How the staff in a restaurant look is hugely important nowadays and a lot turn to the Traditional English Apron Company for that classic artisan look
Looking out over a field from her workshop in Lincolnshire must feel like a long way from the job in an investment bank in London Rohan Jelf held over a decade ago. But the pull of the countryside and a love of leather started Jelf down a road to owning her own company making and supplying artisan-style aprons to restaurants in London, New York and beyond.
After studying Japanese and geography – as you do – and also working as PA to the boss of Burberry, a move out of London beckoned. “I began to think about what else I wanted to do and I’ve always loved leather and bags. So I retrained, in Somerset, learning how to work with leather and leather bags but there are an awful lot of people making leather bags and a lot in China making them very cheaply.”
It seems just having a passion for something is not enough to sustain a business. But a pivot (as they call the adjustment of a business model in Silicon Valley) was around the corner: “I was doing a lot of country living shows and I’d wear the apron I made for myself and I ended up with more comments about the apron than the bag and it went from there,” Jelf explains.
A surge in the demand for hardwearing but good-looking aprons, as restaurants have started dressing their staff to reflect their wider brand, has been the making of Jelf’s Traditional English Apron Company. “There seems to be something of an artisan revival and that’s great because it’s crafting something yourself, something not mass produced, that’s had a bit of blood, sweat and tears gone in to it. And the apron hopefully reflects that, that the maker is a craftsman or artisan.”
Working with fabric and leather, TEAC aprons fit the old industrial aesthetic that arrived with long beards, hipsters and steam punks. And although most of their business is in hospitality, individuals and high-end nurseries are regular customers.
“Our strength is we’re a small company and it gives us real flexibility,” Jelf explains. “And generally people come to us if they’ve got something quite small or they’ve got something very specific they want.”
Whatever it is, it will be crafted with the care of someone in love with their work, and the materials. “I just love leather. I love the feel of it, it’s something that has been used for centuries, really hardworking, won’t fall apart, not complicated but it does look beautiful and tends to get better with age.”
Spoken like a true craftsperson.