The About Face Collective is trying to bring together community artists and green enthusiasts to create Toronto’s first solar-powered laundromat. Illustration by Oivind Hovland/Torontoist.
Ever wish you could do your laundry, look at a painting, have a latté, and pick up some organic produce all at the same place? Lauren Pirie and Natalie Boustead are trying to bring such a place to fruition. Their pet project, the About Face Collective, would be Toronto’s first non-profit solar-powered laundromat, organic café, and gallery space—that is, if they can get it up and running.
For a lot of people living in downtown Toronto, cleaning clothes at a laundromat is a necessity, explains Pirie. “It’s an opportunity to have a social interaction and do something more creative than just sit around and wait for you laundry to dry.” In addition to the spaces already mentioned, the plan is to have a rooftop garden, a community kitchen, affordable housing, and storefronts for like-minded small businesses.
Pirie first came up with the idea as her creative thesis when studying communication design at Ryerson a few years ago. The initial partnership she had with a school friend fell through, but she held onto the idea of making it happen. A mutual acquaintance then introduced her to Boustead about a year ago, who brought a group of people involved with the Dupont and Spadina Corner Collective into the fold, and it all snowballed from there.
Pirie says the group involved in starting up the collective come from an incredibly wide range of backgrounds. Urban farmers, artists, university professors, builders, and many more have been working towards getting the project off the ground. “They’re passionate about all the same things we both are,” she says.
“Finding the perfect location is a challenge,” she adds. “We’re very passionate about salvaging an older building. It rips my heart out every time I see another one of those turn-of-the-century brick buildings torn down for some cookie-cutter glass thing. That’s part of our whole initiative—making use of old things in new, creative ways.”
Right now, they’re working with a lawyer to become incorporated as a non-profit business and collaborating with a green real-estate agent to find the perfect spot downtown.
The biggest challenge is still raising enough funds. “It’s really overwhelming,” says Pirie. Retro-fitting alone could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars; then there are the costs of the laundry machines, the solar-panels, and the café equipment. Because they’re adopting the non-profit model, they’re not going to attract a whole lot of investors, so they’ve tried their hand at garnering grants. Their proposal made it to the semi-final round of the Aviva Community Fund competition, which would have given them a share in the $500,000 grant. Now, it’s just a matter of continuing to apply for others and developing more fundraising ideas.
If the stars align, this imagined space could inspire the local community and businesses to get serious about environmental issues and sustainable practices. Plus, we here at Torontoist sure would enjoy some java while drying our undies.