By Samuel Sveen Explorebigsky.com Contributor
BOZEMAN – Carol Bildahl has twisted the classic wooden laundry rack into a sleek, space-saving, anodized aluminum work of design: the LOFTi and DUO, by The New Clothesline Company.
After a visit to her family’s home in Ireland, the entrepreneur brought the old-fashioned air-drying method back to Bozeman, creating a new, much sexier version for the American consumer. Based on the ‘Slow Movement,’ which advocates a cultural shift toward slowing down life’s pace, the laundry still dries—just more slowly, and gentler, too.
The LOFTi rack pays for itself within a few months, Bildahl says. The average American electric dryer is not only the size of a small European car, but is also the largest energy suck in the house—even more than, say, your fridge. Plus, Bildahl points out, your clothes retain what they would otherwise be losing to your dryer’s lint trap.
While gaining exposure through trade shows, websites, and a few retailers so far, the former Connecticut resident launched the business in December 2011 and is already distributing worldwide while working from her Bozeman home.
Although its design is seemingly simple—a few parallel rods hanging from the ceiling— Bildahl spent nearly four years developing it. The wooden rack was indeed inspiration, but she sought improvements: sturdier, space-saving, shipping-friendly, customizable, aesthetically pleasing. Working with a designer, she created a final product that was small, lightweight and colorful, with an instructional assembly video to match, sans language barrier.
The user can alter the rack’s size by adding or removing tubing segments, and raise or lower it with a system of pulleys and rope. Hanging from the ceiling, the LOFTi not only saves space in a cramped laundry room, but also takes advantage of the fact that heat rises. For Bildahl, the LOFTi location of choice is on her porch, the Bridger Mountains as the backdrop.
The New Clothesline Company has also created a smaller accessory rack called the DUO, which can snap onto the end of the LOFTi or hang on its own. While the larger rack is suited for heavier items like jeans or towels, the DUO is better for smaller articles like underwear and reusable baby diapers.
Websites including Amazon, organize.com, stackandstacks.com, and clotheslines.com are selling the LOFTi and the DUO, as are several stores in Big Sky and Bozeman.
In order to keep costs down and make the products affordable to consumers, Bildahl is manufacturing, packaging and shipping them in an Asian factory. In Bozeman, Bildahl has teamed up with a handful of other local upstarts to create a shipping deal with FedEx, which has made a Bozeman warehouse doable, as opposed to the usual shipping centers of Seattle or Los Angeles.
“It’s really great and easy to do business in Montana,” Bildahl said.
The New Clothesline Company launched two weeks before Christmas 2011 on fab.com—a website featuring high-end design goods—and moved over 800 pieces through two separate product pushes. Since then, the company’s strong online presence has set in motion deals with major retailers like Crate & Barrel and various international distributors. The product will soon be available in Canadian stores and already has an exclusive UK retailer.
Going forward, Bildahl would like to be able to donate her product to lower-income families or Habitat for Humanity, and perhaps outfit an entire ‘eco-dorm’ at Montana State University. She also envisions adding a line of organic detergents and other laundry accessories.
One obstacle is that in many urban neighborhoods in the U.S. there are restrictions against hanging laundry. The LOFTi could slide in as a neat solution there, too, Bildahl says.