The last thing you would ever expect at your next laundromat stop is free, safe detergent or a cafe filled with food and drinks from the top health and wellness brands. Corinne and Theresa Williams have taken their expertise in fashion and journalism to do just that. Celsious is a eco-friendly laundromat in Brooklyn that meshes fashion, sustainability, and education all under one roof. Read on in this interview with the sisters below for more about how the basic need for clean whites launched an innovative laundry service that will have you counting down until your next laundry day.
This is the most genius idea – I don’t even know where to start. What sparked the idea for a desirable laundromat experience?
Corinna: I moved to New York from Germany about five years ago. Having lived in Europe all my life, I was used to always having a washing machine in my apartment. Even the most basic of washers there feature at least five different washing programs for different types of garments – from delicates to wool to heavy soiled. Living in the city was really the first time I had to frequent a laundromat. And it was not a pleasant experience. The place on the corner of my Upper East Side apartment was grimy, there were two wobbly chairs for seating and ghastly lighting. What’s more, my white linens and towels accumulated a nasty grayish-brown tint. I went looking for better options, until I reached my first “ah-hah” moment: there were none! Second “ah-hah” moment: My then-roommate and French friend explaining to me how the only way to possibly get her whites completely white was to fly them back to Europe and give them a good wash there. A task as simple as getting and keeping a white sheet bright should not require intercontinental airfare, I thought. That’s how the idea of Celsious was born.
At the heart of your messaging is being clean and sustainable, how and when did you become so passionate about this?
Theresa: When we were growing up in Germany, our mother strived to create a healthy, toxin-free environment for us. That included eating local and organic food, using only natural, minimally processed products – from skincare and beauty to household goods, furniture and even building products.
From a very young age, we’ve been imparted with a strong compass on searching out quality over quantity, and taking the environmental and social impact our choices as consumers have into account.
What are your key sustainability pillars that make you different from the average laundromat?
Our machines: They are the most energy-efficient washers and dryers you can find! Our washers weigh each load and determine just the right amount needed for your individual wash (which saves about 30% water versus average laundromat washers). The dryers are equipped with smart sensors that will shut off heat when they sense a load is actually dry!
Our detergent: We offer complimentary detergent with each wash that is as clean as it gets. Three ingredients only, non-toxic, biodegradable. It gets shipped to us in bulk containers, which we ship back to have them refilled. Plus, we hand the individual doses out in small reusable glass jars, so it’s a beautifully closed loop system.
Our education: We pride ourselves in providing eco-friendly garment care tips and alternatives to anyone who comes to do their laundry at Celsious. Need softer laundry? Try white vinegar and/or wool dryer balls instead of toxic fabric softener and dryer sheets. Pesky stains? Vegetable soap and oxygen bleach (instead of chlorine) will do the trick!
I love that you have partnered with clean detergent brands and provide that for free to customers. Why did you want to offer this?
Theresa: For all the reasons outlined above. It’s safer for our customers, our team, and the environment. And it helps us prevent nasty detergent spills!
This seems like quite a leap from fashion and journalism careers. What were you able to take from those “past lives” into this new venture?
Corinna: I definitely learned a lot in my previous career that has served me in this new venture. I think my journalistic drive to ask questions continues to help me make better business decisions.
It’s also really baffling to me that no one has really made a strong connection between fashion and laundry, as – invariably – every piece of fashion ends up being laundry at one point in time.
Being able to leverage my connections and knowledge of the industry has helped forge really powerful partnerships, which we’re looking to deepen in the future.
Theresa: My training as a product designer helped me translate bringing my sister’s vision for Celsious into the calm, welcoming, and efficient space that a lot of our customers love, so much so that laundry day is now a highlight of their week. I not only designed Celsious’ interior, but when some of our contractors stopped showing up toward the end of our buildout I had the tools and skills to complete a fair amount of the millwork and finishes myself.
Design thinking continues to inform my problem solving whenever we improve on or add a service, product, or procedure.
Being empathetic to our users’ experience continues to inform every decision we take.
One thing that really sets you apart is your café space featuring local, organic coffee and snacks. With collaboration being at the heart of so many businesses these days, how did you choose the brands you wanted to partner with?
Theresa: With all we do at Celsious, we really want to embrace our neighbors. The purveyors of our café offerings are also indicative of that community aspect. Many of them are based in NY, like Caffe Vita, our badass Brooklyn-based roasters, and Marissa Lippert, who curates our local/seasonal food menu. We are proud to create a community with like-minded entrepreneurs like Westwind Orchard, whose apple cider vinegar is part of our café offering; CAP Beauty, whose organic, ceremonial-grade matcha we are proud to be including in a signature menu item; grass-fed bone broth by Brodo in the East Village; tea by Magic Mix and organic kombucha by Aquavitea from Vermont, which is available on tap at Celsious.
What is one piece of advice for someone wanting to take the first step towards a cleaner, greener lifestyle?
Corinna: Try cutting single-use plastics from your life. Carry a reusable cup to your coffee shop and every event you go to. Shop bulk snacks or farmer’s market produce and pack it in cotton produce bags and mason jars. No time to meal-prep? Ask your favorite take-out places to pack your meal into a reusable stainless steel lunch container.
Theresa: Don’t feel pressured to buy yourself into a more sustainable lifestyle.
Not buying anything new at all and finding creative solutions for things you already own doesn’t only have a positive impact on the environment, but also your wallet. That reusable cup you take to the coffee shop could be an empty peanut butter jar for example.
I’m sure you have learned so much about the ins and outs of day-to-day laundry. Any life hacks you can share?
Theresa: So much. Firstly, don’t underload your washer! A machine that’s “loosely full” makes for a better wash. Friction between your clothes and the drum of the machine creates a washboard/like effect that will give you ideal cleaning results.
Corinna: Don’t skip pre-treatment. Letting stains sit thinking the washing machine will take care of it is one of the most common “laundry mistakes” we see. Ideally, get to a stain as soon as it appears using our rule of thumb of “treating like with like”. Acidic stains like coffee, tea, or fruit respond well to being flushed with (acidic) white vinegar. Oil-based stains like salad dressing or chocolate should be lightly scrubbed with vegetable soap and a soft toothbrush before they go into the washing machine.
Photos courtesy of Celsious