Why These Sisters Want to Make Their Laundromat Your New Favorite Hangout SpotBookmark this
When you first walk into Celsious, New York City's latest sustainable laundromat, it would be easy to mistake the space for just another cool Brooklyn hangout—if it weren't for the rows of energy-efficient washers and dryers lining walls. The Williamsburg spot is bright and plant-filled, equipped with an organic coffee bar, outdoor patio, and shelves of eco-friendly laundry supplies. It's clean, comfortable, and completely Instagram-worthy—and the brainchild of sisters Corinna and Theresa Williams.
At Celsious, which boasts top-of-the-line equipment that saves water, natural gas and time, a load of laundry can cost anywhere from $7 to $19 (18lbs is $7, 30lbs is $10 and 60lbs is $19, which includes the cost of detergent), depending on the size of the machine, and dryers cost 50 cents per 16 minutes. But the sisters and co-owners claim the washers extract a lot of excess water and also include specific temperatures settings as well as a wool and cashmere cycle that mimics a hand wash.
"We really want to encourage people to do the laundry themselves," Theresa said. "If they have any questions, we’re here to help them with any suggestions and treatment tips. We realized we need to create that space where people will feel comfortable, where they would want to stay."
The space, which has officially been open for three weeks, feels like a labor of love in many ways; Theresa explains that she created a lot of the reclaimed furniture herself, turning the shipping palettes the washing machines came on into wooden stools used in the café. They took the building's initial cork flooring and used the material to line the upstairs wall. When I compliment the font on the dryers, Corinna says that her boyfriend, a graphic designer, helped them with their logo and lettering.
Below, Corinna, 32, and Theresa, 29, talk about opening a sustainable business together, the women who've helped them along the way and the laundry habits everyone needs to ditch in 2018.
What's it like being sisters and owning this together?
CW: I couldn’t imagine it being any other way. This whole thing was such an undertaking that doing it alone was completely out of the question. If there were a different business partner that were not part of my family, I don’t know how we would’ve kept up communication; how I would’ve been able to trust that person.
TW: Corinna started working on it over four years ago and then I moved [to New York City] from London to help her bring this to life, and it took us a long time to find the right partners, the right consultants, the right equipment; space hunting took about a year. Once we had the space, it took over a year for us to get our permits, to get all the plans drawn up and then to actually physically build it.
You're both female entrepreneurs and you worked with another female entrepreneur, Lauren Singer, in order to stock natural detergent at Celsious. You also worked with Lisa White to bring this to life. Was it important for you to have women contribute to this business?
CW: It was essential in the end. Lisa White, she’s the female unicorn of the laundry industry, which is very male dominated to say the least. She has kind of specialized in building laundromat concepts that are different from what people have traditionally known. She’s been doing that for the past 20 years, and obviously she’s been a champion of women in the industry, her being one of the few and her seeing the potential in women bringing a new–no pun intended–spin to the industry. I guess it wasn’t intentional, but it happened organically, and we just happened to gravitate towards women.
TW: Most of the companies that are really aligned with our vision right now, they’re just spearheaded by really badass women.
I love the idea of taking something that's typically boring—laundry is my least favorite chore—and making it fun. It makes me think of The Wing, which is a cool place to do work but also congregate with your tribe. Did that kind of vibe influence your vision for this space?
CW: I’m going to say initially, no. The idea was born out of my very selfish need for a good laundromat that actually got my clothes really clean and that was also pleasant to hang out at. Theresa and I were born and raised in Germany, and we always had our own washers in the house we grew up in. In European apartments, there’s a hookup for a washer always... it’s an essential appliance that everyone has, and they’re usually German-made so they work extremely well. Moving here five years ago, I was flabbergasted by the state of laundromats. I was in New York and it was the city of all opportunities yet there was not one clean, pleasant laundromat to go to, and that’s when I started toying with the idea in my head.
Did you always know you wanted it to be a sustainable company?
CW: Absolutely. The sustainability is a major part of how we were brought up. Our mom is an organic pioneer so we literally grew up with organic food. We were raised in the German countryside where we had access to fresh milk from the farm, lots of fresh, organically-grown produce; our grandmother raised her own hens so we had fresh eggs. This became part of our lifestyle, so it was a no-brainer to also bring this to the business we were building as much as possible.
What would you say to people who are looking to be more sustainable in the new year?
CW: In terms of laundry, a couple of very easy things. Dryer sheets: not good. They create a lot of waste. You use them once, and then you toss them. Plus, they do contain a lot of toxins. Manufacturers do not have to declare the ingredients in them.
TW: I think with cleaning products and detergents, there’s this misconception that “well, if I go eco-friendly it’s going to be more expensive.” But, there are so many cost-effective solutions that you can make yourself. What a lot of people do is they actually overuse detergent; you end up spending way more than you need to. If you pour your cupful of detergent in the washing machine and most of it is just going to get flushed off, and the rest is just going to sit on your clothes, and actually attract more dirt once you start wearing it again. Reducing the amount of products that you use is the easiest way [to be sustainable]. You don’t need fabric softener. You can pour a little splash of vinegar in the washing machine, which is way cheaper, and has the same effect.
CW: One other major thing in terms of garment care: dry cleaning. [It's] a big toxic thing that no one should do ever, to be honest. Obviously the most important thing when it comes to being more sustainable is creating less waste. So, just be really conscious of what you buy.
What advice do you have for other women who want to start their own business with a totally new concept?
TW: Looking back, there’s obviously lots of things we would have done differently. But, I think what we did right was to really do our due diligence at every single step. And a lot of people were watching us and asking, “Why is it taking so long? Why is it taking you three years to get to the point?” But with such a large undertaking, it's important to take your time, do your research, don’t make any rash decisions. But, at the same time also just believe in yourself.
CW: And be prepared to not sleep a lot [both laugh] during the process. Be prepared that it will be taxing on all relationships, be it romantic, friendship, family. It requires a massive amount of, as Lisa White always says, “intestinal fortitude.”
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.