bennett’s founder, Ellen Bennett, as a guest of the School’s Centennial Speakers Series. Ms. Bennett was once a line chef at a 2-Michelin-Star restaurant in LA with a passion for finding a way to bring confidence into the kitchen. She took her modest $300 savings and turned it into the largest gourmet apron manufacturer in the world. She launched Hedley & Bennett, a multi-million-dollar brand worn by chefs in kitchens across the country. 

Ms. Bennett spoke with Hun students about her road to success, the challenges and obstacles she faced along the way, and the value of showing up for yourself. After her presentation, Ms. Bennett met with students in the Entrepreneurial Studies course to discuss the ins and outs of starting a business from the ground up.  

Here are five lessons learned from Ms. Bennett. 

1. Focus on what you have, not what you don’t have.
When Ms. Bennett began what is now Hedley & Bennett, the odds were stacked against her. She had no money, materials, customers, or investments. But what she did have was an idea, passion, and the willingness to put herself out there. She explained that if she had focused on all of the things that were going wrong for her, she would never have made it to where she is now. Instead, she focused on the things that she did have and all that she could do with them. 

2. They’re not bumps in the road, they are the road.
Ms. Bennett referenced this as one of her life mottos. She warned students against being distracted or discouraged by what may go wrong. Instead, she suggested that things will go wrong and what you can control is how you respond to them. Indeed, each obstacle should be seen as a learning experience, rather than a bump. There is power in perspective.

3. Dream first, details later.
Ms. Bennett shared with the Hun community the story of how she landed her first customer -- the owner of the restaurant she was working in at the time mentioned how he needed aprons. Before Ms. Bennett could even conceive of how she would fulfill the order, she said ‘I have an apron company. I can make them!’ She explains how she jumped in head first, with absolutely no plan, and she figured it out on the fly. Equally important, she listened and applied all the feedback she received. The lessons she learned and her ability to pivot still carry her through her day to day work today. 

4. Show up for yourself.
“Put your blinders on, ignore the outside noise, look straight ahead and just show up, day in and day out,” Ms. Bennett said. Throughout her journey, there were hundreds of people who didn’t believe in what she was trying to do, but she did, and that was all that she needed. She encouraged students to find something that they are passionate about and just keep showing up for yourself. 

5. In-person interactions have power.
In the early days of Hedley & Bennett, Ms. Bennett relied heavily on face-to-face interactions with chefs as a way to get her product in their kitchens. She recalls the feeling of frequently putting herself outside of her comfort zone in an attempt to get her aprons out there. She attributes much of her early success and major clients to those simple, in-person interactions. She went to trade shows in major US cities; she dropped in to big restaurants and gave aprons away; she targeted big names in the business. “Show the world who you are, put yourself out there, challenge yourself to start something from nothing.” 

See more photos from Ms. Bennett’s visit here

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