You are here

Caring for Your Customers’ Couture Clothing (Conclusion)

High-end dry cleaning requires caring for the garments and their owners

CHICAGO — The cleaning and care of couture clothing has been an area that, for many dry cleaners, has seen growth in recent years. Cleaners who have the right mindset for dealing with both these garments andtheir owners are finding success in this area.

In Part 1 of this series, we looked at the growth of this segment of the drycleaning industry, along with what sets couture clothing apart from other garments. In Part 2, we explored the mindset necessary to find success in this field. Today, we’ll conclude by examining the processes of cleaning couture clothing, and what the future may hold for this service.

The Right Care and Hardware

While the equipment used to clean couture clothing might be the same as what is used for everyday garments, there are considerations to be made before using those tools on items worth thousands of dollars.

“I do think we have the best of the best equipment in our facilities, but it’s not only the equipment — it’s the maintenance of the equipment,” says Jason Loeb, owner of the South Florida-based Sudsies Garment Care, which began caring for couture items more than 15 years ago. “Is the padding new? Is it soft? Does your vacuum work? It’s also the area around the equipment. Is the area clean? Take an $18,000 Oscar de la Renta dress and put on the press. If there are dust bunnies around, which carry grease, and they get on the dress, it damages it. The environment has to be clean to perform the services that are needed.”

Prepping the garments before using the equipment is also vital, Harris says.

“You need to have nice, updated and well-maintained equipment … but it boils down to the handling,” he says. “Half the items, if not more, need to be hand-cleaned. If you do put it (in a) machine, do you have to take the buttons off and put them back on? Do you have to wrap some tinfoil around some beads, or wrap a towel around the top because it’s all full of beads, but still get spilled wine out of the bottom? We have a certain program on the cleaning machines for designer garments because you cannot beat up these items.”

Once the cleaning is done, finishing also requires a gentle hand.

“The tech has to know a lot of this is hand-finishing,” says Michael Harris, owner of Oceanside Cleaners, headquartered in Jacksonville, Florida. “You can’t pull a (press) head down on a designer garment because it will leave an impression that you can’t get out. We have weekly meetings on the designer garment service. There’s no margin of error.”

“You cannot rush these pieces,” adds Elizabeth Cayer, lead trainer at Oceanside. “You really need to take your time and make sure you’re handling it the absolute best way possible. You can’t be a bull.”

“What actually becomes tricky is when a couture item comes in that needs restoration work,” Loeb says. “It takes a thought process — it’s just not about cleaning. It’s one thing to find the best methods for cleaning. It’s different when you have a handmade jacket coming in with a woolen outside, a synthetic lining on the inside, and it’s got red wine down the sleeve. That needs to be handled differently, and we get a lot of those in.”

There’s no magic to the process, though, Harris says. It’s simply a matter of care and planning.

“If you have the right machine,” he says, “you keep your solvent clean, you keep your filters clean — which a lot of cleaners don’t — you have the right program and you do all the things that you need to do to protect the garment, you’ll be successful.”

Care for the Customer

One of the elements that is essential in caring for couture clothing is caring for the people who bring in these items, and dry cleaners need to be able to recognize this.

“Educate yourself on what couture means,” Loeb says. “You have to start to understand lifestyle. With the people who are wearing these types of items, it doesn’t stop with their clothing. It’s how they live their life. So, you have to meet them where they want to be met. They want to know that, when they bring in their $27,000 Chanel sequin gown, you understand how to clean and finish that garment.”

Part of this, Loeb believes, is having your staff shift some of the familiar terminology into something that makes the customer more comfortable in you and in your processes. 

“You don’t tell them, ‘We’re going to press it.’ You tell them, ‘We’re going to finish it,’” he says. “It’s a whole philosophy of education, even educating your consumer. The consumer knows that this is a specialty piece. How you talk to them substantiates your knowledge base, and then it gives them the comfort level for you to do it.”

A critical element of this is making sure your staff is well-versed and knowledgeable on the subject of couture garments, Loeb says: “Education gives the customer service representative confidence and competence, and when the customer sees this, they’re more confident.”

The Future in Couture

For both Sudsies and Oceanside, the signs of future growth in couture cleaning are impressive. 

“These customers absolutely love it,” Harris says, “because every time one of these customers buys couture, they’re probably wondering who they can get to clean it.”

“We have new customers who are reaching out to us, learning that we have this service, and they’re choosing to come to us,” Cayer says. “We recently got a call from Savannah, Georgia, which is about two hours away. She said she’s been having difficulty finding a cleaner in her area who could handle the garments — they wouldn’t even take them in the door because they didn’t want the liability. She’s willing to make the trip to see us because we’re able to take care of those pieces for her.”

“We do hundreds of couture items every day,” Loeb says. “It’s the fastest-growing segment in our market, and we’re just getting more and more demand for it. I think lifestyle pieces are becoming more and more prevalent, and that the couture market will continue to grow and dominate over ready-to-wear items. People are looking to buy more exclusive items and they want to find someone who can take care of it.”           

For Part 1 of this series, click HERE. For Part 2, click HERE.          

Caring for Your Customers’ Couture Clothing

(Image licensed by Ingram Image)

Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Dave Davis at [email protected].