August 04, 2021
A huge part of reducing waste in the fashion industry is knowing how to care for and repair the garments you love. We have been working in collaboration with BLANC to provide a new in-depth eco-care guide for all your silk and silk-cotton pieces, to ensure they last.
BLANC's expert tailors and cleaners can help to resuscitate almost any item, preserving not only the physical, but also the memories and lore associated with beautiful clothes passed down through families.
It was our pleasure to interview Mathilde, co-founder of the London-based aftercare specialists, see her answers to our questions below.
Tell us more about BLANC
BLANC is the sustainable garment aftercare specialist, offering an expert non-toxic alternative to conventional dry cleaning alongside tailoring and laundry services.
Unlike conventional dry cleaners who soak clothes in toxic, carcinogenic chemicals which they then evaporate at very high temperatures, we use eco-technologies (including wet cleaning and liquid CO2 cleaning, which are the most sustainable and health-friendly methods of cleaning currently available) - gentle on textile fibres, yet efficient on stains.
BLANC's process combines artisan care with expert tech to deliver a better quality clean and is kinder to your skin, your clothes and our planet.
What is your background in & how did you get to where you are now?
Going back to my childhood, my dad worked in sustainability for Danone and the Vinci Group, so we were brought up around environmentally conscious parents and conversations about sustainability around the dinner table. I went on to study Politics and Development Economics at Warwick then later at a business school in Paris, and started my career in investment banking, where I met Ludovic (my husband & CEO of BLANC). He left to research starting an eco-friendly business, and when he found an idea he thought was really worth exploring - I fully supported him to start BLANC.
We started BLANC for two main reasons. After a lot of research, we discovered that there was a huge problem with toxicity in the traditional dry cleaning industry - to clean clothes, traditional dry cleaners are soaking them in a solvent cleaner called PERC which is very toxic.
The second was that I felt there was a huge gap in customer experience compared to where other industries had got to. Dry cleaners are often dark, cramped, rather smelly places. Most are not very concerned about your feelings when caring for special or sentimental items or about how to work around your timetable - and because we’re all so busy, going to your dry cleaners easily becomes the least pleasant of chores. So we’ve been building BLANC on the premise that we really needed to change both.
When entering the garment aftercare industry, did you aim to be sustainable from the start?
Yes, definitely! BLANC was founded out of discovering just how bad the conventional garment aftercare industry is, so we wanted to set ourselves apart. This meant providing high-quality service and doing things the right way - so, sustainability had to be ingrained in every aspect from the get-go.
Can you tell me more about the more eco-friendly methods of dry cleaning you use at BLANC?
The irony is that, despite its name, conventional dry cleaning is neither dry nor clean. Unless you have sensitive skin, you are probably in the dark and don’t quite realise how harmful the dry cleaning process is. The most common solvent used by traditional dry cleaners is Perchloroethylene (PERC), which is derived from petroleum. There are many reasons why PERC is damaging: prolonged exposure to the chemical has been linked to an increased risk of cancer and it is also a major polluter for air, water and soil.
For decades scientists have been aware that PERC is dangerous and very toxic: it’s a well-known environmental and health hazard and it has been banned in many countries already including France, Denmark and some states of the US - but not in the UK yet.
For the good news, however… At BLANC we only use eco-cleaning technologies and can clean anything with a “dry clean only” label. Our eco-friendly technologies don’t
require the use of traditional toxic solvents to be highly effective - rather the combination of artisan care and expert tech. This care and tech is a combination: Wet cleaning, Carbon Dioxide Cleaning & Ozone cleaning.
Our Wet Cleaning machines use both custom cycles and biodegradable detergents. Both of which are greatly efficient on natural staining, as well as being safe for sensitive skins and babies.
Liquid CO2 cleaning is better for tackling tougher stains such as oil. Plus, the carbon dioxide used for the cleaning is a by-product of existing industrial processes, so this all-natural method has a very low impact.
Finally, Ozone Cleaning can sanitise items entirely, while stopping further and unnecessary cleaning, giving the garment a longer life too. This technology is 100% hypoallergenic and is perfect to remove odours and eliminate moths.
What has been the biggest challenge of starting and running your business?
Running a sustainable business means in simple terms that every single decision is more difficult because sustainability has to be considered as an additional (and key!) parameter in every decision, in addition to the already many parameters.
It adds an extra layer of complexity and I would say the biggest one (in addition to cost) is often the absence of a solution or supplier to support us. So we have to pioneer even in areas that are not our core business. For example, we looked for a large size electric van for years before finding one: until 2020 there were simply none on the market!
