You have to be pretty confident about an idea to quit a high powered job in a world-renowned company to go after it. This was exactly what Ludovic Blanc did in 2011 to start an eco-friendly dry cleaners. The result, BLANC, is truly brilliant. I stumbled into BLANC a few weeks ago whilst wandering through Notting Hill and, in the process of learning who they are, have completely fallen in love. In fact, I’d go as far as saying they’re my favourite sustainable business in London. And so, my little unicorns, I am going to tell you Ludovic’s story, and on the way show you the wonder that is BLANC and their sustainable fashion movement.
Ludovic Blanc was a French native and grew up in an especially green family: they only shopped organic, natural and local, they recycled everything, they even made sure their car was always the greenest possible option. He was always close to nature and mindful of the environment. Skip forward a few years to 2011 and Ludovic is now a London local, having been here for nearly a decade, and is in a top position at JP Morgan (the world’s 6th largest bank). He’d always wanted to set up his own business that had some sort of positive impact on the world, but wasn’t yet sure what that could look like.
Until one day, he reads an article.
And in this article, he learns about dry cleaning. And you know what he learns? That dry cleaning (wait for it…) is terrible. In fact the article is detailing new legislation in France in regards to the toxicity of dry cleaning. As a frequent user of dry cleaners he thinks, surely there’s a better alternative out there somewhere, right?
But before we move forward, let’s pause a moment to learn about…
Why Dry Cleaning is AWFUL:
Traditional dry cleaning relies on soaking your clothes in a petroleum-based solvent called Perchlorethylene, or “Perc”as it’s often known. Perc is highly toxic, a well known carcinogen and a renowned air, soil and water pollutant. Fun fact, this solvent is currently being banned in the US and many European countries such as France and Denmark. And we’ve all been soaking our clothes in it. In fact, when Ludovic started hiring workers, of those who had previously worked in other dry cleaners many had completely lost their sense of smell because of the solvents, and many ended up literally high by the end of a working day because of the amount of chemicals they were exposed too. Horrific.
(Don’t worry guys, this story is about the wonderful alternative that is BLANC and therefore this story has a happy ending)
Back to the story. So Ludovic obviously doesn’t want to use his old dry cleaners any more, he figures what’s the point of him buying organic and trying to be environmentally conscious if he’s getting his clothes cleaned with these chemicals, so he begins to do his research. But he can’t find an eco-friendly alternative anywhere in London. This seems crazy to him because he’s learned that there are alternatives out there: in California these other methods have been in use for 20 years, with other stores mainly found across France and the Netherlands. This is a problem with a solution, but there’s no one to fill this need in the UK. And there’s more he starts to notice. He remembers how often when he has used dry cleaners he hasn’t really received great service: his favourite suit has come back with an unstylish shine, his shirts have come back missing buttons, his clothes have come back with stains that haven’t really been removed. In fact, he hasn’t been a particularly satisfied customer at all, he just hasn’t had another option. He realises that there are so many elements of the dry cleaning industry that could be improved and modernised, and the BLANC dream is born: a fully natural alternative, where clothes – from basic items to the most delicate – would be cared for to the highest standards, which would be kind to the environment, to people’s skins and to its own staff. Ludovic figures Apple revolutionised the computer industry, why couldn’t he do the same for dry cleaning?
So Ludovic took the next logical step that we would all choose in that position. He saved up his holiday time from work, took holidays and went to intern at an eco-friendly dry cleaners in France. Ok so maybe this isn’t the step we would all take, but it is one that proved to be incredibly important. Ludovic worked on developing his concept for two years, left JP Morgan, and the first BLANC store opened in Marylebone in 2013 at 79 George Street.
So now, let’s pause again to learn about…
Why BLANC is most definitely NOT awful and is in fact wonderful:
First thing’s first, BLANC do not use Perc. They use only non-toxic, biodegradable detergents and pure water. To quote BLANC themselves ‘as if handwashed and using natural detergents, clothes are taken through specific programmes in specialised machines which provide visibly superior results to the traditional process of dry cleaning. This new technology was developed by Electrolux and is approved by Woolmark ®.’ Their machines are EU-certified to the latest specifications, which means they also use significantly less energy than traditional dry cleaners’ machines. Also they’re free of paper and plastic. Ludovic specifically told me of his hatred for plastic, and that from the very beginning a core policy was to be plastic free. They conduct all of their admin on computers and communication via email, so are completely paperless. Also, their stores are just so nice. Aesthetically they’re gorgeous, with minimal, clean and calm designs. But, more importantly, their staff are lovely. I literally wandered in and they were incredibly kind and informative, the aim for better service is most definitely working. Extra extra bonus, they’re not even pricey. In fact, they’re pretty cheap.
