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[Newsletter] JeCLEAN’s Journey from Laundry to Regeneration
Date
2023.08.21
Views
255

Adding+ Life to Discarded Beddings and Restoring∞ them Cleanly

"We focused on hotels and accommodations, which play a significant role in Jeju, South Korea's most famous tourist destination. Among the most crucial aspects for visitors to Jeju is nonother than bedding. Cleanliness and meticulous maintenance are essential factors for ensuring a pleasant stay. JeCLEAN started as a laundry service. Evolving from the washing and maintenance of accommodation bedding, our next step is recycling cotton materials from bedding and discarded linens to create meaningful eco-friendly products, contributing to a sustainable upcycling era.” 

- Cha Seungsoo, CEO of JeCLEAN


Starting a laundry business in Jeju, at the heart of tourism 


In 2016, CEO Cha Seungsoo, who had built a career in content, marketing, and alliance at a large company in Seoul, made a sudden decision to move to Jeju. He didn't have grand intentions or a startup idea at first, but Jeju presented itself as a land of new opportunities.


 

Q What motivated you to start a laundry business on Jeju Island, which you had no connection with? 

I believed that hard work, sincerity, and honesty would not necessarily guarantee success, but they certainly would prevent failure. So, when I decided to venture into something new, I sought a path where I could feel a sense of accomplishment, rather than relying on existing connections or taking the easy route. After working in office jobs for 19 years, I unexpectedly found myself immersed in jobs like collecting, delivering, and doing laundry every day. It was in my third year on Jeju, in 2019, that I got to walk barefoot on Hamdeok Beach for the first time. The initial settlement wasn't easy. 

Jeju Island is a tourist destination, with a wide range of accommodations, from large-scale hotels to Airbnb rentals. As a result, there is a significant demand for careful management of bedding on a daily basis. Initially, I struggled to establish my client base, providing laundry and delivery services to accommodations. Gradually, I saw the potential for an online, contactless B2B laundry service platform catering to the needs of accommodations.

 

Q Can you explain the meaning behind JeCLEAN and the current scope of the company's activities? 

JeCLEAN is a combination of Jeju and Clean, meaning "clean Jeju." We started by providing laundry and delivery services to small guesthouses and now serve over 350 accommodation businesses and companies on Jeju Island, including Jeju Shinhwa World, Maison Glad Jeju, and SK Pinx. We offer eco-friendly laundry care and sales of bedding products. 

Dealing with enormous amounts of accommodation bedding in Jeju led us to discover new opportunities. Many beddings were being discarded in good condition, creating environmental issues. Recognizing the global trend of recycling and resource circulation, we found our starting point in the recycling and upcycling business. Currently, JeCLEAN collects discarded bedding, cotton products, and towels to produce recycled products while exploring new ways to contribute to environmental protection on Jeju Island.



Embarking on ESG management for and with Jeju 



Q What is the philosophy behind JeCLEAN's ESG management? 

Among the three aspects of environment, social, and governance (ESG), we focused on preserving Jeju's pristine environment. For our clients' accommodations, their bedding condition is directly related to their quality, which means that high-end hotels often dispose of unsuitable bedding immediately. The fashion industry has recently gained attention by creating products from recycled or regenerated fabrics. Interestingly, most of the discarded bedding from accommodations consists of white fabric with high-quality cotton threads, making them ideal for recycling. By recycling discarded bedding, which would otherwise harm the environment through disposal or incineration, we also promote social solidarity with collaborating hotels and textile companies. 

Through our own R&D efforts, JeCLEAN has developed RE;TOWEL, a 100% recycled towel, and established a system to supply recycled materials that qualify for international environmental certification, such as the Global Recycle Standard (GRS). Ultimately, we believe it is now a crucial time for many companies to consider the environment and engage in collaborative activities that foster social circulation. Please remember that JeCLEAN began with the idea of "laundry," the most fundamental act of recycling and regeneration, enabling continuous use without discarding clothes.  


Q What does Jeju mean to JeCLEAN as a startup founded on the island? 

JeCLEAN began by providing services to accommodations clustered in Jeju and has been expanding its business. Jeju Island is an open-minded place that offers opportunities for new perspectives and entrepreneurship. However, besides the tourism, real estate, agriculture, and fisheries sectors, it can be challenging to establish new industries on the island. Even opening a simple manufacturing business is difficult here. Regulations and licensing conditions are as strict as those on the mainland, if not more. Yet, it is also challenging to grant businesses autonomy while achieving harmony with nature. Nonetheless, I hope more startups and aspiring entrepreneurs will consider coming to Jeju.

As I travel throughout Jeju for deliveries, I encounter many neglected and unused areas, halted construction sites, closed-down houses, and vacant lots. I would like to propose that the local government organize and acquire such spaces or create opportunities for joint ventures with companies. It could be a sub-concept of a developmental investment zone. I also suggest expanding the range of industries eligible for investment support. Like "Jeju Workation," a new initiative by Jeju Province, providing various forms of office space for startups seeking to establish themselves in Jeju or companies considering relocating to the island, would demonstrate flexible thinking and action needed in an era of declining population.


