Spin Laundry Lounge Interview | Morgan Gary Photo

Spin Laundry Lounge Interview | Morgan Gary

The most pivotal moment in any textiles environmental life cycle bears down to what you do at washer and dryer. You will either make or break your environmental footprint with just a few twists and knobs. For Morgan, this critical phase for our garments and the environment become her profession. I wanted to hear her story first-hand and see if I could grab a little knowledge on the way - which she delivered in full!

Quick side note, the interview below is an audio transcript of our in-person conversation. The style of the interview reflects that.

Can you just us a little background on you? Sure. I moved to Portland in 2008. My dad was in the navy, so we moved my whole life. I finished school (undergrad?) and decided that I needed a change. I had heard a lot of great things about Portland, mostly sustainability related, and that was my passion at the time. So, I just made the decision to move up here, knowing no one - around 11 years ago.

I first got a job in management that I enjoyed and learned a lot about business. But I knew that I wanted to do things differently and didn't really have the - I don’t know - I had upper management that controlled a lot of things. I was personally interested in management and went to Marylhurst to get my MBA in sustainable business which is where I wrote the business plan for Spin.

And how did that come about it? The idea was kind of a long time coming. It all started back in college but I had grown up going to laundromats and when traveling and moving around. I have very vivid memories of laundromats. In college, we would always find the most comfortable laundromat or we would drive around town and try to find a space where we were like, “Okay our clothes are getting clean and we didn’t have to worry...” We just wanted to find a space that was comfortable to us. There was one near our home, next to a pizza place, and that was kind of our go-to. We could throw our laundry in, then go grab a slice while keeping our eye on the laundry. So friends and I would always joke about... “Oh, we should put the pizza place inside the laundromat - we wouldn’t have to walk across the street.” It was always a joke...

The idea (for Spin) really came about during school, when I was kind of applying a sustainability lens to business practices. I kept going back to the laundromat and thinking about how the industry is pretty wasteful, as far as equipment, utility and water usage goes. And how could I apply sustainability to that and create a new wave of the laundromat?

The food and drink element made sense to me because it brings back communities. When I think about sustainability, I think about environmental sustainability and social sustainability. It was all about how can we create a space that is good for the environment and good for our community - a place where people could gather and do a common chore.

How did you develop the idea? And how did you compound on that idea? Yeah, I definitely started Googling concepts of sustainable laundry as well as laundry cafes. Brain Wash has been in San Francisco for a long time. They're more restaurant with machines in the back but a similar concept. I really got interested in is the sustainable laundry equipment and advances in technology... I found some distributors here in Oregon that were selling this sustainable line of equipment. So, during school, I reached out to them and I wanted to learn more - so that I could use actual numbers in my business plan. And as time went on and during school, every class I took: marketing, finance, everything, I used that to kind of research more about the laundry industry and this idea of Spin. So, I finished school with a really comprehensive plan of how to move forward, with pretty accurate numbers… [Also,] my husband is the designer and I think that was really important. I had him develop a brand or an identity for the company which made it feel more real. It felt like something that we could actually create, not just this concept on paper in black and white. It was floor plans and logos and business cards and all these things - it really started coming together. I kinda just jotted down a lot of the things that I thought I wanted to change about the laundromat in general, and then on the other side, how I would change them in a more sustainable way. And that was really the backbone.

And then how did you go from idea to actual building. Oh my goodness that was the hardest part. So I found the equipment, the equipment that we use is the most energy efficient in the world. Electrolux is a wonderful company and they're doing some amazing things.

And where are they based? Their based in Sweden and the equipment is manufactured in Sweden as well. It’s called their 450G force line. So the machines extract at 450G’s. Which is hard to explain...

[Back to the building]

I think the biggest part was trying to find a building. I had this business plan, and I kind of knew what I wanted to do. I was working on quitting my job so I could go full-time at this, but I wasn't quite sure when it would really line up… but the biggest part was trying to find space for the lease. It took me over a year to find a building. We landed on this one (the one on Kenton in North Portland). I had the equipment lined up, I had the business plan, and funding and everything, it was just, “Okay, we just need a building and we need to get the equipment in the building so that we can open.” That whole process took about two and half years from kind of finish finishing school to opening Spin... and it was just a lot of work. I researched everything I could about the industry, and I was at the city every day - the city of Portland - with permits and we had to go through a zone change with the building...

And how did you first start promoting? Was is all of a sudden the doors opened and business was booming? Yeah, I think when we started, it was a lot of organic social media. Honestly, my friends were really excited about the concept and we had been working on it for a while. So we just talked about it - out in the world and people started hearing that something was going on. But we started just posting (on Facebook), maybe during the buildout, maybe five months before we opened, with little teasers of the buildout and the machines being installed and the tables going in and everything. I started to get a following and I remember a couple of people like, Thrillist did some articles on Spin - they had found some pictures that we had posted and did little write-ups.

