It was late 2019, and Monica Quezada had a problem on her hands. Quezada was working for the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority and had just found out there was an outbreak of scabies at one of the winter shelters she oversaw. Frantically, Quezada and her colleagues worked to solve the problem. But there was something they didn’t have that they needed — laundry services. The shelter, which typically operated only as a seasonal program to get people off the streets during cold nights, didn’t have the same amenities that most shelters do, like washers and dryers.
She remembered hearing about Jodie Dolan, the owner of the fashion brand and company DOLAN. Quezada recalled that the company had created The Laundry Truck LA — a mobile laundry service for the homeless. She knew that Dolan worked with her friend over at The Shower Of Hope, the largest mobile shower service in Los Angeles, so Quezada reached out to see if they could put her in touch with Jodie.
“We were connected via text, and she contacted me right away, and we were on the phone,” Quezada said. “I told her about the crisis, and I said, ‘I need you to put together a proposal of how much it’s going to cost.’ And she quickly put it together, sent it over to the county, and the mobile laundry services started in probably a week.”
That service proved to be essential, and helped rid the shelter of the outbreak.
“Jodie impacted the crisis that we were undergoing and the necessity to have access to laundry services. She came during a time where it was so needed,” Quezada said.
Jodie Dolan started DOLAN in 2004, out of her garage in Los Angeles. It began as a creative project: a way to help the art history major have a creative outlet. But it quickly grew from a t-shirt line into a contemporary, feminine clothing brand sold wholesale and produced worldwide.
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It was fulfilling until a few years ago, when Dolan began feeling discontent. At the same time, she began to notice the world around her was changing. Everywhere she looked, she saw homeless people. It seemed like every day, more and more tents were going up around Los Angeles, and more and more homeless people were on the streets.
Dolan decided she needed to devote her time to help what she calls, “a humanitarian crisis.” She started volunteering on Skid Row, the neighborhood in Los Angeles where a significant portion of the city’s homeless live. She would make food for the homeless in the evenings, and she soon began to befriend people and understand the issues they faced daily.
“I kept asking, what could be our contribution to this? I knew that I wanted to do something, but I didn’t know what it was,” Dolan said.
“And then when I got involved with the Shower Of Hope, I saw people taking showers and having this amazing, transformative, clean experience and then having to put their dirty clothes back on.”
“It was sort of like the ‘AHA’ moment of the power of clothing and what that can do to improve your self esteem and dignity.”
In 2018, Dolan bought a “laundry truck” — a 16-foot trailer with five washers and dryers inside. She called her initiative ‘The Laundry Truck LA’ and began driving the truck around the city to areas where homeless people reside and washing their clothes. The truck goes out in two shifts — day and night— seven days a week.
“Every day of the week, we’re at the same location so that the community there can expect us, and you know, it’s part of their routine,” Dolan said.
“We’re at parks, and we’re at shelters and some Project Room Key sites,” Dolan said, referring to a collaborative effort by the state, county, and the L.A. Homeless Services Authority to secure hotel and motel rooms for vulnerable people experiencing homelessness
“We’re at some safe parking spots, and then occasionally there’s like one-off things where we’ll be parked at an encampment.”
The Laundry Truck LA did around 1,000 loads of laundry in 2019. In 2020, that number skyrocketed to 7,500. This year, they expect to do even more: Dolan hopes to double it, to 15,000. To help hit that mark, she bought a second laundry truck that is expected to be in use soon.
“I couldn’t see not doing something. It just feels imperative that we all do our part, whatever that is, and for me, that turned out to be laundry trucks,” Dolan said.
“It’s too much to bear, to see it every day and not want to help find a solution.”
It was also too much to bear for Dolan to watch as first responders, nurses, medical professionals, and frontline workers suffered in the face of Covid-19. At the beginning of the pandemic, just like most businesses, Dolan was forced to close her doors and even had to lay off staff. But within a few days of closing, she says, the city, with whom she has a relationship with because of The Laundry Truck LA, reached out to her asking if she’d be willing to make masks and donate them to frontline workers.
She jumped at the chance.
Dolan brought her staff back and began making masks. They ended up donating 100,000 masks and soon started getting more requests from ER units, nurses, doctors, surgeons, scientists, and people all around the world. Through the relationships Dolan was building, she realized her company could offer more to the healthcare space. They decided to design more than just masks —and began creating and donating scrubs, hospital gowns, hats, masks, booties, and gloves.
And then, they started selling them on their website.
“This helped shape our DTC (direct to consumer) business, which was pretty non-existent up to that point. We were a pretty traditional wholesale brand,” Dolan said.
“And now, our direct business is up; our wholesale business is up because of it; it’s opened the doors for us at different price points and even private label opportunities. It’s just been really successful.”
Meanwhile, Dolan also continues to donate to people in need.
Quezada said, after she moved into her new role as senior director of programs at the Weingart Center, a homeless center offering comprehensive services in the Skid Row area, Dolan donated boxes of clothing and masks.
Looking towards the future, Dolan hopes to obtain more funding to hopefully buy three more trucks, having five total, to set up across Los Angeles County, to clean more clothes for homeless Angelinos.
“It helps us feel like we were part of the solution,” Dolan said. “And I think that’s what has been a guiding light really through so much of this is that the laundry truck has, and is, and will continue to be an answer to an actual need.”
Note: Every clothing purchase on DOLAN’s website equals one pound of clean laundry for people experiencing homelessness.