The Uberization Of Dry Cleaning, New Apps Deliver As Old Model Shrinks

Startups are shaking up the dry cleaning industry by offering more convenient options for customers. The industry, which has shrunk by half in the last few decades, is also coping with gradual limits placed on using a common cleaning substance.

Dry cleaning 2.0: soyezBCBG founders in Paris
Dry cleaning 2.0: soyezBCBG founders in Paris
Marion Kindermans

PARIS â€" Imagine dry cleaners with no physical location, tickets or visible irons. After taxis and banks, this sector is the latest to be Uberized.

Cleanio, a fledgling Parisian startup with five employees, was launched in March 2014 with the idea of ending the endless queues in local dry cleaners. With one click, on its website or via the app, it's possible to schedule the pick-up of clothes, which are returned, cleaned and ironed, 24 to 48 hours later. It operates seven days a week until 11 p.m. To do that, the company is creating partnerships with dry cleaners all over the capital. Rapidity and flexibility are the goals to match the modern habits of customers.

Locally launched mobile app services in Europe follow those like Washio, which has expanded to six U.S. cities. Several French companies are stepping into this realm of dry cleaning 2.0: soyezBCBG, La Cleanbox, Decompressing. The historic leader in the field, 5àSec, understood that it too, had to get up to speed, offering more convenient options for customers. The company will release an app for smartphones in early 2016.

"There are needs in the cleaning field," says Nicolas Boucault, the new head of 5àSec. "But we have to create new types of dry cleaning, like Uber did with taxis. This type of structure will allow the industry to bounce back."

The heavyweight even swallowed Groom Box, which specialized in concierge services for companies, another cleaning niche that is expanding. Dry cleaners must change because the industry has been tumbling for a good 50 years. The network shrunk from about 12,000 shops in the 1970s to 5,000 today. It's a question of survival.

The regulatory constraints, made in March 2013 and reinforced in September 2014, have worsened the difficulties for the industry, whose profit margins were already weak. To eradicate the use of Tetrachloroethylene, the carcinogenic chemical also known as "perc," machines working with this solvent are set to gradually and definitively disappear by 2022.

There's still work to do. According to the French federation for dry cleaners and laundries, 50% of the machines will have been replaced by the end of this year, and a good half by wet cleaning products (and another part by alternative solvents). And this transformation is anything but benign. A number of small artisans, often independent, have closed down because they were unable to adapt.

"The "perc" ban accelerated the closing down of shops," says Olivier Risse, president of the federation. He says that 10% of dry cleaners have disappeared every year because of the change in technology. "The investments needed are big, even though there are state grants," he says, adding that the grants cover 40% to 70% of the purchase of a new wet cleaning machine, depending on the region. In the case of alternative solvents, this figure drops to 15-30%.

The Ministry of Ecology says that, as of June 30, 2015, the government had spent 13.2 million euros in subsidies to help dry cleaners to replace their machines.

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The Olympic torch is lit at the Archaeological site of Olympia in Greece.

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Asham!*

Welcome to Tuesday, where Pyongyang test fires a suspected submarine-launched missile, Colin Powell is remembered, Poland-EU tensions rise, and yay (or yeesh): it's officially Ye. Meanwhile, our latest edition of Work → In Progress takes the pulse of the new professional demands in a recovering economy.

[*Oromo - Ethiopia and Kenya]


• North Korea fires missile off Japan coast: South Korea military reports that North Korea has fired a ballistic missile into the waters off the coast of Japan. The rocket, thought to have been launched from a submarine, is the latest test in a series of provocations in recent weeks.

• Poland/EU tensions: Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has accused the EU of "blackmail" and said the European Union is overstepping its powers, in a heated debate with EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen over the rule of law. The escalation comes in the wake of a controversial ruling by Poland's Constitutional Tribunal that puts national laws over EU principles.

