Laundry with a Difference: Helping the Environment and the Marginalised Communities

The laundry business traditionally used perc, a highly effective cleaning agent that is not so good for the environment. Studies have also shown that it has harmful effects on humans as well.

Picture: Zarina Ismail

Lawyer-turned-entrepreneur Zarina Ismail and her husband looked for alternatives that were effective cleaning agents yet environmentally friendly. They thought outside the box and the result was Drop & Wash. 

Leading the Way in Eco-friendly Garment Care

Drop & Wash is a social enterprise and a full-service laundry, utilising a sustainable eco-friendly system with no toxic chemicals in its dry cleaning process.

Since 2008, the award-winning social enterprise has been using an innovative water based system. It is an Electrolux Lagoon™ Woolmark Wet Cleaning system, which is famous for being the only wet cleaning fabric care system approved by Woolmark, a quality assurance of wool products worldwide.

Drop & Wash was the first in central Kuala Lumpur to utilise this eco-friendly technology, which employs smart technology. In addition, only bio-degradable detergents are used. The machines can be programmed to handle even the most delicate items like silk, wool, leather, sequins or lace.

“New customers walk in expecting to catch a whiff of the typical chemical smell of a laundry service. Instead, they smell a pleasant fragrance. They get confused,” said Zarina.

However, introducing new green technology required a sizeable investment upfront. Some of the machines at Drop & Wash’s main outlet, which consists of four shop lots, costs hundreds of thousands of ringgit.

“We are also using automation as its the way of the future. Our Japanese Sankosha shirt finishing machine can blow and press up to 1000 shirts per day. It is a ‘Rolls Royce equivalent’ machine in the laundry industry,” explained Zarina.

Over the years, the couple have advocated for more sustainable business practices among the smaller laundrettes and even held discussions with local city councils.

Dedicated to Making a Social Change

Drop & Wash is located at a B40 hub in Kampung Baru, surrounded by inhabitants who experienced various issues. Some were former sex workers, at-risk youth, and many transgender people who were unemployed and do not know where to find employment. 

“We employ individuals from marginalised communities. We train and upskill them in the professional garment care industry. Many of our beneficiaries have come and gone, but some have remained. I can say that even if they leave us, they will not go back to the streets. With the skills they have learnt, they can join bigger laundrettes like in hotels. To me, even if we can save one life, that is already a big impact to us,” said Zarina.

Drop & Wash won the International Committee of Textile Care (CINET) Global Best Practice Award 2018 for its social business model.

Helping the Industry 

Zarina believes in sharing her knowledge and expertise. As such, she organised knowledge sharing events and conferences for the industry in Malaysia.

“We wanted to share our insights from overseas with the local market. So we organised events to share our knowledge. In 2019, we organised the Southeast Asia Professional Textile Care Forum,” said Zarina.

For the forum, Zarina and her husband brought in industry professionals from Japan, Indonesia, France and the Netherlands to share the latest technologies and innovative business models. She wanted to show the local laundry operators that the business is not just about washing, drying and folding.

Moving Forward

Zarina is grateful to MaGIC’s PUSH programme for social enterprises for helping Drop & Wash to scale up. The 6-week programme consisted of coaching and pitching and ended with accreditation by the Ministry of Entrepreneurial Development. A RM100,000 grant was awarded for scaling up too.

“A lot of social enterprises don’t know what it’s about. Some are brokers, middlemen or intermediaries. Only social enterprises that give direct benefits to beneficiaries are eligible for the programme,” explained Zarina.

“There are a lot of challenges for our business during the pandemic, but we will persevere on. We hope that more corporate bodies, foundations and government agencies will come forward to work together with social enterprises to create greater social impact,” she added.

Zarina hopes to open outlets in other states in the future so that Drop & Wash can hire the marginalised communities all over Malaysia.

To find out more, visit Drop & Wash on Facebook and Instagram.