Fashion Cleaners tailors services for eager clientele
Cleaning more than 15,000 pieces of clothing each week, Kermit Engh starts to philosophize about the emotional power of one’s wardrobe. Compounded over a lifetime, the task of choosing what to wear takes on surprising emotional significance.
“If you were to close your eyes and envision all of the garments in your closet, think about how much emotional energy was expended in each piece,” he said. “My guess is you have spent more emotional energy picking out the items you wear than you have picking out a car, a house, or in many cases, a spouse.”
At Fashion Cleaners, Engh works to keep those pieces of emotional energy looking fresh. Since 1992, Engh has grown Fashion Cleaners from a single shop on Leavenworth Street to a multi-location business serving a loyal clientele. The company stands out for its eco-friendly practices and passionate dedication to customer service.
“We provide a greater value to our customer in the quality of work that we do,” Engh said. “The services we provide, the equipment, the gentler cleaning agents — it makes clothes last longer, stay brighter and feel great.”
Together with daughters Courtney Engh and Audra Gude, Kermit Engh keeps the company on top of the latest industry trends and innovations. The family-run business bills itself as Nebraska’s first 100-percent eco-friendly dry cleaner, trading toxic chemicals for gentler, environmentally friendly products long before going green was trendy. In addition to green cleaning agents, the company’s inventory systems are paperless, delivery trucks run on energy-efficient fuel and plant utility systems recapture energy and recycle water. The Leavenworth location’s recent renovation improved these processes even more — earning the company an Outstanding Renovation award from American Drycleaner magazine.
Fashion Cleaner’s reputation for quality has attracted the Omaha arts community and several sports teams. Alongside button-down shirts and delicate dresses, Fashion Cleaners also handles mascots like Billy the Bluejay, band uniforms, symphony tuxedos and theater costumes. The intricate ensembles from “The Lion King,” “Phantom of the Opera” and “Wicked” have come through Fashion Cleaners’ doors, a testament to the dry cleaners’ ability to handle even the most delicate clothing.
“If you have ‘The Lion King’ in your plant, you better know what you’re doing,” Kermit said.
Today’s Fashion Cleaners looks significantly different from when Kermit first acquired the company. Kermit, who had experience in other industries before purchasing Fashion Cleaners, envisioned the company as a top Omaha brand emphasizing passion, service and innovation. “My dad has a strong, clear vision, and he knows where he wants to take the company,” said Courtney Engh, who directs the company’s marketing efforts.
Under Kermit’s direction, Fashion Cleaners expanded to include four Omaha locations and a fleet of vehicles providing free home delivery and pickup. In 2000, Kermit acquired the 92-year-old Omaha Lace Cleaners. As part of the Fashion Cleaners umbrella, Omaha Lace retains its distinct brand and niche services for family heirlooms, military uniforms, lace linens and bridal attire.
The process for preserving wedding gowns is especially rigorous. Fashion Cleaners is the only Midwest member of the Association of Wedding Gown Specialists, an international association dedicated to the care and preservation of bridal gowns. Taking into account dress embellishments, fabric type and more, experienced professionals customize their work on each dress and follow Smithsonian Institution guidelines for preservation, Courtney said. The gowns never leave the Omaha location. When a bride takes home her preserved dress, she also receives white cotton gloves so she can handle the gown without transferring hand oils.
Another facet of the business is its fire and water restoration services, known as FRSTeam by Fashion Cleaners. When a disaster strikes, homeowners can call upon FRSTeam 24/7 to salvage items from everyday clothing to precious items such as a wedding dress, christening gown, quilt or even a stuffed animal. The FRSTeam unit plays an important role at Fashion Cleaners by supporting families who have suffered a loss and helping to restore a part of their lives, said Audra Gude, FRSTeam managing partner.
“With FRSTeam, we love that we are able to be a piece of the puzzle of putting people’s lives back together after a devastating loss such as a house fire,” she said.
Giving back to the community is also a part of the company’s philosophy. Fashion Cleaners supports multiple organizations in the Omaha metro area with a special focus on women. The company assists the Women’s Center for Advancement career closet, donating “ready to work” items for women in need. For the annual prom dress sale at Council Bluffs’ Jennie Edmundson Hospital, Fashion Cleaners spruces up gently used gowns. Fashion Cleaners also supports women at the New Hope Life Center for Women where Kermit is a board member.
Throughout these and other activities, Fashion Cleaners seeks to set itself apart from the pack. As the only Midwest member of the prestigious Leading Cleaners Internationale, the company is able to bring best practices and cutting-edge technology from around the world back to Omaha.
“The reason our customers come to us is because their clothing is a part of their image,” Kermit said. “If they look good, they feel good — and that makes us feel good.”
Four Omaha locations