It seems organic that a hip, Brooklyn couple with a shared love for fashion and cooking would set out to create their own line of stylish yet functional aprons. And within five years, Deirdra and Iestyn Jones have done just that. For our latest brand story, meet the founders of Jones of Boerum Hill: Deirdra, a former technical designer for Steven Alan in New York City, and her husband Iestyn, a former sales and marketing guru who hails from the UK. Combining their talents and a passion for creating quality products, the two have quietly built an impressive and diverse list of clientele (Marcus Samuelsson, Chloe Coscarelli, and Eataly, to name a few) that continues to grow. Some may have no interest in buying aprons just to look dapper in the kitchen, but after getting to know Deirdra and Iestyn in their Boerum Hill studio, we learned that while their designs are undeniably chic, they pride themselves more on the quality and durability of what they produce. With carefully sourced fabrics, they design and produce everything in the Garment District of New York City, and are truly on a mission to build products that last.
What inspired you two to get into the apron-making business that's now become Jones of Boerum Hill?
D: Both of us were working corporate jobs, but we wanted to do something together, and something creative. Around 2011, we took a trip to London where we noticed that everyone working in the restaurants wore these beautiful, stylish aprons. We'd never really seen that here.
I: In England, people look really, really smart when you walk into a restaurant. Your first impression isn't necessarily of the decor, but of the staff. So when we returned to New York, we thought, can we bring that look to America? And we started to brainstorm ideas for designing our own apron.
D: I was also the technical designer at Steven Alan at the time, so I had connections in the industry and had experience in design and production. After a year of developing our product, a friend and manager of Bubby's in Tribeca asked us to collaborate on their uniforms – and two weeks later, they placed another order for twenty of them. That's when we realized, wow, this could be a full-time career for us. And then it was word of mouth after that. We just kept getting orders, and have since built up our business very slowly.
I: We're five years down the line with over 200 restaurants as clients, and we’ve never advertised. Never.
What was the design process like in the beginning?
I: We gave a lot of aprons away just to get feedback from friends in the industry, to find out what kind of fabrics they wanted, whether they wanted to tie it a certain way, or have the pockets a certain size, etc. And Deirdra's design background meant she was really great at figuring out fit. But we learned that every chef wants something different, and that we'd never be able to create one apron that pleases the whole broadband of chefs. They all want their own spin on the design. The one thing that has stuck though is the pen pocket for Sharpies – for writing on tickets, and plastic containers in the kitchen. There’s a pen pocket on all of our clothing and aprons.
D: Feedback is still really important to us. We're constantly tweaking details.
I: We’re both perfectionists, and standing by your product is so important.
Who did you have in mind when you first launched the business?
I: I’ve always been into fashion, and really into cooking. I believe that chefs are one of the best kinds of artists out there. And if you’re producing an amazing dish, I want to make you look great as well. But our aprons aren’t just for restaurant chefs – like the waxwear, that wasn’t necessarily meant for chefs to use as much. We were thinking of hairdressers, barbers, craftsmen, fishermen, oyster shuckers, carpenters, and so on.
D: We basically set out to make something durable, to be used by anyone. That's the whole point of what we make.
Where do you source your fabrics and trims?
I: We mainly use Japanese or American fabrics. The Japanese mills are the best mills in the world. We could easily get fabric from Bangladesh or Mexico – that would certainly be cheaper. But they’d fall apart within three months, and that’s the last thing we want. We pay $1.20 to get small brass grommets from Japan for our Kyoto aprons, whereas we could get them for 12 cents from China. But those would crack and fall apart.
D: We don’t want to make stuff like that. We’ve been asked to do that in collaborations, and we say no. We don’t want to put our name on a cheap product. The whole point of our company is quality and consistency – everything is durable, and built to last. People can go to Chef Works and get a cheaper apron, but if you get one from us, ours will last four times longer.
I: And all it takes is one bad review. You see how it is on Yelp. It’s not easy running a business in this country, I’ll tell you that. We know so many restaurant owners who’ve invested X amount of money, poured their life and soul into their business – and just one bad night, one cold dish, or a server in a bad mood can totally tank them. We’re all up against that problem. In our business, what we can do is make sure every apron is high quality. It goes back to the fabrics.