The day we opened we posted - my husband and I were here at like four or five in the morning - and we posted a picture of “We'll see you in the morning, we're finally opened for business and we're so excited to see you.” [That post] was shared 4,000 times on Facebook. I don't know what happened, I can't explain it, but it went out into the world, and everybody was so excited! However, we were pretty slow that first week. I remember being like, "Oh is anyone coming…aahhhh” but yeah, we started getting really great write-ups in the press, and our friends and family were so supportive just all of a sudden, people just started coming.

What was the first moment that you realized that this is gonna work? And this is what I am going to be doing for the foreseeable future! I think it was that first month and talking to people about how thankful they were that there was a laundromat that they felt good about coming to. They were so excited for us to be a part of the community and I really felt like it was a need and that we were fulfilling this void in the city. This place that meant something to people.

I know sustainability means a lot to you. And the one thing that drew me to you specifically was your sustainability report, which is still amazing... but I guess, what does being sustainable mean to you? For me, sustainability is something that I incorporate into my personal life and to my business. I really feel like it's the way that we all can be on this planet for years and years to come... But it can be hard sometimes and I thought that if I was gonna start this, I could just be a regular laundromat but instead, we really had to make an impact and be able to share that with the community - with Portland.

Sustainability is just about...

It’ a tough question. Yeah, there's so many, there are so many facets, but I would say just being aware and mindful of your impact on the environment and on the world. Kind of thinking through the day and through your footprint and how your impacting it [the environment]. With us, we are able to have a big impact because we have large washers and lots of people coming through. So when you look at it overall, we're using a lot of utility, but we're using a lot less than it would be if they were doing laundry at home. So, I feel really good about that.

What are the differences between doing laundry here at Spin compared to be doing laundry at home? And are home washing machines inherently inefficient? Yeah, definitely a good question. I think that there are definitely some home washers out there that are great and the technology is changing really fast. I feel that a lot of efficient home washers are quite expensive and might not be accessible to a majority of Americans, so it depends. Washers are built to last. And if you're moving into an apartment or condo or home that has a washer and dryer. It might not make sense to replace it right away with something that is more efficient. And so a lot of people are still using the more inefficient models and top loading washers. In that case, top loading washers are by far the most inefficient type.

We don't have any top loading watchers here [Spin], we just went with the most sustainable front loading washers. And yeah, it definitely makes a big difference [going to Spin compared to home machines]. Our washer probably use about 30% of the water that you would use at home. So that’s a huge difference and the same with the amount of energy - we're cutting it in half. You're also able to do so much more laundry at once. At home, you're using washers that are for the most part our smallest models which means you're doing a load at a time whereas here, you can combine everything from a month and stick it into one washer. You're using a little bit more water for that large machine, but not in comparison to multiple small loads. So you're able to save that much more water and energy.

Getting a little geeky about it, what is it exactly about the mechanisms inside the machines that make it more sustainable? There's a couple of things that play a factor. The machines have a - it's called AWS - automatic way system. At the beginning of a cycle, it'll take off into a spin cycle and weigh the items in the washer. So, if you and I were doing laundry and I was doing say, a really light fluffy blanket, and you were doing some heavy jeans - it would use different amounts of water based on the weight of the load. That way it can kind of manage how much utility its using.

[For the dryer] It does spin really fast, and that’s gonna allow a lot less time in the dryer. At the end of that extraction cycle, it's spinning so quick… we usually say about 18 minutes in the dryer is all you need which is really fast... [It’s] also saving a lot of time. I would say 45 minutes and you can get a wash and dry done - and that's up to eight loads in one machine. So a lot of families see the value in that...

How about for novices out there - what are your essential tips that you can do at home or at a place like Spin that would make them better stewards to the environment? Yeah, definitely. One of the things that some people don't think about is the temperature of the water. Cold water is great for all fabrics. It’s gonna do a really good job cleaning, you don't have the added utility of heating the water. Also, hot water can break down your fabrics faster. And so it's just more delicate for everything and better for the environment if we just use cold water....

How about powdered vs liquid soap? Powder! We actually give out free powdered soap because we love it so much and we care so much about what’s going into the machines and waterways. Essentially, liquid soap is just added water to your powdered soap. It’s making the product heavier to ship and you don't need the water - there is water in the machines - it's essentially just added weight. I know a lot of people are use to liquid and they're more comfortable with it but powdered soap dissolves fine in the water - cold or hot... We give it out for free just to encourage that. Even if someone brings their own soap, and they wanna try ours, we encourage it as well. If they like it - next time they don't have to carry it to the laundromat, it’s always here and ready for them! We have delicate cycles on your machines, for the handmade or vintage pieces that might need a little extra care. We have wool cycles on the machines for wool sweaters and blankets. We definitely try to just educate our customers on the best cycles to choose... to extend the life of their clothing. That's really important, too.

