15 Oct 2018
Amman, Jordan
Organic cleaning products and cosmetics

Many Jordanians include “drop off dry cleaning” on their weekly to-do lists  — perhaps without realizing that a common dry cleaning solvent called perchlorethylene (perc) poses serious health and environmental hazards. Enter WashyWash, a local startup that launders clothes according to eco-friendly techniques developed abroad. These alternatives to traditional dry cleaning soothe the environmental conscience and provide high quality cleaning results.

WashyWash has made a flying start, attracting more than 5,000 customers in its first eight months of operation. The business model allows users to order sustainable laundry services through a mobile app — a novel market offering that has attracted clients and investors alike. Now the owners want to extend WashyWash’s customer base beyond high-income households, while also encouraging all Jordanians to rethink harmful washing habits.

Irons whirl, steam hisses, fabric rustles. This busy scene plays out down any number of streets around Jordan, a country with scores of hole-in-the-wall dry cleaning operations. But Kamel Almani, managing director of local startup WashyWash, believes that the industry must become more eco-friendly. “We want to rid Jordanian dry cleaning of toxic chemicals,” he says.

Specifically, WashyWash has declared war on perc, a liquid solvent used for decades to remove clothing stains. Since the 1970s, scientists have warned that perc is a toxic airborne pollutant. Extended exposure to perc can cause dizziness, headaches and perhaps even cancer in dry cleaning workers and their customers. Perc can also contribute to air and water contamination, with the US Environmental Protection Agency regulating its disposal as “hazardous waste.”

France banned perc altogether five years ago; Almani claims that most Jordanian dry cleaners still use the chemical. WashyWash is defying this trend by providing energy-efficient and toxin-free alternatives for doing laundry. WashyWash’s current product is EcoClean which, like other “wet cleaning” processes, does not rely on dangerous solvents. According to Almani, EcoClean also outperforms standard dry cleaning by refreshing fabric rather than merely removing stains.

Clients place WashyWash orders through a dedicated mobile app, which arranges for clothes to be collected, washed and returned within 48 hours. For Almani, this convenience is crucial to WashyWash’s appeal. “We want to marry best practice cleaning with the best customer service,” he says. If Almani and his partners succeed in further lowering WashyWash’s prices, this hassle-free laundry option could well take Jordan by storm.

A clean start:

So far, WashyWash’s rise has been swift — it commands around 1,000 orders per month at present, only eight months after its February 2018 launch. Almani traces these immediate gains to over a year’s worth of careful planning, researching and fundraising.

Mazen Darwish, WashyWash’s operations director, first grew interested in perc’s harmful effects during his renewable energy studies in Sweden. He and Almani conceived the idea for WashyWash in 2016, when they discovered a concerning lack of regulation for Jordanian dry cleaners. “[Traditional] dry cleaning is an outdated, dangerous cleaning method, and it is not monitored very effectively in Jordan,” says Almani.

The pair “dug deep” into alternatives to perc. Eventually they tracked down a toxin-free detergent manufactured by German company Kreussler, which forms the basis of WashyWash’s EcoClean service. This cleaning agent has received “Blue Angel” certification in Germany for its eco-friendly credentials. Now the concept drew in two more partners — logistics director Amjad Shahrour and technology director Kayed Al-Qunibi.

With a business case formed, the four partners searched for startup capital, eventually attracting seed funding from local angel investors. Almani describes the following period as a “big learning curve,” needing to master the technical requirements of EcoClean ahead of WashyWash’s launch.

WashyWash has embraced technology in other ways, launching a mobile app and producing a slick website explaining the company’s product. Almani credits these achievements to WashyWash’s employees, a talented team attracted by lucrative employment incentives like stock options.

With this policy, Almani believes that WashyWash is challenging accepted business practices in Jordan. “[Providing stock options] is a bold move in the Middle East, because it is strange for employees to part-own a business in their first year,” he says. “But this approach is helping us get the best talent in Jordan.”

Soap and speed:

WashyWash is not immune to an obstacle facing eco-friendly laundry businesses the world over — added expense. EcoClean incurs more operational costs than traditional dry cleaning, which Almani admits have driven up WashyWash’s prices for now. The team is exploring options to make WashyWash more affordable because, in Almani’s words, “our mission and vision is to position ourselves to the middle-income market as well.”

WashyWash may also have its work cut out in changing social attitudes towards laundry. “Dry cleaning is a habit-based thing,” Almani says. “Many people are just used to getting their clothes dry-cleaned by the guy down the street.” Even amongst WashyWash’s established clients, he estimates that only 40% “really care” about sustainable washing practices. The remainder came in search of better cleaning results.

Yet even before eco-friendly laundry gains more traction in Jordan, Almani is confident that  WashyWash has identified a lucrative market by pairing quality with convenience. “We have found a gold nugget,” he says. A continued influx of customers would give that nugget even more sparkle.

 

Learn more about WashyWash through its website and Facebook.

Photos courtesy of WashyWash

Since getting his MA in Middle Eastern Studies last year, David has worked as a freelance journalist based in Accra, Ghana, and Cairo, Egypt.
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WashyWash Organic cleaning products and cosmetics
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