By Natalie Zisa
When I first moved to New York City a year ago, I did everything I could to avoid doing my laundry at the laundromat. That meant taking advantage of my mom’s “services” every time I went home or traveling to my friend’s apartment in Midtown. The first time I decided to actually do my laundry on my own, I trekked from the Upper East Side to Williamsburg. Sounds crazy, right? Wait until you find out that I actually had a laundromat around the corner from my apartment. But that one ironically called Manhattan’s Best Laundromat, is nothing like Celsious in Williamsburg.
Founded and owned by sisters Corinna and Theresa Williams, Celsious is an eco-friendly laundromat using the most energy-efficient washer and dryers. But it also has vibrant walls, friendly employees, an outdoor patio, and a loft-like space they called the Clean Café. (Recently, due to the global pandemic they’ve decided to close their café, but are planning to repurpose the area.) The journey to a different borough was worth it to me for the experience. And clearly, I’m not the only one who thinks so. Pre-pandemic, Celsious’ loyalty program was made up of customers from 50 different zip codes.
In the following Q&A, Corinna shares her inspiration for Celsious, the importance of a community laundromat, and why we should all stop using dryer sheets.
How did you and Theresa become so environmentally conscious?
We were born and raised in Germany and our mom was a really early adopter of an organic lifestyle. She built our childhood home with a completely toxin free building material, which was really unusual in the late 80’s, early 90’s. Caring for our planet Earth was instilled in us growing up and translated into everything we did later on.
And when did you know you wanted to channel this passion through laundry?
Upon moving to New York in 2012, I was pretty shocked at the level of waste that was produced and how little recycling played a role compared to some of the European countries that I had lived in. For some reason, what did shock me the most was the way laundry was done. In Europe, most people have their own washers in their units or homes, which is obviously completely different in the US. Specifically in NYC, between 50% and 60% of the population has to go outside of their home. So when I first arrived here, that was something I had to wrap my brain around.
I started going to the corner laundromat and discovered that apart from not being the most eco-friendly process, it wasn’t really an enjoyable experience. Most of the spaces that I saw were really crammed with old equipment, had no seating, garish florescent lighting, the TV blaring, no AC. It was this miserable part of the week that was laundry day and I started thinking after a while, why can’t this be a more enjoyable experience? Why has no one tried to make it that?
“It was this miserable part of the week that was laundry day and I started thinking after a while, why can’t this be a more enjoyable experience? Why has no one tried to make it that?”
We’ve been talking about the importance of small businesses in communities lately. How has your commitment to your community shaped your business decisions?
When this whole thing hit, we had to make some decisions and decide whether we were going to stay open and how we were going to approach this going forward. It wasn’t easy, but in the end we realized that we had this huge responsibility to our community. That there were a ton of people that were relying on us now more than ever. Staying clean during a pandemic is really important, so it was a no brainer to remain open and do everything we humanly could to keep operations running.
We’re so grateful for our community, especially during these times and it’s been such a pleasure and a blessing to see how they’ve shown up for us. One of our community members came in one day and offered to pay a few washes forward for anybody who has been hit hard by this new normal. We thought it was a great idea and decided to create a fund for that called Laundry Love.
You’ve previously talked about the unnecessary dryer sheet. Can you elaborate more on that?
Of course. First, do you use dyer sheets?
I’m scared to admit it, but yes.
And do you know why?
Honestly, probably because my mom told me to.
This is, funnily enough, the number one answer to this question. ‘Because my mom told me to’ and that’s not an amazing answer. Most people don’t know why they use them, which goes to show they’re pretty unnecessary. They take away some static, okay that’s fair, but if you separate your laundry in a way that puts synthetics to one side and natural fibers to another, it won’t actually happen.
There’s a piece of fiber that’s laced in fabric softeners and what it’s designed to do is layer itself around fibers in your clothing to make it appear softer to the touch. So it’s actually manufactured to stick to your clothes which means you will carry it on your body. It’s also what many times produces a pretty intense scent that is completely synthetic and there are a lot of ingredients that are not necessarily great for your body. A lot of people are actually allergic to some of those ingredients known as endocrine disruptors. It just adds to the toxic load of your body and it’s not really necessary if you have a good washer. They’re trash.
How do you get consumers to reconcile the price of sustainable laundry with the benefits of it?
It’s definitely a discussion that we’ve had. The funny thing is that the concept of sustainable laundry is actually there to save you money. So, the way to sustainably do laundry is to use less product. If you have to buy less liquid detergent, less fabric softener, less dryer sheets, you save money. If you switch to completely clean products, they’re intended to last longer. So, that’s essentially the idea behind sustainability: making sure that things last longer. It’s the same thing with healthy food. Yes, it may cost a little more in the beginning, but it’s designed to give you a healthier, longer life so you don’t have to spend a ton on medication and healthcare to remedy whatever illness you get from an unhealthy lifestyle. It’s math.
“Yes, it may cost a little more in the beginning, but it’s designed to give you a healthier, longer life…”
What’s been some of the more rewarding moments of owning this business?
Honestly, customer feedback is what keeps us going and what makes us most proud. People have told us that they’ve cried happy tears when they found us because they’ve hand washed their clothing all these years due to being highly allergic to the products. I actually got this wonderful email yesterday that was really sweet: “Many, many thanks to all Celsious has done. You have been one of the brighter spots of this pandemic. Truly I could have never imagined I would learn how to be a better person from my laundromat.”
Where did the name for the laundromat come from?
Celsious is a nod to our European upbringing. We love the metric system. In Europe, garment care labels and washer programs note specific temperatures at which clothing needs to be washed: 30, 40, 60 or 90 degrees Celsius. Which is a lot more precise than the “Cold”, “Warm”, “Hot” people are used to here. I guess if it were up to us, we would not only revolutionize the way laundry is done here, but the system of measurement also.
“I guess if it were up to us, we would not only revolutionize the way laundry is done here, but the system of measurement also.“
Visit celsious.com for more information on how they’re safely staying open during the pandemic, in addition to garment care products and resources.