For the past four years, husband-and-wife duo Alex McCrery and Jenny Goodman have been quietly stitching together what seems destined to become a future classic among American heritage brands. Tilit—short for utility—is their take on modern workwear, and is inspired by McCrery’s years working as a private chef (to none other than Jerry Seinfeld), when he loved the job but disliked the standard uniform. “I was on the street and in and out of a person’s home rather than a traditional kitchen, so wearing the crazy chef coat and ill-fitting pants seemed really ridiculous,” he says. “I felt like being a chef was such a cool profession, but no one would ever consider wearing the clothes.”
McCrery and Goodman, who met working in a restaurant years ago, decided to create their own chef-inspired line to service an industry in which visible, open kitchens are now the norm. Goodman went back to school to get an MBA while McCrery took sewing lessons to learn basic construction concepts. They spent nearly a year testing samples before launching with two aprons, a shirt and a pair of pants.
They started slow and small, but have steadily expanded the range by operating more like a fashion label than a conventional uniform company. For example, they have three shirt styles, but change the colors seasonally. They also put careful consideration into details and tailoring: each shirt style has a loop at the back of the neck to keep apron straps from riding up, and Tilit’s ingenious, women-friendly wrap apron—a riff on the famed Diane von Furstenberg dress—plays to the diverse range of female body types and includes darts in the chest area to prevent puckering.
While their regular line of chef wear has already left a stylish mark on New York’s restaurant scene, it’s Tilit’s limited edition drops that will be sought after by generations of workwear fanatics to come. “I like the idea of, when people get something that’s hip and current, that not everyone will have it. If it’s here in spring of 2014, it probably won’t ever be back,” says McCrery. Goodman tells us they have a few longterm customers who are first responders to the news of a limited release, but the brand hasn’t yet reached “Supreme status where people are like, lined up at the door.” She adds, “But hopefully one day!”
They almost achieved that dream when they created a ceramicist’s apron with Austin-based potter Keith Kreeger. “I took one home for myself, it really was the prettiest apron ever,” says Goodman. “Keith’s signature plate is a bone color with a black line around the rim, and we found a Japanese ticking stripe that was that same cream color with the ticking stripe running through it. Then we used gold hardware and leather details. We sold out in three or four days.”
Collectors will also want to get their hands on the hospitality attire that Tilit has started creating for places like Brooklyn’s 1 Hotel, for which they designed a casual maintenance uniform, and The Standard hotels, which asked Tilit to create a dressy but sporty housekeeping jumper. McCrery and Goodman delivered a polished skort onesie with snaps at the seams so employees of The Standard Spa, Miami Beach, can still easily use the bathroom.
As an eco-conscious brand that manufactures 95% of their line in Manhattan’s Garment District (the other 5% is made in their Lower East Side workshop/showroom), perhaps the most like-minded team the duo work with is chef Dan Barber’s at Blue Hill at Stone Barns, who Tilit has created looks for in the past. But this year, McCrery and Goodman went beyond their often used 50% hemp / 50% cotton fabric to source a textile milled from leftover fabric scraps in order to create fully sustainable uniforms for the servers and chefs at Barber’s wastED restaurant, a concept that explores food waste by using by-products as main ingredients. “The fabric washes really beautifully and it’s just so unique because it has different flecks in it,” says McCrery.
After a successful run in New York, wastED is popping up today in London at luxury department store Selfridges and runs through 2 April 2017. Exclusive to the event, the Tilit + wastED uniforms may just become the workwear crowd’s most coveted edition yet.
Images courtesy of Tilit