At Reuben Hills neon lights illuminate the thoughtfully designed space. The music is a mix of classic hip-hop and modern-trap bangers. Coffee cups are from local ceramicists and the coasters come from coffee-growing regions from afar.
The place is undeniably curated, so naturally the staff wears bespoke camouflage aprons from Worktones. “A good uniform is the cherry on top,” says Worktones founder Huw Bennett. “It wouldn’t make sense to dedicate so much time to every little detail and then send your staff out in a bland uniform.”
After leaving Vanishing Elephant, the label he founded in 2008, Bennett toyed with the idea of opening his own bar or restaurant. Landing somewhere between fashion and hospitality instead, he created workwear label Worktones, which is now into its third year of dressing the staff at some of the city’s top venues.
“I was very seriously considering getting into hospitality,” says Bennett. “We were pretty close to signing a lease, too. I’ve always loved the industry, but I’m so glad I didn’t do it.”
After launching a ready-to-wear digital store, Worktones has just finished fitting out the workers at the new Paramount Hotel in Surry Hills.
The brief was that the uniforms should be relaxed. There’s a cotton rip-stop bomber jacket for the girls, and an open-neck short-sleeve shirt with the Hawaiian diver yardage by We Buy Your Kids for the guys. Guests can lounge around in the oversized cotton-linen robe, which is available in all rooms.
“As far as materials go it’s hard to look past traditional American and Japanese workwear,” says Bennett. Textiles are chosen with texture and durability in mind, so denim, canvas, and linen are historically go-to materials. “Think about brands like Levi’s or Dickies. It’s classic workwear and proves that those tough textiles can look great and stand the test of time.”
Subtlety is vital in creating uniforms that fit sympathetically into the creative vision of a venue, according to Bennett. It’s all about drawing from an existing colour swatch and maintaining a unified vision. “We don’t want to be producing products that staff feel like they’re forced to wear. It’s important for everyone that people actually like what they’re putting on.”
Poolside at Italian restaurant Uccello, off-white canvas aprons in a provincial design are as sophisticated as the blue-ribbon rooftop they’re worn on. At Park House in Mona Vale – which feels more like a grand estate in West Egg than a restaurant – the floor staff wears light-denim aprons over white-linen shirts, while bartenders don striped-linen button-downs. The enduring theme marries utility and class.
Working directly with venues to create bespoke uniforms has earned the label business from some of the sharpest players in the industry: Uccello, Paramount Hotel) and Berts. But success is not without growing pains.
“At one point we were so busy we were turning away nine out of 10 clients. No press, no website: just word of mouth,” says Bennett. “That’s why we launched the ready-to-wear stuff. The food scene in Australia is anything but vanilla. There’s a real desire to overachieve and create something special, and so often uniforms are the last thing people are thinking about or budgeting for.”
The online store diverges from the bespoke, offering a collection of ready-to-wear aprons and totes in a variety of elegant colours. Expect to find some additions to the collection in the coming months.
“We’ve tested chef jackets, overalls, lab coats – it’s all workwear we want to build into a collection. We work with great fabric from Japanese producers. It tells a story, but it’s also practical. I want these products to last.”