And how bad is the drying process on your clothes? It can be pretty bad. I always recommend low heat. Low heat is really important and still with low heat - maybe 20 minutes in our dryers, so it doesn't take that long. We offer complementary hangers for customers to use. I do encourage hang drying when you can but it can be hard in Portland sometimes.

How about the lint in your dryer, that’s your clothes, right? Right, that’s your clothes. Gosh, with our commercial lint traps, we have to clean them out multiple times a day, and it's amazing - you can make a whole line of clothing with it, it’s so much. So yes, we recommend that if you are gonna dry something, do it on low heat. You can even just do it for a little bit, and then air dry for the rest of the time. We also have no heat setting on the dryers, it just spins with cool air. That's gonna help a lot of times with a wool blank to get a little bit of that moiseter out - or if you just have something you wanna maybe get some wrinkles out of for six minutes - you could just put them on no heat and then hang it after.

Oh, and one of my favorite things about these dryers and it helps the folks that may put too much time on the dryer - is it (the dryer) has a sensor on it that it will tell when the load is finished and it will stop. The cycle will keep counting down but the heating element will stop...and it'll continue to spin but it'll just be cool. So no, overheating or burning.

My last thing is - what are Spin’s future objectives in general and/or from a sustainability standpoint? Yeah, I think that continuing to share our sustainability report, and really be transparent in areas that we're excelling in, areas that we hope to grow into, and areas that we are still trying to figure out ways to be better. There are a lot of things that we could do and we wanna make sure everyone is aware that we're not perfect but we sure are trying. I think that the biggest thing happening this year, is that we're launching a co-branded soap line in order to limit more packaging/waste, and be able to get it to more people. That's a whole new kind of fun thing that were gonna be getting into. We've been sharing it with our customers slowly but surely. It should launch this summer, and everything will be available to purchase by the pound and reusable containers.

And that’s here specifically? I know we talked in the past about how you might be going into other stores as well. Yeah, the line will start here but the idea is to pitch to co-ops and different markets and just be involved in the community.

The other really fun kind of sustainability initiative that we've been working on is that we currently have a very large lost-n-found. We keep things as long as we can and most people never call us about items, so we donate to shelters around town. We get a lot of single socks! The single socks are stuck in washers, on floor, out in the parking lot, in dryers, tucked away under the folding table - you name it. I find for maybe 20 to 25 socks a day.

Are those some of them (pointing at the socks behind her). Yeah, the colorful ones go on the wall. All the black and white ones - they just live in the big pile in the back. We wash and dry them and then we loosely match them based on size, color and thickness, and they get donated to the Portland Rescue Mission. Last year, we donated almost 6,000 pairs of socks and we’re one laundry. It's amazing to think about the peer volume of socks that we're finding. They're not brand new but they're still in really good shape and they're clean. What we realized in doing more research is that socks are the least donated item but... the most needed in shelters. And that foot health really affects your overall health, and to have a clean/dry foot is really important.

In the future of Spin, I'd like to start a non-profit that focuses on fabric recycling in general or clothing recycling and the best ways to do that - but really focusing on those socks. In our drawers at home, we've got single socks and you might be like “Maybe I will find this one day, but are you wearing it...? Do you make a sock puppet or do throw it in the trash…?” My hope would be that we'd have collection sites around Portland for people to bring their single socks. Then we would have volunteers do the washing, drying and matching, like my staff does currently, and just be able to increase the volume of socks that are donated to Portland and beyond. We're currently accepting single sock donations!

My last thing would be, just name anyone, it can be a Instagram account, a person, an author - just any that inspires you.This is a hard one. Okay, so I have a couple of things that I'll share. One is… and I feel very trendy right now - Marie Kondo. I read her book when it first came out and I just loved the concept of keeping things that are important to you, and that inspire joy in your life. I organized my house a few years ago, using her method and it has stayed tidy/organized… for the most part. Obviously there's a lot of buzz about her right now, and she has a Netflix show and everybody's talking about it - and I watched the episodes she is sweet lady and has a lot of fun things to share - but I like to take that theme into business too. I like to offer really curated products for our customers and just a great experience for their laundry... It's inspiring to know that you don't need a lot to live a full life and… to understand what's important.

Oh, and I have one more thing. I've been getting really into meditation lately and self-care. I found this wonderful meditation studio in downtown called Pause Meditation. The owners are lovely and we follow them on Instagram, but we also go to group meditation classes. They are so inspiring and they shared with me a way to kinda slow down and appreciate the little things, and have a better work-life balance. They’re just amazing people!

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