What differentiates JoBH aprons from other aprons trending on the market?
D: We excel in understanding construction, fit, pattern-making, and working with factories – that was my career for ten years.
I: Yes, especially construction – our aprons are literally impossible to rip apart. One of the most famous chefs in the world tried to do that, and when he couldn’t, he ordered hundreds of them. He does a test with aprons around the world, and if they rip – and a lot of them do – he walks away.
D: Our brand is also really personalized. We do so much custom work, and we’re really hands on with our clients. We’re always reachable. Our clients can always contact us, and either of us will answer the phone.
I: It all boils down to us standing by our products. That’s why we’ve only had four days off this year. But you have to – it’s part of it.
Where are the aprons made?
D: We make the prototype, and I’ll bring it to our factory in the Garment District. We’ve worked with the same factory for the last three years, and we’re super close. They do all the initial sewing stuff and do all of the production, but I take care of all of the custom work here – like sewing custom labels on or adding different customized ties. But all the aprons are made in New York City.
I: We’re hands on with our factories. Making our products here isn’t easy – we’re up against the factories closing all the time. That’s what happens – landlords are getting greedier with rent, hotels want to take over the buildings in the Garment District. And that’ll happen, so we have to plan ahead as well.
Deirdra personally does all custom work from her studio, such as sewing on custom labels and attaching custom ties.
What’s your favorite part of running the business?
D: When customers write us really cool emails about how much they love the product.
I: For instance, the other day, I personally delivered three aprons to a client’s hotel that was next to our factory, and put a little note in there. I got an email back later that night that said, “I just want to thank you for the best product I’ve ever seen… I wish more companies in America were like this.” That kind of response makes it all worthwhile. We’re not in it for the money. It’s about the product, and putting our care and love and attention into it. When we send things off in the mail, we don’t always know who’s receiving it – but we deal with everyone at the same high standard of customer care. That’s my philosophy. That’s how I roll.
D: Also, going to our clients’ restaurants. We meet our clients before their restaurants are built – when it’s just a shell. Then we see the kitchen go up, and then the tiles on the floor. We hear about how much they’ve invested in it, and how excited they are throughout the process.
I: When they finally open, and we finally eat their food, that’s just the best moment. It’s such a risk they undertake – you know how many restaurants open and close – so we have to make sure we do our part and give them as much support to make sure their staff look great. We get a lot of joy from seeing and tasting the food for the first time.
In one sentence, how would you characterize Jones of Boerum Hill?
D: “Our workwear is painstakingly designed and engineered to be extremely durable while looking really stylish and chic.”
I: “Our workwear is built to last.” We’ve sold thousands and thousands of aprons, and we’ve never had a single one returned. Well, actually, I’ve had one exchanged – for a different color.
Do you have any thoughts on your own culinary lifestyles to culivate our readers?
I: Kitchens are meant to be fun, and making a meal shouldn’t be rushed. Especially after a long day, we love to take our time and cook together. There’s a guy here, Lucien, who helps run this building and has a gallery downstairs. He used to be an opera director in Paris. He's obsessed with cooking, and had a group of us over last week. There were five totally different people at this dinner – Lucien the ex-opera director, an architect, a friend who does charity work in the Lower East Side, me who left school at fifteen with no qualifications, and Deirdra the designer. But we all sat and enjoyed a meal together, and had the most wonderful night. Food does that, and it brings people together like nothing else.
D: We love those kinds of meals. We can just sit there for hours. We love having people over for dinner, to talk, and take our time cooking a meal for them.
I: Everyone should have dinner parties at least once a week. I really believe that. The world would be a better place. If everyone spent more time around the table eating and talking to each other, it would bring everyone closer together. That’s what we believe. That’s why we’re doing this.
Studio Snapshot – Deirdra and Iestyn Jones
Achilles heel for productivity: social media. We think everyone on the planet has this issue!
Design quirk: the radio or a podcast is always on while we work.
We can't live without: our new leather backpacks that our friend Alex made for both of us. We're always running around to meetings and to our factory, so they're perfect for holding all our patterns, tools, samples, and papers.
We never use: a toolbox, although we probably should. Our tools are strewn all over our respective studios!
Photography by Anne Z. Chen