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Portfolio: The Laundress, New York

This SoHo, New York, boutique approaches laundry care retail with an educational slant

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The Laundress on New York’s Prince Street in SoHo may, at first glance, appear to be a neighborhood laundromat. White T-shirts hang across the store’s double windows like fluttering laundry on the line, and inside, washing machines churn and tumble against the back wall.

If this seems like pricey SoHo real estate for a laundromat, it is. In fact, The Laundress does not do laundry, but rather, it sells an array of innovative cleaning products that make it easier to do your own laundry at home more effectively.

The key is a line of proprietary detergents, fabric softeners, stain removers, fabric fresheners and starch for all materials, from denim to delicates, for even the most challenging cleaning problems. The approach is both educational and product-based. As co-founder Gwen Whiting says, “We sell solutions. And we sell solutions.”

Whiting and Lindsey Boyd created the concept in 2003 after working in the fashion industry (Whiting in design at Ralph Lauren, Boyd in sales at Chanel), where they regularly dealt with spills and stains on delicate fabrics. (Dirty little secret: The tags may say “Dry Clean Only,” but the tags lie.)

This past November, after 12 years of wholesaling their products in places like Bloomingdale’s (New York) and The Container Store (Coppell, Texas) and selling online to 38 countries around the world, The Laundress opened its first physical location, which was the objective from the beginning.

“Our concept has a huge educational component,” says Whiting. “It’s based, in part, on, ‘We’re the experts, come on in and tell us your laundry problems.’ ”

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The 400-square-foot store is set up like an aspirational home laundry room. Its backdrop palette is “clean laundry white,” so the containers of product stand out on the shelves.

“The merchandise is organized in a systematic, easy-to-follow way, with the fabric and situation first,” says Whiting. “We set it up so you walk through every fabric or category – delicate, denim, sport, woolen, cashmere – and understand that the product is associated with the fabric. And then we speak to each stain, and which products to use, when, how and where.”

Demonstrations are a key part of The Laundress’ approach – something they can’t do as easily online.

“All day long, our staff removes wine spills, de-pills sweaters, deals with armpit stains, washes cashmere,” Whiting says. “We have our own supply of laundry for the demos, but customers often bring us their own problems, with a cry for help, so our staff will do stain-removing on the spot, or give them expert advice on how to overcome their dilemma.”

She says doing laundry is a lost art. “No one learns how to do laundry anymore, how to iron properly, what not to do with special materials. A lot of our clientele are young, just out of college, at their first job. They say to us, ‘I can’t afford dry cleaning, but I can’t afford to ruin my good clothes in the wash, either.’ ”

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