In restaurant kitchens, workwear is far more than just window dressing—it’s about function, durability, and quality.
For years, Paola Velez has relied on versatile work jackets, otherwise known as chore coats, essential components in her kitchen attire. These coats serve as protective layers against kitchen accidents and a source of warmth during countless trips in and out of walk-in refrigerators.
For Hispanic Heritage Month, the award-winning pastry chef and activist teamed up with Urban Outfitters to launch a capsule collection, available now. The lifestyle retailer brought together eight creatives spanning fashion, art, music, and culinary disciplines, including Velez, to tell their stories through a capsule collection available in over 2000 stores and online.
Velez, an award-winning pastry chef has released a heartfelt tribute to her Hispanic heritage and the often unseen workers in the restaurant industry. “My line is an ode to the working-class community—the porters, dishwashers, servers, busboys, and cooks,” she explains.
Alongside her culinary pursuits, Velez co-founded Bakers Against Racism, a global virtual bake sale that raised over $2 million for social justice causes. Born to Dominican parents and raised in the Bronx, Velez has repurposed cherished kitchen attire into a collection that symbolizes cultural celebration and dedication.
A Tapestry of Tribute
In designing the collection, sustainability takes precedence. Renewable materials are repurposed into functional attire. “The idea of giving new life to something, especially in the context of the Latino workforce seeking better opportunities here, resonates with me,” Velez reflects. “Latinos are known for reusing and repurposing things, so choosing to use materials that might otherwise be discarded was deliberate. This choice lends character and uniqueness to the collection.”
At the center of her capsule collection is the chore coat, which stands as a nod to workers’ heritage and practical functionality. Originating as the ‘bleu de travail’ jacket worn by French laborers in the 1800s, this utilitarian button-up found its way into high fashion, partly due to the influence of iconic New York Times street-style photographer, Bill Cunningham.
Much more than a garment in Velez’s collection, the chore coat is a nod to heritage and practical functionality. Behind her preference for this staple is a wealth of kitchen experiences, “Experiencing varying temperatures during my work day, moving in and out of freezers, a chore jacket serves me well in keeping me warm,” she explains.
Embracing Heritage & Sustainability
The Magic in the Details
Her collection features curated pieces — a t-shirt, utility jackets, and pants — adorned with intricate embroidery that resonates with the rich history of handmade textiles in Hispanic culture. Infused with symbolism, the collection thoughtfully incorporates phrases such as “ojos que no ven corazón que no siente” (out of sight, out of mind), and details peeking out from pockets alluding to the often overlooked but crucial roles these workers play.
Velez ingeniously incorporated a discreetly placed inverted sun on one of the pockets on the pants. This upside-down sun acts as a symbol, acknowledging and raising those often overlooked but fundamentally vital to driving the industry forward.
Each piece is one of a kind, and sweet details like food iconography on the collar add cheerful touches that transform classic kitchen silhouettes into an expression of pride in one’s heritage and dedication to the culinary world.
Crafted for comfort, Velez’s workwear promises resilience against the rigors of kitchen life. “It’s supposed to be something that you can feel comfortable working in, and it’s lightweight. It’s not heavy,” Velez clarifies. “It’s not supposed to be something that you only say for special occasions. It’s like you are representing yourself. Having the ‘te quiero mucho’ on the pocket. It’s saying, “Hey, I love you,” Velez adds.
Beyond the Kitchen
Velez’s collection initiates conversations about the dignity and recognition of restaurant industry workers, reaching beyond the kitchen doors. “The food industry includes migrant farmers, street vendors, and everyone involved,” Velez insists. “The industry isn’t just restaurants or restaurant workers. It’s important to honor everyone who has come to our country, documented or undocumented. It’s much bigger than what we can ever imagine.”
Supporting La Liga del Barrio
Part of the collection’s proceeds will fund the Philadelphia-based program, La Liga del Barrio. Drawing from her experiences of growth and community building, Velez felt elated to learn that proceeds from her collection would fund this initiative.
The program resonates deeply with her familiarity with the importance of after-school programs. “I used to be part of activities like slam poetry, chess club, urban dance, and comedy,” Velez zooms into her past, “These programs provided a safe haven for us while our parents were at work. Yet, when funding was cut, I recall the jarring switch from having these spaces to being a latchkey kid.”
She hopes for La Liga del Barrio’s programs to offer the same sense of safety and motivation to children today as her childhood clubs did for her.
Celebrating the Immigrant Experience
Velez’s collection sparks thoughtful conversations about the dignity and recognition extended to restaurant industry workers. “It’s so much bigger than what we can ever imagine. That does not only include the Hispanic undocumented workforce, as that’s heritage—the same lineage and roots, but I’m also doing this for all the immigrants that make our culinary industry what it is,” she underscores.
The Broad Landscape of Hispanic Heritage in the U.S.
Amidst the mosaic of America’s demographic landscape, the collection gains significance against the backdrop of a burgeoning Hispanic population.
Velez’s workwear line is sparking conversations that come at a pivotal time. Recent data released by the U.S. Census emphasizes the significant growth and diversity of the Hispanic population, with an increase of over 11.6 million since 2010, culminating in a total of 62.1 million. These statistics vividly underscore the expansion and diversity of the Hispanic community. Velez reminds us through this collection that their contributions are far from being “out of sight, out of mind.”
Velez concludes, “If we didn’t have immigrants, everything would come to a halt. It’s huge, and I hope this collection gets people thinking.”
To explore Paola Velez’s full collection and the work of other celebrated Hispanic creatives, visit Urban Outfitters.