“If you found yourself with a couple of bucks in your pocket, would you spend it on washing and drying your clothes?” Orange Sky Laundry co-founder Lucas Patchett asked the audience at Ozwater’19.
“How high a priority could that be when you’re cold, you’re scared and you don’t know where you’re going to be from one day to the next?”
Patchett founded free mobile laundry service Orange Sky with his friend Nic Marchesi in late 2014. The pair, then 20, had volunteered for a food van during their time in high school, where they had their eyes opened to the massive issue of homelessness.
According to the 2016 Census, 116,000 Australians – or one in every 200 people – are homeless.
“Nick and I found these figures hard to comprehend, and we wanted to find a way to help,” Patchett said.
“We sat down in a Brisbane cafe one day and hatched a crazy plan to build a free mobile laundry service to help improve the hygiene standards of the homeless.”
But what started as an idea to restore dignity to people doing it tough evolved into something much bigger.
The power of water
On the morning they launched Orange Sky, Patchett and Marchesi realised something: the most important things in their laundry van weren’t the washing machines, generators, dryers, water tanks or even a little $12 tool that helped them ‘borrow’ water from the council.
The most important things were actually six orange chairs.
“These chairs are so, so important for fostering the amazing conversations that take place around our vans every single day,” Patchett said.
“We all know what the power of water is, and the power of a hot shower, but we also help more than 1000 people every week through positive, non-judgemental conversations.”
Orange Sky Chief Innovation Officer David Tubb said the goal is to make as big an impact as possible.
From that single van, Orange Sky has grown to a fleet of 29 vehicles that operate in 22 cities across the country. The team has also branched out into shower vans, and combo vans where people can wash their clothes and themselves.
“We wanted to work out how to use the transformative power of water to help more Australians,” Tubb said.
“We’re about to do our millionth kilogram of washing, but more importantly we’ve provided more than 160,000 hours of conversation.”