The Ladies’ Chefswear Story

Posted on Feb 07th 2024

Since 2019, Oliver Harvey have been developing a bespoke chefswear range designed by and for the incredible female chefs in our industry. We realised that for 10 years we had not catered for all the talented individuals in the UK. This was highlighted to us through our annual Customer Survey where he had a huge number of comments from our female wearers that our aprons and trousers could do more for them. We knew we had to act!

Therefore, in May 2019, we arranged a Round Table exercise with three chefs we had a great relationship with to come to our home in Manchester for some honest discussion about the state of ladies’ chefswear and shared with them some of our first samples for their initial feedback about our project. Some of the key findings were:

- Aprons are too long and usually incorrectly shaped and fitted

- Chef Jackets are uncomfortable, either being too tight or too baggy

- Chef Trousers were incorrectly shaped and unflattering

One overarching complaint all the participants had was that so many “female” options available were simply reworks of male or unisex products. We felt this had to change and that we had an obligation to once again bring something unique to the chefswear market.

Following from the Round Table, we began our work in earnest developing new samples and experimenting with new fabrics to see what we can create. Our initial plan was to release this range harnessing new sustainable fabrics such as organic cotton, recycled polyester, Tencel and many more. Over the course of 6 months we implemented many combinations of these materials to see if we could bring the first fully eco-friendly, ladies chefswear range to the UK. In this area we were making progress and beginning to rigorously test these samples but then the pandemic happened.

The pandemic forced us to repivot our entire production for the creation of scrubs, gowns and other items for the NHS to support their courageous efforts in helping us fight COVID-19. Naturally, this put the breaks on our ladies’ chefswear project.

However, this project was important to us so when we were able we kept developing samples. During this time we began building a team of triallists of chef’s from a diverse range of professional specialities and body shapes to cater to as many talented women as possible. We began by sending out two of our chef jackets to get some initial thoughts. The first, our Hampshire, had a fantastic response with our triallists commenting on the flattering yet comfortable fit and the lightweight, breathable fabric. We also went for a single breast and zip fastening to add something unique to this jacket but also practical features to support changing whites. In addition, we included underarm Coolmax Mesh panels, to ensure ventilation to the body in even the most stifling of kitchen environments.

However, our other jacket was rather less well received with the fastening and the pattern not delivering the perfect fit. But after all, that is part of the course and precisely why we decided to adopt this approach. It was back to the drawing board on this one.

One area we knew we would have to get absolutely spot on were the chef trousers. It was important to us to accommodate as many shapes, sizes and body types as we can and this meant harnessing all of our fabric expertise. Our aim was to create something stylish but eminently comfortable so it can be worn throughout your long shifts. With this in mind we developed the Shropshire, a classic look chef trouser but with a half elasticated waist band at the back, so it could adapt to your shape and the movement needed in the kitchen. After extensive trials internally, with our talented machinists and seamstresses wearing them for several weeks, we knew it could stand almost every test thrown at it and was ready for chef feedback.

We continued to experiment using sustainable fabric options throughout this time. However, it was paramount to us that the garments performed every day, every week and although this area of the market continues to make tremendous strides, we were sadly not confident enough that these fabrics could stand up to commercial laundering and it is against our ethos to manufacture garments that will not last for years. However, behind the scenes and separately from this range we have continued our sustainable fabric exploration and have some encouraging news coming in the near future!

Following this, we turned our attention back to the second chef jacket. We decided to harness the well-received shape and fit of the Hampshire and give it a contrasting aesthetic. We opted for a double breast with concealed stud press fastening offering a timeless look and added our side splits and shaped panelling for the optimal female fit. After some more internal reviews and trials we were happy with this and were ready to send it back to our triallists.

Finally, we knew we had to complete this range with some stylish and specifically crafted aprons. We had developed a couple of samples for our RoundTable which went down incredibly well with the participants who were particularly pleased in the fit and length. To achieve this, we added precision front darts and we shortened the fabric cut so the apron did not folder on smaller body types. And so our aprons would blend seamlessly into any kitchen’s look we have done both the bib and waist aprons in black, navy, storm grey and olive.

With all of our designs finalised and rigorously reviewed and tested by ourselves here in Manchester, we knew it was time to do a full wearer trial. So we sent out both chef jackets, the chef trousers and one bib and apron each to all of our participants. We asked them to wear these items during their day-to-day jobs. We collected their initial opinions of the range focusing on their styling and the fit. After this, we then asked the triallists for their feedback after two months of wearing and crucially washing. We then collated and reviewed all of their comments for each product and made further alterations to the range.  

Once we had the final seal of approval from our chefs, we knew this range was ready for launch. ! We are incredibly grateful to Jen, Gabriella, Michelle, Louisa, Sally, Pam, Nokuthula, Sarah, Lily and Emma for all their support throughout this project. Without their feedback, this range would not be what it is today. These ladies specific garments have been years in the making and we are confident the incredibly talented women finally have a range to call their own!


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