Last November, luxury laundry and cleaning brand The Laundress posted a “safety notice” on Instagram, advising its customers to “immediately stop using all The Laundress products” after having “identified the potential presence of elevated levels of bacteria in some of [its] products that present a safety concern.”
The company’s beloved fans (Fashionista’s editorial staff included) freaked out. Some social media users had posted about experiencing skin irritation as a result of using The Laundress’ formulas, and experts chimed in that the bacterial contamination could pose a risk of infection, particularly for those with weakened immune systems.
The Laundress subsequently issued a voluntary recall of nearly all of its products, and pulled the entire line from the market, offering consumers refunds for items they’d recently purchased. Other luxury brands then began to engage in a fancy-laundry-detergent market-share race, clamoring to fill the Laundress-shaped void in the detergent aisle.
Aside from sporadically updating its website and social feeds with details on reimbursements, the Unilever-owned company has been laying low for the intervening months. Behind the scenes, however, the company was in crisis management overdrive, overhauling its formulas, instating new safety protocols, changing up its leadership and plotting its return to market.
Wednesday marks the official re-launch of The Laundress, which is going back to basics and reintroducing its Everyday Laundry Core Collection, an eight-SKU lineup that includes a Signature Detergent, Fabric Conditioner, Stain Solution, Wool & Cashmere Shampoo, Stain Brush, Measuring Cup, Mesh Washing Bags and Wool Dryer Balls. A Delicate Wash will come in August.
“We have taken extraordinary effort to make sure that the new line is safer than ever,” Clemens Herrmann, who joined the company as CEO in April, tells Fashionista. “We’ve addressed the issues, but we’ve also seen this as an opportunity to make our products even better. We’ve listened to consumer feedback and made sure that we’ve incorporated it.”
The products are familiar — they feature the same “Classic,” “Cedar” and “Lady” scents former The Laundress fans know, as well as the minimalist aesthetic packaging — but have otherwise been completely overhauled, according to the brand. The new formulas are more concentrated than their previous iterations, and they feature “high-quality, bio-based ingredients,” as well as different viscosities that supposedly leave “less residue.” The company posted its new “Product Quality & Safety Standards” on its website, which include the modified formulas, a new manufacturing partner, on-site supervision of production, a commitment to “the highest raw material standards,” inspection and “robust microbiological testing of product batches that exceeds U.S. industry standards.”
Throughout the brand’s marketing materials, social feeds and press releases, there’s an obvious focus on communicating safety and transparency — and understandably so.
Herrmann, a veteran Unilever executive with experience in beauty marketing, seems eager to win back consumer trust, excited about the prospect of heading up a once-beloved brand and genuinely empathetic to what former fans of The Laundress experienced.
Asked to talk through exactly what happened back in November, he explains: “We discovered bacteria contamination last year, and took immediate action… Through the investigations, we basically found that there was bacteria contamination that had occurred at one of our third-party manufacturing sites that wasn’t caught before the product was shipped. We also identified that we had a raw material impurity in one of our ingredients, and then notified consumers to stop using the product. We worked with the authorities to issue a voluntary recall, and also offered refunds on our portfolio, withdrawing all our items from the market, from our website, from our global sales channels. We took the last six months to turn around every stone to solve the issues and to define safety standards that go beyond what’s really required to ensure this never happens again.”
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Reflecting on that time at the company, Brand Director Hannah Yokoji — who has been with The Laundress for seven years — says she’s proud of the immediacy of the company’s response.
“For us as a brand, it was important that we communicated with our customers as quickly as we had the information available,” she shares. “You’ll notice in our social channels, we put out a notice even prior to the full investigation was complete; we told our customers, ‘We detected the presence of the contamination, please stop using our products.’ For us, the safety of the people that use our products is of the utmost importance.”
But transparency extends only so far. In our conversation, Herrmann declined to share exactly how much money last year’s recalls cost the company. Both company representatives seemed to gloss over more pointed questions about the internal mood of the company during the time of the recall and the long-term impact it might have on the business. Instead, they repeatedly re-phrased the same sentiments about prioritizing consumer safety and maintaining high-level quality standards, at times even appearing to be reading from prepared statements. The brand also abruptly canceled a press event it had originally set for July 10 in New York City, saying that it would be rescheduled for a later date, without offering further explanation.
For now, The Laundress seems focused on re-entering the market and continuing to roll out product, rebuilding the business bit by bit as it existed before.
“What we launched with right now is just the start. We’re working on bringing up a much larger assortment of additional items that were really popular in the past,” says Herrmann. “We also have plans on innovations and new items that we have launched in the past… We’re taking the time necessary to ensure that we’re bringing all these items back under the same high safety standards that we’re setting ourselves to.”
That goes for retail, too: “We’ve had excellent discussions with our top retail partners over the past [several] weeks, and there’s huge excitement for us coming back to the market. We expect that we’ll be back in the majority of our big retail partners, so that’s really exciting,” Herrmann adds.