When chef Jonathan Fox couldn’t find the perfect apron, he decided to make one. Now, after two years of making, refining and selling his unique raw denim aprons
, he wants his product to become the best high-end apron on the market and is one of eight finalists in the Artworks Big Pitch
program presented by U.S. Bank.
There are thousands of companies that manufacture aprons, but only a few that produce high-quality aprons for professional chefs. When Fox made the decision to invest in one, none of the options had all the elements he was looking for. So he taught himself to sew, and designed his own idea of the perfect apron.
“As a chef, I’ve worn aprons for a long time, and a few of my tools I’ve always been kind of finicky about — cutting boards, knives and aprons,” Fox says.
The idea only grew, gaining attention as Fox made them for other chefs, who spread the word and even attracted some local media attention. At first, he didn’t intend to become an apron manufacturer, but his aprons were popular enough that he could do just that.
“I decided if I was going to do it, they were going to be the best aprons,” he says.
So the aprons became a business, and Fox partnered with Noble Denim
in order to source raw denim for the aprons and he started producing them in a factory in Tennessee. That unique material is what sets Fox Aprons apart from other apron manufacturers.
“Denim is made out of cotton, it’s breathable and it’s a natural material, but it also has a carrying capacity for dirt and grime and oils, so it becomes a second skin,” Fox says. “I just wanted a denim apron because I thought it would look cool, but this really cool side effect is that I didn’t have to look dirty halfway through my shift — denim hides spills very well.”
That feature, along with cross-back straps that take the weight of the apron off the wearer’s neck, have made the aprons popular with chefs and bartenders both locally and beyond. The aprons are sold through an online store
, which means the entire world is a market for the product. Fox has sold to customers in Seattle, California, Texas, Mississippi, South Carolina and even Mexico.
Jonathan Fox, Fox Aprons
All the while, Fox hasn’t spent a cent on marketing. That’s where Artworks’ Big Pitch competition comes in. The prize money — up to $20,000 — would allow Fox to launch a marketing campaign and grow the business beyond the aprons "selling themselves."
“I have not marketed or advertised this business at all at this point,” Fox says.
The two reasons behind this choice: “One, I wanted to prove that it was the best apron to myself, and I thought if it could sell itself, if it caught on and if it spread like wildfire, that meant that it was good and if it didn’t, maybe I needed to improve it. But then the other thing was that I didn’t want to take more money from an investor or someone to fund a marketing campaign.”
But the money for marketing is not the only perk of the competition. The process itself, including guidance from small business owners and financial mentors (the latter provided by Big Pitch sponsors U.S. Bank), and the connections provided through the competition have proven invaluable for Fox.
“I’m doing things I probably wouldn’t have done for another year or two, just being in the program," Fox says. "I’ve already gained so much. The truth is that everybody in the Big Pitch has already won.”
ArtWorks Big Pitch Presented by U.S. Bank is a 10-week mentorship program that culminates in a pitch competition Oct. 6 at Rhinegeist. You can purchase tickets here.