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Can dry-cleaners help tackle fashion pollution, and how?

Conversation with Billie Tossoun, Director of Chelsea Green Valet.

Female founder, award winning entrepreneur, Billie Tossoun has transformed a small London based business into one of the most respected fashion aftercare services in London.

URBAG® speaks to Billie about her entrepreneurial journey, her views on how to tackle fashion pollution, and the sustainability journey she has undertaken with Chelsea Green Valet.

1- Tell us more about your journey, how you started and what was the pivotal moment in your success?

A Mother-Daughter team

In 2009 my mother and I decided to go into the laundry dry-cleaning business. My grandparents ran a dry-cleaning business, and so my mother had a lot of experience during her childhood. She would work at the reception desk in their shop after school and on Saturdays. In 2009, I was 29 and was coming from a sales background. My mother and I therefore had industry experience and sales acumen, giving us the confidence to go into business together.

We found the perfect location

I went to school in Chelsea London where my family lived, and we knew the area well. I clearly remember my mother telling my father each and every time we passed Cale Street Laundry, Chelsea, “I want to buy this one day”. Cale Street laundry is located right in the middle of Chelsea , first opening for business in the 1950’s.

It was family owned for most of that time, but was ‘Sleepy London Laundry’ throughout, situated in a high income and residentially populated area, offering so much potential.

We approached the owners (the business wasn’t on the market or for sale) and we offered to buy the laundry, agreeing to a high price with high rent relying on its potential. With the help of a government guaranteed bank loan and deposit, we acquired Cale Street Laundry.

In terms of pivotal moments, we had two defining strategic moves.

Firstly, we approached a business we wished to acquire, knowing that it wasn't for sale but successfully negotiated a deal.

Secondly, we successfully scaled up our laundry processing from a retail unit in Chelsea (with a limited production capacity) to a light industrial unit offering a much larger production capacity, supplemented with a large eco-friendly equipment inventory.

2- The entire world of fashion has been under scrutiny for its negative environmental and social impacts, from the sourcing of raw materials right to the wider impact of our clothes aftercare. What role do you think the fashion aftercare industry and the dry-cleaners can play to help tackle these issues?

Yes, the fashion industry is the second largest polluter in the world after the oil Industry and 85% of all textiles (fashion) go to the dump each year.

We need to counter this real damage by implementing sustainable aftercare services, more eco-friendly dry-cleaning processes, garment alterations and repairs, and leather care for example. These sustainable aftercare techniques are all effective ways to keep our clothes lasting longer and the recycling of fashion will, to an extent, slow this statistic too.

At Chelsea Green Valet, we have invested in new equipment consistent with our company dedicated Green policy, to start our journey towards more sustainable processes.

We are also moving away from plastic as far as commercially possible, always preferring reusable and sustainable options.

3- Will the future of dry-cleaning be plastic-free?

Plastic-free dry-cleaning is the ultimate goal. It's challenging for our industry, but what we can do for now is to substantially minimise the dependence on plastic.

4- We are so excited to announce our collaboration with Chelsea Green Valet today. What made you decide to trial URBAG® in your dry-cleaning store?

We chose URBAG® because it fits in perfectly with our dedicated Green policy , sustainable aftercare, and plastic-free journey.

It’s exceptionally well designed, foldable and travel ready. It's manufactured from organic cotton and reclaimed plastic bottles, and it's offered at what we consider an affordable price. In short, it ticks all the boxes.

5- What’s next for Chelsea Green Valet?

Since 2009, we grew the business from £3,000 per week or £150,000 per year , to approximately £37,000 per week or nearly £2m per year, despite the global COVID crisis.

We employ 25 staff in 2 locations in London and have recently opened a modern eco-friendly commercial laundry on a light industrial estate in Battersea, which provides a capacity of up to £5m per year.

So, our journey continues!


About Chelsea Green Valet

Based in the heart of Chelsea Green, this family-owned business serves the wonderful families, business owners, couturiers and people of Central London and offers a wide array of high quality laundry and dry-cleaning services, from the traditional wash and dry to the specialised vintage couture cleaning and wedding dresses.

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