the laundress

British-Dutch transnational consumer goods company Unilever announced on Jan. 28 it acquired The Laundress, a global premium eco-friendly line of detergent, fabric care, and home cleaning products, founded in 2004 by Human Ecology alumnae Lindsey Boyd ’98 and Gwen Whiting ’98.

“We are thrilled to join the Unilever family,” Boyd said. “Together we have a unique opportunity to magnify and accelerate our mission of bringing our eco-friendly, fabric care products to every laundry room in the world.”

Having started with a single product, The Laundress portfolio now comprises 85 eco-friendly products across laundry and home cleaning, expanding Unilever’s strength in the growing top end of the Home Care market and fits with the company’s Sustainable Living Plan.

Kees Kruythoff, President of Unilever’s Home Care business said, “With its line of beautifully crafted eco-friendly products and fast-growing following in the U.S. and China, particularly among millennials, The Laundress is a strong addition to our portfolio of leading Home Care brands.”

According to Boyd and Whiting, it was their unique Human Ecology education and work experience that helped them spot an opportunity to advance the world of fabric care. The two had met within the Fiber Science and Apparel Design program and, upon graduation, moved on to work in product development and retail management in the luxury-brand business.

“During our careers in the fashion industry, we grew frustrated with dingy white T-shirts, ineffective cleaning products, and items ruined by the dry cleaners,” Whiting said. “We set out to create our own alternatives, producing a highly effective, non-toxic line of fabric care and home cleaning products.”

With their specialized knowledge and shared passion, they were positioned to make their mark in the world of fabric, garment, and home care.

Beginning in 2002, the pair spent two years researching and developing the very products they longed for. While formulating their natural detergents, Boyd and Whiting – who left New York City fashion careers to start the business – sought FSAD Professor Kay Obendorf’s guidance and expertise on textile science. The three met up for one intense weekend to discuss.

The end result is the highly effective, nontoxic line of laundry and home cleaning products, each crafted to work on a specific fabric or surface. Years later, the partners recognized Obendorf and the influence her knowledge had on them and the company.

“Our crash course with Kay really nailed the foundation of our products,” said Boyd.

“There was only one person in the world, literally, who could really assist us to make that happen,” said Whiting, “and we are so lucky Kay was willing to work with us – for the love of science.”

To honor Obendorf’s role in launching their successful company, as well as her dedication to teaching and innovation in research, Boyd and Whiting endowed The Laundress and Kay Obendorf Fund for Inspiring Innovation. The fund supports an annual lecture by fashion entrepreneurs to inspire students to pursue their passions and advance the fashion and textile industry through entrepreneurship.

Boyd and Whiting have further been involved in supporting Human Ecology through helping sponsor the College’s Cornell Costume & Textile Collection “fashion for a cause” runway show and silent auction that took place at the Prince George Ballroom in New York City during the fall of 2017.  Further, they help sponsor the Cornell Fashion Collective’s annual runway show – a highlight for the FSAD, Human Ecology and Cornell communities. They also have returned to campus to speak with classes, providing undergraduates and graduate alike with valuable first-hand experience from their work.

In support of the preservation of the collection, more than 150 alumni friends, students, faculty, and staff had the opportunity to bid on rare and unique historic garments while enjoying the festivities, which highlighted the past and future of fashion through original pieces by current Cornell fashion design students and historical garments recently deaccessioned from the collection.

As Boyd and Whiting move into the future after the acquisition, they have no plans on stopping their journey yet. The Laundress will continue to operate from their New York City headquarters with the co-founders remaining in place to lead the business and their NYC Flagship store in Soho.