Another example is our packaging: we had to do intense research and development (alongside a manufacturer of course) to develop compostable packaging which could fit into an automated packaging system.
But the silver lining is that sustainability is not an option, so as we have gotten used to embedding sustainability into everything we do and our customers know that by using us they are supporting our eco-friendly process, our ethical social practices, our effort towards zero waste, and our progress towards fully sustainable deliveries.
What is the most interesting garment that has passed through BLANC care?
Well, people often forget we do household cleaning and we had an amazing Gucci rug come through the atelier to be cleaned, which was like a tapestry.
How have you been coping with the COVID-19 crisis and what challenges (or opportunities) have you faced followed by the events?
We are hoping that the pandemic is in the rearview mirror now! However, we really felt the challenge of the pandemic as well as everyone else, our routines completely changed and everyone's life was flipped upside down. We did our utmost to support our customers with essential cleaning services and launched a contactless pickup and drop off service, WhatsApp consultations for mending and alterations and a big focus on at-home services. With people forced to stay home and take stock, having your bedsheets professionally cleaned and pressed at BLANC, is a little treasure during a tough time.
If you could rule the world for one day, what would be your first change?
To invest hugely in safety and education - for them, for our children. We need to educate our future generations about climate change, to create a more sustainable future and build a better world than we did.
What is your approach to sustainability at home?
For me, nothing is black and white, and in order to adopt a sustainable lifestyle, it’s primarily the small steps that add up - because I think that we’d be much better off if everyone did what they could rather than a small group of people doing everything ‘perfect’.
I started my sustainable journey in a very practical manner and did things that were convenient for me, and then I phased into doing things that weren’t just as convenient. It’s a no-brainer for me to just switch over to buying eco-friendly household alternatives - that’s simply just reading the label and ensuring you're not buying toxic goods.
I also ban plastic as much as possible and so I always carry some reusable essentials with me such as a water bottle, a bamboo coffee cup and an extra tote bag. Like everyone else, I really struggle with plastic in my shopping basket and I don’t have a refill or zero-packaging store option nearby, but I do get a farmers basket delivered for veggies and fruits.
I also simply try to consume less on a daily basis and ingrain that into my routine. I reuse as much as I possibly can and prolong the lifespan of items I already own, as opposed to buying something new just because it’s more convenient.
What's your approach to fashion?
I believe that the most sustainable fashion is the one we already have in our wardrobe. Even if you’re buying quality products, if they’re not cared for properly then you will discard them faster and so any fashion can become fast fashion - which is terrible for the environment and bad for your wallet. That’s why BLANC not only offers eco-friendly cleaning services, but also repairs and alterations, and we try our best to encourage individuals and fashion companies alike to consider fixing clothes - rather than throwing them away - when they need simple mend.
Vivienne Westwood said it best: “Buy less, choose well, make it last”. It’s a motto I live by every day: I buy consciously, or second hand; I swap clothes with family or close friends, and I never ever throw anything away anymore. I mend, I sell, I donate to the appropriate charity, and then I either discard if I know something will be properly recycled or use bits of textile in my home - for cleaning or in other ways.
What goals do you hope to achieve in the future in terms of sustainability?
Our goal is to make sure aftercare is not an afterthought. The consumer use phase (where clothes are worn, washed, dried, ironed, etc.) represents a third of the overall fashion environmental footprint and 20% of its carbon emissions. We’re delighted to see that fashion labels are increasingly aware of their aftercare impact and willing to figure out what they can do to minimise their impact on our planet.
At BLANC, we are working on developing more synergies with fashion brands so we can support them at each step of the garment life cycle - from advising fashion studios on how they can develop clothes that are going to last, to being their recommended trusted aftercare and help their customers maintain their items in good condition after the act of purchase. We are also developing strong relationships with a growing pool of pre-loved and rental platforms to enable a truly circular fashion industry and help them restore & clean items before they go from one user to the next.
Do you love what you do? Why?
The best part of my job is having a purpose - I know deep down what I do is worthwhile.
It is incredibly gratifying to read reviews and receive messages from our customers telling us that we did a great job at removing a deep-set stain or repairing a piece they love and to know that they will now wear this item for many more years to come.
What is your future heirloom?
A bag which was given to me by my best friend on my wedding day: a Prada clutch, which I love and will pass on for years to come.
Where are you most excited to be able to do now that lockdown has finished?
Honestly, just being able to socialise with friends and family again! I love having dinner parties, indoor and outdoor if the British weather permits it.