Gwen Whiting ’98 and Lindsey Boyd ’98 met while studying fiber science and apparel design in the College of Human Ecology. Their company The Laundress, a line of premium, nontoxic laundry and cleaning products, was acquired by Unilever in January.
What does your business do, and how did you get the idea?
Gwen Whiting: The Laundress is a collection of laundry detergent, fabric care and home cleaning products that take excellent care of you, the things you love and the environment.
Lindsey Boyd: We founded The Laundress in 2004 because we were frustrated with dingy white T-shirts, faded denim and clothing that was prematurely worn from washing. We were unsatisfied with the one-size-fits-all laundry products available in the marketplace, and dry cleaning left our clothes loaded with chemicals. Knowing that 90 percent of clothes labeled “dry clean only” can be washed at home — if it’s done correctly — we decided to research and develop our own, eco-friendly laundry solutions.
Entrepreneurship is all about taking calculated risks. What’s the most pivotal risk you’ve taken, and how did it change your path?
Lindsey: Leaving our highly sought-after jobs at Chanel and Ralph Lauren, respectively, with very little money in our bank accounts!
Gwen: We knew the risk we were taking, but we had an unstoppable passion to realize our vision. We felt there was a big void in the market, and we had a clear vision for our products and business mission.
How has your experience at Cornell impacted how you approach business?
Lindsey: Our time at Cornell taught us the importance of being resourceful and how to think for ourselves.
Gwen: We wrote our business plan, section by section, from my textbook for Professor David J. BenDaniel’s Entrepreneurship & Enterprise course!
Was there a particular faculty member or class that influenced you the most? If so, how?
Gwen: When we were starting our business, we sought guidance from Fiber Science and Apparel Design professor Kay Obendorf to develop products using natural ingredients that achieve a higher standard for home and fabric care.
Lindsey: Learning from Professor Obendorf’s expertise in textile science was critical to our product development; it was almost like doing a post-graduate research project.
What has been each of your proudest moments as an entrepreneur? Why?
Lindsey: For me, it’s not one specific moment. I’m proud of what we’ve developed as a whole — the energy of our team and the culture we have created. It’s incredible to be part of creating a brand.
Gwen: It is really hard to choose just one moment. Right now, I would have to say it was joining the Unilever family. We are honored to be part of an incredible portfolio of brands that has sustainability and doing better for the world at its core.
Who or what inspires you?
Lindsey: I’m inspired by so much, from my kids to art and travel. Recently, I’ve been inspired by other entrepreneurs. The energy is contagious!
Gwen: As a creative person, I get inspiration from many sources. I recently spent three days with the Unilever global team, and I am so energized by the talent and resources that will take our brand to the next level.
If you had one piece of advice for someone just starting out, what would it be?
Gwen: Focus, passion, planning, and authenticity are key.
Lindsey: Stay passionate, and trust your instincts.
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This interview was conducted by Savannah Whiting of Cornell Strategic Communications.