• Colin Powell remembered: Tributes are pouring for former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, after his death yesterday at age 84. Although fully vaccinated, Powell died from complications from COVID-19 as he was battling blood cancer. A trailblazing soldier, he then helped shape U.S. foreign policy, as national security adviser to President Ronald Reagan, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs under Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, and served as the nation's top diplomat for George W. Bush. Powell's legacy is, by his own admission, "blotted" by his faulty claims of weapons of mass destruction to justify the U.S. war in Iraq.

• Russia to suspend NATO diplomatic mission amid tension: Russia is suspending its diplomatic mission to NATO and closing the alliance's offices in Moscow as relations with the Western military block have plunged to a new low. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced the move after NATO expelled eight diplomats from Russia's mission for alleged spying. Relations between NATO and Russia have been strained since Moscow annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in 2014.

• Ecuador state of emergency to battle drug crime: President Guillermo Lasso declared a state of emergency amid Ecuador's surge in drug-related violence. He announced the mobilization of police and the military to patrol the streets, provide security, and confront drug trafficking and other crimes.

• Taliban agrees to house-to-house polio vaccine drive: The WHO and Unicef campaign will resume nationwide polio vaccinations after more than three years, as the new Taliban government agreed to support the campaign and to allow women to participate as frontline health workers. Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan are the last countries in the world with endemic polio, an incurable and infectious disease

• Kanye West officially changes name: Some say yay, some say yeesh, but it's official: The-artist-formerly-known-as-Kanye-West has legally changed his name to Ye, citing "personal reasons."


The Washington Post pays tribute to Colin Powell, the first Black U.S. Secretary of State, who died at 84 years old from complications from COVID-19.


Jashn-e Riwaaz

Indian retailer Fabindia's naming its new collection Jashn-e Riwaaz, an Urdu term meaning "celebration of tradition," has been met with severe backlash and calls for boycott from right-wing Hindu groups. They are accusing the brand of false appropriation by promoting a collection of clothes designed for Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, but giving it a name in Urdu, a language spoken by many Muslims.


Work → In Progress: Where have all the workers gone?

After the economic slowdown brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, companies all over the world are taking advantage of loosened lockdowns and progress on the vaccine front to ramp up operations and make up for lost productivity. But the frenetic spurts of the recovery are getting serious pushback. This edition of Work → In Progress looks not only at the coming changes in our post-COVID economy, but also the ways our world is re-evaluating professional obligations.

🗓️ Hail the 4-day week Across the planet, the shorter work week trend is spreading like wildfire. Four is the new five. Spain began experimenting with the concept earlier this year. New Zealand launched a similar trial run in 2020. And in Iceland, efforts to curb working hours date all the way back to 2015, with significant results: 86% of the country's workforce gained the right to reduce work hours with no change in pay.

🚚 Empty seats In the United States, meanwhile, a severe lack of truck drivers has the country's transportation industry looking to hire from abroad. The only problem is … the shortage is happening worldwide, in part because of the e-commerce boom in the wake of worldwide quarantines. The Italian daily Il Fatto Quotidiano reports that companies will be scrambling to fill the jobs of 17,000 truck drivers in the next two years. The article blames low wages and the dangerous nature of the job, stating that Italian companies are making moves to employ foreign workers.

💼 Key help wanted It's all well and good to question current working conditions. But what about 20 years from now? Will we be working at all? A recent article in the French daily Les Echos posed just that question, and posits that by 2041 — and with the exception of a few select jobs — automation and digitalization will decimate employment. The piece refers to the lucky few as "essential workers," a concept that originated with COVID lockdowns when almost all labor halted and only a minority of workers capable of performing society's most crucial in-person tasks were allowed to carry on.

➡️


I'm worried for my Afghan sisters.

— Nobel Peace Prize recipient Malala Yousafzai Nobel Prize tells the BBC that despite the Taliban's announcement that they would soon lift the ban on girls' education in Afghanistan, she worries it "might last for years."

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Are you more yay or yeesh about the artist currently known as Ye? Let us know how the news look in your corner of the world — drop us a note at!

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