Regeneration: JeCLEAN's key appeal and growth driver 



Q Congratulations on securing investment from MYSC (MY Social Company), an impact investor, in July. What sets JeCLEAN apart as an ESG startup? 

We see 2023 as the beginning of JeCLEAN's quantum leap. We categorize recycled materials into two main types. The first is pre-consumer recycled material, which is challenging or nearly impossible to regenerate into the same product after one recycling cycle. The second is post-consumer recycled material, which can be repeatedly recycled, reused, and remade into the same product.

An example of pre-consumer recycled material is polyester made from plastic bottles. Recycled polyester threads and fabrics are used to create products like clothes and bags, but they cannot be regenerated back into plastic bottles or polyester threads.

JeCLEAN focuses on post-consumer recycled materials, particularly cotton, a natural resource. Through research and development, we aim to create materials that can be infinitely recycled. For instance, threads and fabrics made from discarded cotton bedding products used by hotels can be supplied back to hotels as bedding or towels. At the end of their life cycle, these products can be regenerated into recycled cotton items, eliminating the need for disposal or incineration.

One significant advantage of cotton products is that they do not produce microplastics during recycling or washing. JeCLEAN controls recycled fabrics made through OEM production. We plan to expand our business to cater to companies, hotels, and lodging providers looking to replace existing plastic and polyester products with recycled items. Additionally, we aim to serve those needing large-scale purchases, consumption, regeneration, and supply of such products. This process exemplifies an optimal environmentally-friendly business model, where discarded waste is transformed into high-quality products through regeneration. We aspire to be an essential partner for ESG management through collaborations with various companies in the future.


Q We are curious to learn about JeCLEAN's next steps, as a leading company in Jeju focusing on eco-friendliness, regeneration, and circulation. 

JeCLEAN's growth owes much to its roots in Jeju. From a business perspective, there is still much to be done. Our plan is to expand opportunities for visitors to experience "regeneration" firsthand when they come to Jeju. We want to offer guests the chance to experience JeCLEAN's recycled bedding products at accommodations and create an environment where people can encounter resource recycling and eco-friendly products on the island.

It would be ideal if souvenirs representing Jeju were also made from recycled materials. For instance, visitors could pick up JeCLEAN's eco-bag made from recycled cotton at the airport with a deposit, and after their trip, they could return it and get their deposit back or keep it as a meaningful souvenir. The true value of high-quality towels made from discarded bedding materials can only be appreciated through use. We hope that many people will experience and use not only JeCLEAN's products but also various other recycled items.

 



Running a business and doing business in Jeju 


Q Major global corporations were once startups. What has JeCLEAN experienced during its eight years of operation in Jeju? 

In 2016, I started JeCLEAN as a one-person startup, and today we have grown to a team of 21 employees. Our client base has expanded from 9 in the first year to 172 currently. As we venture into textile recycling, beyond our existing laundry service, new missions are emerging. The most significant challenge we face is finding suitable land. Startups operating on online and mobile platforms would require office spaces, while those in the food and beverage industry would need physical stores. Companies like ours require larger spaces and land.

Stable rental or self-owned spaces are vital requirements for Jeju to become an attractive place for businesses. A stable workplace and residential environment would also entice ambitious young individuals to choose Jeju as their destination.

JeCLEAN is striving to create stable jobs. We produce and regenerate our products in Korea, rather than opting for overseas manufacturing due to cheap labor and raw material costs. Our products are proudly "made in Korea," and we employ senior and disabled workers. We believe we can achieve sustainable growth by creating a work environment where employees can work stably. Our ultimate goal is to contribute to a sustainable Jeju, empowering young people to envision their futures with confidence.



Q We would love to have more opportunities to interact with environmentally-conscious JeCLEAN. How can we do that? 

You can experience JeCLEAN's safe bedding, treated with eco-friendly wet cleaning using environmentally friendly detergents, at hotels and accommodations in Jeju. We promise you a comfortable rest. Furthermore, you can order high-quality hotel bedding or 100% recycled cotton products (towels, eco-bags, socks, cotton pouches, etc.) through JeCLEAN's website. Embracing conscious consumption contributes to our planet's well-being and helps preserve the environment.

In addition, we are developing a concept laundry factory and multipurpose space where customers can experience and tour our facilities. This unique experience will be similar to visiting latex factories, a must-do when traveling in Southeast Asia. The space will also function as a store where you can purchase related products and a café with a unique ambiance. Unlike ordinary industrial cafés, our space will showcase a real giant eco-friendly washing machine in operation, the production of recycled yarn from discarded bedding materials, and our high-quality RE;PROJECT products available for purchase. Although this project is still under wraps, we are confident that it will come to fruition as planned. Stay tuned!