'Dream First, Details Later' author Ellen Bennett on self-care and success: 'You can't learn from the sidelines'

Hedley & Bennett founder Ellen Bennett talks self-care and her new book, Dream Big, Details Later. (Photo: Courtesy photo; designed by Quinn Lemmers)
Hedley & Bennett founder Ellen Bennett talks self-care and her new book, Dream Big, Details Later. (Photo: Courtesy photo; designed by Quinn Lemmers)

The Unwind is Yahoo Life’s well-being series in which experts, influencers and celebrities share their approaches to wellness and mental health, from self-care rituals to setting healthy boundaries to the mantras that keep them afloat.

As if Ellen Bennett didn't have enough on her plate as founder and CEO of Hedley & Bennett, an apparel company specializing in quality chef aprons, the former line cook recently added author to her list of skills. Her first book, Dream First, Details Later: How to Quit Overthinking and Make It Happen, is a colorful how-to manual for those in need of a pep talk. Bennett offers creatives, aspiring entrepreneurs and procrastinators alike confidence-building tools and practical advice, set among vibrant illustrations.

Bennett, a proud Latinx woman who came from a single-parent household, had limited funds when launching her apron venture — not to mention almost no experience designing or manufacturing garments — and felt if she could leap into the unknown and stick the landing, anyone could. The chef-turned-entrepreneur has grown H&B into a multimillion-dollar business that's collaborated with Vans, Madewell and Don Julio, among others. Amid the pandemic, the business pivoted to producing face masks, 500,000 of which were donated to frontline workers, restaurant workers and more.

Speaking from her Los Angeles home, Bennett spoke to Yahoo Life about baths, the pleasure of organizing a kitchen pantry and why "failure is the journey."

The book is very colorful and eye-catching — which is a bit unexpected for a how-to/business type book. What inspired you to make this book so visually striking?

I’m obsessed with color! I’ve always been very drawn to the colors of Mexico — turquoise, blues — and I’ve embraced the hell out of it. As I grew up, I had it splattered everywhere. [Today], I have a yellow stove; we have a yellow slide in our factory. It makes me feel joy and emotions and good things. When something has color, it makes you look twice and wakes you up in a way. I love that — emotions pour out in a good way. I even had a wedding dress that had yellow in it.

So when I started writing the book, I thought, business is not black and white so why should this book be? Black and white is so stoic and serious, but also aggressive in a way; I wanted it to be approachable and welcome to all. I embraced color in a real way.

It’s an atypical book partially because it’s got self-help elements to it, and resourcefulness seems to be a running theme. What’s the main message you want readers to take away?

I was raised by a single Mexican mama who didn't have a lot of resources after my parents divorced. Watching her taught me to be resourceful; she was focused on what you have — and not what you don't have. She said to create what you want to create, and don't dwell on what's not at your disposal, so my framework for life was a bit different.

I wanted to give other people that “get it done” spirit [in the book]. I wanted to look at the failures, not just accomplishments. Failure is the journey. I wanted to make failure seem normal and not scary — it’s just a part of the journey. This is a humanized book about the reality of business and the journey.

But you can't learn from the sidelines — you need to get on the road to begin the journey. That’s the biggest thing I want people to get out of the book: Stop overthinking and begin the journey!

It’s tough to get over yourself but you'll never know until you try, right?

Right! A lot of the things that stop people from beginning a journey are things I didn't have (an MBA, a trust fund, a business plan), and yet I still started with nothing and figured out — with a lot of winding roads — how to make something out of nothing. That’s the spirit of it.

Do you have any small self-care rituals that help you reset?

I don't do anything religiously, but maybe four out of seven nights a week, I will take a bath. It’s one of the only places I’m not doing anything; I allow myself to not be “productive.” Laying in the warm water chills me out; I’ll light candles, and if I’m feeling really luxurious, I play a movie when I’m in the tub. Maybe once a month, I’ll steam and do a mask and take a moment.

The other thing I’m pretty committed to is sleeping enough, (thank you Ariana Huffington!). I sleep a committed eight hours a night, which is so good for me as an entrepreneur. Mentally, I’m not tired or burdened by exhaustion and I can be there and be present for my company. I also drink a ton of water and try not to drink [alcohol] during the week because hangovers suck [laughs].

What’s your approach to mental health?

It’s giving myself the space to feel feelings. My approach is to allow myself to feel the emotions for whatever is happening. Embrace it and move on. If something doesn't go my way, I allow myself to feel bummed out before I move forward. I’m not suppressing my feelings, which is really important.

What brings you joy?

As creative as I am, I really like everything in its right place. As I’ve gotten older, I love organizing my refrigerator or pantry. It de-stresses me! If I need a mental break, I organize my kitchen [laughs] and I feel so good when I finish it. You’ve got to find the things that make you chill out and for me, that’s one of them.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

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