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Get to Know: Theresa and Corinna Williams of Celsious

Theresa and Corinna Williams co-founded Celsious, New York’s first sustainably minded laundromat-café-shop—to take the dred out of laundry day. Despite the challenges of a pandemic, the Williamsburg outpost has thrived by reimagining the garment care experience, cultivating community and being as kind to the environment as possible.

Celsious co-founders Theresa and Corinna Williams (Photo by Mutia Adisoma)

A Modern Laundromat

One of the quirks of New York City living is that many apartments don’t have washers and dryers installed in the unit, making laundromats the primary option for garment care. Laundry day becomes a dreaded experience thanks to the usually dark, dingy, and entirely unappealing options in most neighborhoods. With their Williamsburg, Brooklyn outpost Celsious, sisters Corinna and Theresa Williams are changing that.

“After a few unfortunate experiences where my outfits were ruined, I decided that New Yorkers deserved better.”

“After a few unfortunate experiences where my outfits were ruined, I decided that New Yorkers deserved better,” Corinna says. “I convinced my sister to move from London to help bring my vision of the ideal laundromat to life.” With Corinna’s background in fashion journalism and Theresa’s in product design, the duo have arguably created the Big Apple’s chicest laundromat. Launched in 2017, the beautiful, energy efficient oasis is decked out with a café and high-speed WiFi. The brand also sells its own private label laundry essentials to offer the Celsious experience at home.

We caught up with the sisters to learn more about their vision, sustainable practices, and running an essential business during a pandemic.

Photo by Francesca Rao

What inspired you to open a laundromat?

Corinna: One of the most surprising things I found after moving to New York was the fact that people need to use laundromats, which are almost always dark, dingy and not well maintained. How could you not dread doing your laundry? After a few unfortunate experiences where my outfits were ruined, I decided that New Yorkers deserved better, and I convinced my sister to move from London to help bring my vision of the ideal laundromat to life! Theresa has a background in product design and loved the challenge of creating a functional yet beautiful laundry space.

Walk us through the process of launching Celsious.

C: It took several years of research, planning, designing and building before we could open our doors to the community. During the building stage, Theresa scoured the Internet for materials she could repurpose and vintage furnishings that fit her vision. She also got her hands dirty, assisting our contractor every step of the way. Meanwhile, I was running around the city securing permits – New York makes you jump through a lot of hoops. There were a lot of obstacles, but we continued to race to the finish line to bring our dream to life.

Why was it important to incorporate a café and shop into the design?

Theresa: The space needed to be functional but pleasant–somewhere you’d be happy to sit and wait while your laundry finishes. That’s how the idea for the café came about. We intentionally chose a location with tall storefronts, so that natural light could pour through. It was super important to us that the space felt welcoming. When we opened in 2017, the feedback from the community was amazing! We were buzzing with self-service laundry customers and hosting all kinds of events, from musical gatherings and panel discussions to free yoga classes.

What does sustainability mean to you?

T: Sustainability doesn’t have to be intimidating, and you don’t have to upend your way of life. You can start by taking a closer look at your habits and find areas for improvement. Be mindful with your decisions. Choose the less wasteful option or the non-toxic ingredient. Focus on the things you do on a regular basis–like laundry–to make the greatest impact. In our line of work, sustainability means cleaning and caring for garments and textiles to support material longevity, and doing so in a manner that isn’t harmful to the environment and its inhabitants.

Photo by Francesca Rao
Photo by Mutia Adisoma
Photo by Mutia Adisoma

“Less is more! Addressing problems like stains or unpleasant odors with ‘more’ (more detergent, more synthetic fragrances, etc.) can sometimes backfire.

For example, if you use extra detergent on stinky sportswear, it might not wash out and it could lead to buildup, which will trap in odor-causing bacteria. You need to fight the source of the odor, not mask it with excess product.”

What keeps you inspired?

T: I love listening to podcasts like “How I Built This” and learning about other businesses’ stories in magazines like Fast Company. Also, we are fortunate to be part of an incredible community of sustainability-minded changemakers. Seeing how they are making a difference through activism, education and ethical entrepreneurship inspires us to keep pushing the bar.

How has the push to support Black-owned businesses fueled by the racial reckoning of last summer impacted Celsious?

C: We’ve seen a massive uptick in online orders . Our online shop used to be an infinitesimal part of our business, but now it’s growing faster than we ever imagined. We’re grateful to receive support from across the country through online sales, and we’re working hard to improve our e-commerce experience. There’s a lot in the works, so stay tuned!

How are you navigating the struggles and woes of running a business during a pandemic?

C: As an essential business, our laundromat in Brooklyn stayed open throughout the entire pandemic. We had to pivot quickly in order to continue safely serving our community. During the shelter-at-home order, my sister and I processed thousands of pounds of laundry drop-offs ourselves so our team could stay safe. But we weren’t alone in our sacrifice. Navigating a pandemic is challenging for anybody, and any business. We keep our focus on health and safety, our families, our team and our community. This helps guide our decisions.

How do you practice self-care while balancing the rigors of entrepreneurship?

T: I turn to my yoga practice or I escape to nature.

C: I had my first child last November. She is a constant reminder that in order to take good care of her, I have to take good care of myself. So whenever I’m home and she naps, I’ll try to have a nourishing meal, move my body, read a novel, meditate or take a bath.

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned through your entrepreneurship journey?

C: Expect the unexpected. We initially went into building the business thinking that if we applied our sense of reason to everything, we’d make progress exactly as we’d imagined. What ended up happening was the exact opposite: Not a single step in the whole process was linear. So we learned to adapt quickly and go with the flow.

What advice would you give to burgeoning entrepreneurs?

T: Don’t take ‘no’ for an answer! Had we listened to all the naysayers during our journey, Celsious would never have seen the light of day. It’s easy to get discouraged by roadblocks or succumb to imposter syndrome, but keep reminding yourself that a ton of resistance to your idea is often a sign that you’re actually onto something. If one door closes, another one will open up!

“As an essential business, our laundromat in Brooklyn stayed open throughout the entire pandemic. We had to rethink every process and pivot quickly in order to continue safely serving our community.”

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