Doing laundry sucks. I could think of a hundred things I’d rather be doing. But, for 116,000 unfortunate Australians access to clean laundry is an indulgence. For two incredible Millennials, knowing this was life-changing.
Brisbane Millen-trepreneurs and best mates, Nic Marchesi and Luke Patchett became joint holders of the prestigious Young Australian of the Year award in 2016 for their work in their company, Orange Sky. The boys started the company in 2014 when they were just shy of twenty, but neither had any ambition to be CEOs or business owners, all they wanted to do was a help. Five years down the track and Orange Sky has 250 outlets, 1750 volunteers, turns over $5m and supports thousands of Australians experiencing homelessness.
So, what does Orange Sky do?
They’re a mobile laundry service. But they’re a lot more than that.
Marchesi and Patchett know the struggle of those experiencing homelessness, they had mates living rough and they know how tough it is to get a leg up when you’re that down and out. They also had a hunch some clean clothes and a good chat could mean the world of difference when you have nothing but the clothes on your back. And that’s how they knew they could help.
The inception of Orange Sky was just a couple of mates and a van wanting to make a difference.
What if we could drive around with a washing machine and give those experiencing homelessness a chance to wash their clothes? The pair pondered, but Millennials don’t ponder long, they ‘do’.
Marchesi told Kochie’s Business Builders last year,
“We (Marchesi and co-founder Lucas Patchett) just came up with this crazy idea of putting a washing machine in the back of a van. We got two washers and two dryers and named it ‘Sudsy’.”
Sounds so simple.
Anyone who’s started a business knows it’s never as easy as that. And the two Millennial heroes discovered that with their first hurdle, almost instantly. It was a pretty major one too–getting the machines and the van to actually work. ‘Sudsy’ was a little more stubborn than a grease stain, it turns out. So, the pair lobbed on the doorstep of one of Queensland’s major laundromats and pitched their idea, they told them what they needed––a washing machine that worked, basically. Bless that Millennial confidence! Despite initial resistance, not taking no for an answer, Sudsy and the boys managed to sell the idea and drove away with their van ready for action. A few more hurdles later and they now have a fleet of 35 “sudsies” across Australia.
What started with an idea to wash clothes, grew quickly into something bigger. The catalyst was an experience early on in their journey. They were helping a young homeless man on the streets of Brisbane and they got chatting, by the time his washing was ready they knew almost as much about him as they did each other. That’s when they realised that something people experiencing homelessness are gasping for as much as a hot meal and some clean clothes are a conversation. To be seen, to feel part of the community. Orange Sky now had a bigger purpose. And a more philosophical mission. They wanted to create a community and give our 116,000 Australians experiencing homelessness a feeling of belonging.
The Orange Sky staff aren’t homeless experts, or laundry experts or counselors, they’re just good people with conversation skills that want to help. Just like the company’s founders. Orange Sky’s website displays a weekly tally of the amount of volunteers they have rostered on (around 1750 per week), how many loads of washing they’ve done (around 1000 per week), how many showers they provided (around 150 per week), and more importantly, how many hours of conversation they’ve provided––which is around 1500hrs per week!)
Along with a free regular laundry and shower service for thousands of their less-fortunate friends, in their ‘spare time’ Orange Sky’s social enterprise business model also runs a commercial laundry service that employs the homeless people they look after. They’ve partnered with national labour hire organisation, Programmed, to provide a 13-week ‘back-to-work’ training internship with Orange Sky. When the recipients complete their placement, they leave with recent work experience, references ongoing support from Programmed, and newfound confidence.
The boys don’t feel like they had any big business breakthrough, they just wanted to do something, wanted to help, and they found a way to do it. They faced each new hurdle with a can-do attitude and kept their mission in mind.
“A washing machine, a shower and Orange Sky Digital won’t put a roof over someone’s head. But that’s not our core mission. Our mission is to positively connect people.”
Pretty inspiring stuff, hey?! So, how did you spend your early twenties?