So what does using BLANC look like? Ludovic was kind enough to take me through the entire timeline of a piece of clothing that is cleaned by BLANC, so let me answer that for you!
The journey of a piece of clothing at BLANC:
– The customer comes in store to drop off their piece of clothing, or if they prefer BLANC can come to them with their delivery and collection services.
– Customer’s have an account in BLANC’s computer system. Loyal customers will often already have their cleaning needs specified on their account meaning they can drop and go, or they can stay and explain if needed.
– Staff go through every item the customer dropped off individually and check for stains and tailoring needs (eg. repairs). All of this information is logged in the system and the customer then gets an email detailing everything: each item’s brand, where stains are located and any tailoring needs. This means you know exactly what you’ve dropped off and how it’s being treated, a level of transparency I love.
– From here the garment goes for ‘pre-spotting’. Each item is again individually examined and workers determine how best to remove stains. Appropriate products are then applied by hand to each stain individually, you can’t treat all stains the same! Different things remove different stains best.
– The garment is then washed in the machines with water and dried.
– Once dry each item is hand checked again to ensure the cleaning was good, if workers aren’t satisfied it is cleaned again.
– Each item is then pressed and checked again one last time.
– Each item is then packaged in biodegradable packaging and the customer gets an email that their clothes are ready, they’ll either come in to collect them or the clothes are delivered.
LOOK HOW IN DEPTH THAT IS. BLANC aims to deliver a service that provides amazing quality of cleaning and finishing, as well as impeccable customer care, and so quality control is carried out at every stage of the cleaning process. The average turnaround for cleaning is 3 days, which is a little longer than some other dry cleaners, but with that extra time comes a level of care, quality and consciousness of the planet that is truly above and beyond. And, that being said, if someone has a really urgent cleaning need they can get a piece of clothing ready in 3 hours. Oh and did I also mention that they’re open 24/7 in the Marylebone store?
So back to the story of Ludovic. It’s now 2016 and BLANC is doing great. The reactions have been an interesting variety of positive. Those who have deliberately sought environmentally friendly options will travel from far and wide to visit BLANC’s two stores (I am amongst them, I live nowhere near these stores) and they love it. And those who don’t particularly think about the environment, they love it too. Even if they don’t really understand what BLANC do differently they stay for the good quality and customer service. They’ve also been noticed by Vogue, The Guardian and Vanity Fair to name a few. The London Evening Standard called them London’s best dry cleaner. BLANC ticks all the boxes, and they’re excited for the future. They’ve started work on an 8000 sqft factory in Park Royal, meaning they’ll be able to scale up, open more stores and reach more people by coming to them (so hopefully I won’t be travelling so far in the future too!). They have big dreams of expanding all over London, the UK, and maybe even the rest of Europe. But they also want to inspire other cleaning companies to use less harmful methods for the sake of their own staff and the environment. After all, BLANC still has killer service, so they don’t need to worry about competitors catching on. They also want more people to be aware of how the dry cleaning industry actually operates. Ludovic compared it to Asbestos, 30 years ago it used to be in every building, now people know better. And BLANC also wants to expand into a full clean living company. Currently they don’t just clean clothes but curtains, rugs and other homeware fabrics. They also sell a range of specially selected home cleaning products, all of which are eco-friendly. In fact, I’m getting a rundown of the products this week, so I can report back on exactly what you can purchase this weekend (wink wink).
But amongst all these dreams, there’s also a smaller one that Ludovic told me about near the end of our conversation. Although they use compostable packaging, Ludovic’s dream is that eventually every customer will have a re-usable, eco-friendly BLANC cotton bag, one that they can bring their clothes in, and one that their clothes will be returned to them in, zero waste style. Some customers already do this, but he’d love it to be all customers. ‘I just think re-usable is even better than recyclable’ Ludovic told me, and I agree. In fact, I love that amongst the big dreams, Ludovic still cares so much for the small details too. It is this that makes BLANC so brilliant, and it is this that makes it Ethical Unicorn approved.
Until next time, stay magic y’all.