NEW YORK — Rechelle Balanzat prides herself on being at the cutting edge of the drycleaning industry, investing in technology and modern practices to anticipate the needs of her New York City clientele.
Now, she’s written the book on it.
Balanzat, the CEO and founder of New York City-based dry cleaner JULIETTE, recently authored and published JULIETTE: The Story of Building Something from Nothing. Part fashion photography, part autobiography and part industry history, the book chronicles Balanzat’s journey in creating her business and her brand, along with documenting some of the obstacles she faced and overcame along the way.
“I wanted to show a different side of the drycleaning and laundry industry,” Balanzat says. “There’s so much that goes on behind the scenes. It’s not only in the kind of work that we do, but the mindset of the entrepreneur, as well — this idea of building something from nothing. So many people are in our industry are owner/operators. They’re entrepreneurs. That was where the idea of this book came from — shedding a different light on laundry and dry cleaning as more than just laundry and dry cleaning.”
The relationship between dry cleaners and their clients is unique in the retail world, Balanzat says, and worthy of being celebrated.
“There’s so much more to it than cleaning clothes,” she says. “Your clothes are the fabrics that touch you every day — it doesn’t get more intimate than that. We have a lot of clients who have really expensive garments, and they make them feel a certain way. There are garments that hold sentimental value, too. I want people to understand that, as a cleaner, we get that. We understand that we’re not just cleaning your clothes. There’s fashion involved, and psychology, and trust and time.”
A serial entrepreneur, Balanzat started JULIETTE in 2014. The idea for the book documenting her journey started, ironically, when she feared this particular journey might be coming to an end.
“It all started when we were all going through COVID,” she says. “We were watching the world change, and there was so much uncertainty. So much discord and upheaval. I questioned the viability of my business, and I questioned myself. I ended up doing a lot of soul searching, because like everyone else, we took a big revenue loss. I asked myself why did I do this, and really questioned if I was going to make it through this pandemic.”
These questions, she says, brought her back to her roots.
“My dream was always to build the first recognizable brand in laundry and dry cleaning, and that was the inspiration for the book,” she says, “to uplift and remind people to have faith in themselves and their dreams again.”
In the book, which Balanzat describes as both an “art book” and a “conversation starter,” she chronicles her journey of founding, building and scaling the company that would become JULIETTE without outside capital. As a female born in the Philippines, this difficulty in finding lenders was an issue she knew she had to circumvent.
“In 2020, (venture capitalists) invested $428M into U.S.-based startups each day,” she writes in her book. “That’s $156.2B in one year. 2.3% of that went to women. 0.2% went to women of color. Why is that? And when the numbers work against you, how do you make an impact? How do you make your dreams come true?”
One of JULIETTE’s strengths is the early adoption of technology to best meet the needs of her fashion-conscious clients, Balanzat says, and that’s required her to come up with different ideas and approaches to the industry. She wanted her book to follow that mindset.
“I thought that it needed to be aesthetically beautiful,” she says. “It needs to communicate the values of the JULIETTE brand. And so, the question became, ‘How do we turn laundry and dry cleaning into art? How do we turn laundry and dry cleaning into fashion? How do we turn laundry and dry cleaning into technology?’ If you look at the book, it’s large, it’s photo-rich, and we did a lot of interviews with clients and with our partners to start to distill a storyline.”
More than anything, Balanzat says, she hopes that other entrepreneurs will find something in the book they can use to further their own efforts.
“We tell the story of business,” she says, “we tell the story of the entrepreneurial mindset. And I just hope it reminds people to have the courage and conviction to relentlessly follow their dreams.”
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