Causes Week 2017: Time-pressed? Let seniors iron out the wrinkles

Social enterprise matches customers with seniors ready to do ironing at home for a fee

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The Social Iron is a subscription ironing service which aims to free people from household chores and create jobs in the community.
Mr Darren Wong, founder and managing director of The Social Iron, with (from left) Madam Hoh Hook Song, Mrs Agnes Tan and Mrs Violet Tan, who provide ironing services for a fee.
Mr Darren Wong, founder and managing director of The Social Iron, with (from left) Madam Hoh Hook Song, Mrs Agnes Tan and Mrs Violet Tan, who provide ironing services for a fee. ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

A well-pressed shirt not only delivers satisfaction to the wearer, but in the case of one social enterprise, also gives a helping hand to seniors needing meaningful work.

This is the belief of The Social Iron, which matches time-strapped customers with those willing to do ironing for a small fee in their own homes.

There are currently six active beneficiaries, mainly women above 60. They can iron up to 300 items of clothing a week in total, earning $1.50 per item ironed.

One of them, Mrs Agnes Tan, 64, irons between 50 and 80 items of clothing a week, earning up to $120. She said the work does not tire her as she can plan when to do it.

Although Mrs Tan does it mainly to pass the time, there are others who are glad of the extra income.

For instance, one woman doing the ironing recently quit her job at a laundromat to stay home and care for her husband who has a heart condition, said Mr Darren Wong, 35, founder and managing director of The Social Iron, which started its services in June.

"We saw there was a lack of work opportunities suitable for the elderly, especially those who may have mobility issues and medical conditions that prevent them from obtaining regular full-time employment," he said.

Customers sign up for monthly subscription plans, specifying the the number of clothing that they want ironed each week, up to a limit. For instance, they pay $120 a month for 40 pieces.

"By making the service available on a subscription basis, it gives our beneficiaries a consistent stream of revenue... This is really beneficial to them because it helps with their financial planning," said Mr Wong, who spent about eight months getting the social enterprise off the ground and is currently a Web developer for a logistics company.

With a "by neighbours, for neighbours" concept, The Social Iron pays freelance deliverymen to collect clothes from clients and deliver them to ironing providers in the area to be ironed within two days.

For now, it is serving only residents in the east and north-east areas such as Tampines and Punggol.

It is not just the social mission that the firm aims to deliver on. Ensuring the standard of the ironing are two trainers, who have more than 10 years of experience each.

Mr Wong said: "We need to show our customers that we are a quality-first organisation comparable to professional laundromats, as too often customers mistake us for a charity-first organisation."

One of the trainers is Mrs Violet Tan, 61, who has been ironing professionally for about 15 years. For her, a well-ironed shirt gives her personal satisfaction as she believes it makes a difference to a person's self-confidence.

Mrs Violet Tan, who can iron using either hand, visits homes to do freelance housekeeping, including ironing, apart from her work with The Social Iron. "Someone who is experienced, and knows the steps and technique to iron well, can do it well with any iron," she said.

The other trainer, Madam Hoh Hook Song, 61, a part-time cleaner, agreed that ironing is a skill.

"The fact that we are confident to accept clothes from our customers to iron them shows that we have some level of experience," she said.

One satisfied customer is IT firm manager Arthur Chong, 41, who has signed up for a $135 monthly plan for up to 48 items of clothing. He sends about 10 formal shirts to The Social Iron once a fortnight.

"It is killing two birds with one stone. The ironing standard is pretty good and service is quite prompt, while it is also quite a noble cause as the beneficiaries get paid for purposeful work," he said.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 07, 2017, with the headline Time-pressed? Let seniors iron out the wrinkles. Subscribe