Jodie Dolan is a Fashion Designer that pivoted to find a solution for the homeless. She is the Founder of The Laundry Truck LA that provides many homeless families and individuals in the greater LA and downtown area with clean clothes. The Non-Profit aims to restore a bit of dignity and hope to the local homeless communities through free laundry service.
Jodie Dolan started her career in fashion after a brief stint with interior designing. She founded the brand DOLAN in 2004, out of her garage in Los Angeles. It began as a fun project for the Art History major; however, the brand quickly grew from a t-shirt line into an entire clothing brand with her perseverance and zeal to keep improving.
Talking about the early stages of the brand, she said, “In a serendipitous moment, my tees fell into the hands of a buyer at Saks, this was the moment it felt like it went from an art project in my garage to a real company. From hand-painted tees to a full-fledged design and production house with partners all over the world – it’s been incredibly exciting.”
Her career in fashion was fulfilling until she came across a problem that she couldn’t get out of her mind. Every time she stepped out, she saw homeless people. Every day she noticed more tents were going up around Los Angeles, and the number of homeless people on the street was increasing.
Dolan decided she needed to step up and do something to deal with what she called a humanitarian crisis. She started by volunteering at Skid Row, a neighbourhood in Los Angeles with the highest reported numbers of homeless people. She began by preparing food for the homeless in the evenings and even started befriending people to connect with them at a deeper level to understand the issues they faced. “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 only 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.”
Dolan had an epiphany, and in 2017, she bought a ‘laundry truck’ — a trailer with five washers and dryers inside that she intended to use to wash the clothes of the homeless. She named it ‘The Laundry Truck LA.’
Dolan said, “It’s expensive to do laundry and do it regularly. It’s definitely something that is needed that we do not think about. But it’s probably not the first place you would use your money if you had limited resources.”
She then began driving the Laundry Truck LA’ around the city to areas where homeless people resided and began offering her free services to them. The truck has two shifts — day and night— all seven days of the week.
“We go to the same spot. So every Monday, we’ll be at MacArthur Park. … We do have the consistency of a location so that people … can count on us,” she says. “And we can also show up with additional services like outreach workers, and caseworkers, and showers, and all the additional auxiliary services are usually surrounding the laundry.”
One of the beneficiaries of this initiative has been Nakai, a homeless person, living in LA. He reiterates that having limited money meant that we would rather use it for food and transportation instead of laundry. But looking presentable is important to him, especially if he is attempting to crack a job interview.
He said, “I want to look presentable enough to get a job. I don’t want to walk into a place with my hair messed up with dirty clothes. I want to look as clean as possible.” The Laundry Truck LA has helped him achieve this.
“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’s her desire to be a part of the solution that became a turning point even during the pandemic. At the beginning of the pandemic, the brand was severely hit, and Dolan was forced to shut shop and even lay off employees. However, in a few days of closing, the city asked her if she would be willing to make masks and donate them to frontline workers. Dolan immediately agreed to help.
Dolan called her staff back and started working on making these masks. She donated about 100,000 masks and got more requests from the healthcare sector, including doctors, nurses and ER units.
She realized her company could do their part and offer more to the healthcare sector. The brand instantly decided to start designing more protective gear —including scrubs, hospital gowns, hats, masks, booties, and gloves and donating them.
In conclusion, Dolan said, “I don’t want to say I’m doing like a victory lap. Who knows what will happen tomorrow. But I do feel, at least, inspired by all the things that we’ve learned over the past year.”