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Caring for Your Customers’ Couture Clothing (Part 1)

Growing market demands special treatment from dry cleaners

CHICAGO — Dry cleaners looking to increase their piece count while maintaining — and increasing — their pricing may want to set their sights to higher fashion.

Couture clothing presents a major opportunity for dry cleaners who are willing to take the steps necessary to care for the high-end garments, says Jason Loeb, owner of the South Florida-based Sudsies Garment Care, which began caring for couture items more than 15 years ago. 

“It’s a growth area,” Loeb says. “There are 56 Prada stores in the United States, for instance, which means there are 56 designated market areas (DMAs) for Prada. And that doesn’t include sales from department stores. If there’s a Saks or a Neiman Marcus, that’s a DMA, and there’s a need for cleaners in those markets. Put yourself near those locations.”

Market Pressures

Michael Harris, owner of Oceanside Cleaners, headquartered in Jacksonville, Florida, says this growth potential is what compelled him to offer couture services at his business beginning in January 2023. 

“We had always gotten designer garments, and we had processed them in the safest way,” he says. “We started realizing that at the end of 2022, we were getting several hundred a year. Now we are getting several hundred a month; in December, we were close to 700.”

Because so many were coming in, Harris knew Oceanside had to embrace this segment of their customer base.

“We realized that these garments take a special pre-qualifying, cleaning, finishing and packaging process,” he says. “That’s why we started offering more specialized services, to protect the garment. It’s all about the garment.” Charges for these services for couture garments, he says, run about twice of what is charged for regular items.

The Oceanside team received training from Loeb and the Sudsies staff to get this new segment of their operations up and running, says Elizabeth Cayer, lead trainer at Oceanside.

“We definitely use a lot of Jason’s knowledge and expertise with these couture brands and garments,” she says. “To help us understand, we did some on-site visits for our staff to look at these brands and learn about the construction of these garments. Jason has great relationships built up with some of these brands, and we were able to even go into their retail stores and meet with people who handle these pieces day to day. That helped us understand how they’re made and how they should be taken care of.”

Defining the Term

Couture clothing differs from more common garments because of the materials used and the skill of those who create them.

Materials that make up these garments can include exclusive fabrics such as lace; silk; feather; beads; silver and gold; cotton and linen; cashmere; and more. 

In addition to these high-end fabrics, the care taken in creating couture clothing also sets it apart from more common apparel. Loeb says it takes an average of 150 hours to create a “simple” couture dress or suit, and it can take more than 1,000 hours to create a piece that involves fine embroidery or other embellishments.

For haute couture — the highest standard — the garments must be made by a design house that, among other requirements, creates made-to-order clothes for private clients in its workshop. These houses must also employ at least 15 people and present a collection of no less than 50 original designs to the public every season, in January and July.

Houses qualifying for this designation include Christian Dior, Chanel, Giorgio Armani, Givenchy, Jean Paul Gaultier and others, according to Loeb. 

Come back Thursday for Part 2 of this series, where we’ll explore the mindset of cleaners who have found success in the couture field.

Caring for Your Customers’ Couture Clothing

(Photo: © konradbak/Depositphotos)

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