'It's a special niche de luxe,' says designer Matt Dick, facing his extensive aprons rack on a sunny San Francisco afternoon. Set in the Heath Ceramics factory building in the trendy Mission District, his showroom studio is a destination in itself. The bright space meticulously displays bounties of craft and fashion rarities. They are either hand-made on the spot – like his own collection of khadi cotton kurtas – or curated from across the globe: from esoteric jewelry by collaborator Llane Alexis, to leather goods from select Japanese brand i ro se, blankets from bhujodi weavers and abstract mobiles in elm by local artist Ruth Charlotte Kneass.

Dick, a former collaborator with the legendary designer Tamotsu Yagi, has traveled extensively. Fluent in Japanese, he educated himself about rare fabrics and endangered traditional processes. Founded in 2010, his Californian Small Trade Company (st/CO) is the epitome of his high, refined, Asian-inspired aesthetic, transcending the indie terms of 'slow-fashion' or 'stealth luxury'. Hence the aprons.

The workwear line (and Dick's company name) stem from Irving Penn's 1950 book Small Trades, a collection of black and white portraits of retro professional looks. st/CO's contemporary versions dress baristas, hotel staff, servers and clerks for clients such as Blue Bottle Coffee, Heath Ceramics, Durham Hotel, the Mast Brothers and Tartine Bakery. The de luxe feeling comes from the aprons' stunning simplicity, attention to detail, and crisp or heavy natural fabrics, as well as the radical efficiency of their expert geometry.

Canvases experiment with raw dark denim, wheat linen, crisp muslin, natural poudré leather or even hemp 'stained in turmeric spice tea' (for a SF tea company). Waist ties in thin natural leather and pockets aligned in strategic positions welcome all sort of personalisations. The st/CO credo of essential chic in working contexts will next be unveiled on the staff of massage therapists, aestheticians and lifeguards at the Shibui Spa at New York's Greenwich Hotel.