On Tuesday morning, retailers that carry The Laundress cleaning products received a troubling note from the company. An email from interim CFO Tohfe Beidas asked vendors to “immediately cease all sales and distribution” of products from the high-end, plant-based cleaning brand, due to “concerns that have arisen.” Beidas then took the dramatic step of asking retailers to “quarantine” their stock.
More than 48 hours later, on Thursday evening the brand issued a notice on social media and its website, advising customers to immediately stop using The Laundress products in their possession, citing “the potential presence of elevated levels of bacteria in some of our products that present a safety concern.”
The Laundress has since added additional information to its site. The bacteria detected in testing were “so-called ‘opportunistic’ pathogens, including Pseudomonas aeruginosa.” The brand says that “people with a healthy immune system are usually not affected by these bacteria.” However, those with weakened immune systems or external medical devices who are exposed to Pseudomonas aeruginosa “face a risk of serious infection that may require medical treatment. The bacteria can enter the body if inhaled, through the eyes, or through a break in the skin.”
The brand went on to advise customers that it was continuing its investigation and would soon “provide an update about the products impacted and how to obtain a reimbursement or replacement as soon as possible.”
It’s not clear how long the brand has been aware of a potential safety concern. On the company’s own e-commerce site, 68 out of 69 of its detergent and fabric-care products are listed as “out of stock.” As recently as Monday, the brand’s Instagram account responded to a customer inquiry, saying, “Hi there! Yes, some of our products are currently out of stock, and we are working quickly to remedy this.”
On Thursday afternoon, a BOH reporter visited the brand’s sole stand-alone location in Manhattan and found it decorated for the holidays but closed during normal business hours. A note on the door read, “We are closed temporarily, and looking forward to seeing you again soon!”
The Laundress was launched in 2004 by Gwen Whiting and Lindsey Boyd, two entrepreneurs who left their day jobs in fashion to introduce “a pioneering collection of fabric-specific products scented with sophisticated fragrances that extend the lifespan of clothing and eliminate the chemicals and cost of dry cleaning,” according to the brand’s website.
Originally sold direct-to-consumer, the brand adopted a luxury aesthetic and became a regular presence in high-end stores like Bloomingdale’s and Bandier. Partnerships with the likes of perfumery Le Labo burnished The Laundress’s upscale bona fides, and the brand has won awards from Allure and Good Housekeeping. In 2019, The Laundress was acquired by international conglomerate Unilever for a reported $100 million.
According to a Fast Company article about the acquisition, The Laundress has “emphasized using concentrated, eco-friendly chemicals in their formulations, that are all biodegradable,” because “the founders believed these ingredients were superior and more effective than the less expensive ingredients other brands used. However, the additional benefit of these ingredients is that they are nontoxic, and free from phthalates, phosphate, and parabens, all of which are known to cause harm.”
This story has been updated to include new information shared by The Laundress.
Reporting contributed by Lizzy Reisinger.
Homepage image: The brand adopted a luxury aesthetic and became a regular presence in high-end stores | Courtesy of The Laundress