Sustainable Clothing Care by The Laundress Cofounder Gwen Whiting
While working in the fashion industry, Laundress cofounders Gwen Whiting and Lindsey Boyd spotted an opportunity to advance the world of sustainable fabric care. In 2002, with their specialized knowledge and passion for sustainability, they began researching and developing product care elixirs that didn't yet exist in the market.
Gwen and Lindsey created a highly effective, plant-based line of laundry and home cleaning products that can be found online and in stores around the world today. Each product is carefully created to work outstanding results on specific fabrics while minimizing its environmental footprint. We talked to The Laundress cofounder Gwen Whiting about her journey, discoveries, and pro tips to care for your clothing in a sustainable way.
You and your cofounder Lindsey have had an incredible journey in founding the Laundress. Please share with us how you met and about your entrepreneurial story.
We met each other while studying at Cornell University—I was studying textile science and apparel design, and Lindsey apparel and textile management. After graduation, we moved to New York City to start our careers; I landed at the home division at Ralph Lauren and Lindsey at CHANEL, in ready-to-wear. After a few years growing in our coveted fashion roles, we partnered up to build The Laundress. We spent the last seventeen years dedicated to “turning an everyday domestic chore into a luxurious experience.”
The core mission of The Laundress is to provide effective, eco-conscious, and enjoyable to use laundry and home cleaning solutions that enable you to not only clean your possessions better, but also help preserve them. Our solutions are all fabric and surface-specific, concentrated (a little goes a long way!) and plant-derived, and they allow you to clean most “dry clean” items from home.
Prior to founding the Laundress, you were a designer at Ralph Lauren. Did you ever have a lightbulb moment that made you want to dedicate your career to sustainability?
My idea was to create solutions so I could care for and preserve my clothing and home items to last and look the best possible. This was not achievable with the products in the market or with dry-cleaning- so I was highly motivated to create my own solutions. From my favorite jeans to the sheets on my bed, I truly valued my items and cared about sustaining them. On top of that was the desire to be able to care for them myself instead of going to the dry cleaners, where they use toxic chemicals… not to mention the expense!
Laundry and caring for our garments may not always be top of mind when consumers think of sustainable fashion. What are some of the flaws with the way we currently clean and dry clean?
-Misinformation about what’s washable and what’s not (no help to unregulated care labels). We’ve found that up to 90% of items considered “dry clean” can be washed at home with the right fabric-specific solutions and care. Washing at home is so much gentler on your items, helping them to last longer and skipping the harsh chemicals that dry cleaning uses.
-Washing after each wear. Washing and drying too often causes wear and tear on fabrics, and it uses lots of energy. Hand wash and air dry whenever possible, and stretch time in between washes by steaming and spraying with our Fabric Fresh, which remove odors and add a crisp, fresh linen scent.
If you could give three tips for how to take care of your everyday laundry more sustainably, what would they be?
Go Longer Between Loads To Save Water & Energy:
Some garments have to be washed between wears—like sweaty gym clothes—but items like jeans, sweaters, and blouses can be worn a few times before tossing them in the laundry. In between, keep clothes smelling and feeling fresh with a misting of Fabric Fresh Classic, which dissolves odors on all fabric types. When you do laundry, run a full load of similar colors and fabrics—washing machines often use the same amount of energy regardless of load size, so it’s wasteful to run small ones.
Use Eco-Conscious Detergents
Some laundry formulas are packed with ingredients that can be harsh on you, your possessions, and the environment. A few ingredients we steer clear of: chlorine-bleach and artificial color. The Laundress formulas use thoughtfully chosen plant-derived enzymes to wash away stains, dirt, and grime and preserve your garments for best results. They’re also optimized to work in both warm and cool temperatures—hot water uses up a lot more energy, so try to use the coolest temperature possible.
Handwash & Air Dry More
Save water and energy and wash your items with a delicate touch by handwashing more often instead of using a washing machine. (Handwashing prevents the wear and tear of machine washing.) Use your bathtub for large loads and a Wash Tub Basin or your sink for smaller loads. Most damage actually occurs in the dryer rather than washer, so it’s best to lay your items flat to dry or use a drying rack to slash energy usage, keep your fabrics in good shape, and stop shrinkage.
Can you share a couple of your favorite products that would be a good starting point for someone new to "clean" cleaning?
I can’t live without our Stain Solution! It easily removes any tough discoloration from any washable fabric type—think red wine on silk. It prevents any textile from being “ruined” by a stain, helping you keep your items out of the landfill and in your closet for longer.
I use Delicate Wash for cleaning silk and delicate synthetics (including my Katla dress!) from home, and the Wool & Cashmere Shampoo lets you wash and care for most “dry clean” woolens at home—wool, cashmere, angora, you name it.
I also have had my Jiffy garment steamer by my side since college! Steaming not only delivers a smooth finish to garments and fabrics, but also provides natural freshening, especially for pieces that must be dry cleaned. It helps remove odors and kills bacteria.
Where can people learn more about how to sustainably care for their garments?
Education is a key pillar of The Laundress. We want our customers to have not only the solutions to care for and preserve their items, but also the know-how for best results. Our Clean Talk blog is chock full of our sustainable fabric and home care how-tos, from how to wash “dry clean” fabrics like silk and cashmere to how to remove yellow pit stains from shirts.
Let's end on a fun note: What are your most treasured items in your wardrobe?
I have so many items that I treasure, from family quilts and table linens to wardrobe pieces that hold such special memories. If I had to pick just one item that I cherish the most, I’d say my Thomas Pink button down shirt from college, 25 years ago! It still looks brand new, so I consider it the most authentic representation of my mission and journey over all these years, and why I am The Laundress.