The first eLab spotlight from the 2019-2020 cohort features Le Fay Laundry Care, a mosquito repelling laundry additive. Le Fay was co-founded by Nicole Garcia ('21), a junior in the College of Human Ecology studying Fiber Science & Apparel Design, and her close friend Braden Koszarsky (’20), a senior in the College of Engineering studying Operations Research and Information Engineering. Nicole worked on an organic farm this summer and travelled to rural parts of the U.S. this summer, during which she unfortunately learned firsthand how much of a nuisance mosquitos could be when left undeterred. Having just switched into the fiber science major last year, she immediately began thinking of potential clothing-based solutions that would be cleaner and more convenient than carrying around a repellant spray.
At first, Nicole worked to develop a dryer sheet or dryer ball but was unsatisfied with the results that they produced and ended up developing a more potent laundry additive instead. Though the additive is more effective, Nicole explains that “it would be safer for us to deal with ourselves,” and that “in terms of hypoallergenic solutions, we have a formula, it will just require further testing to measure the reaction. It’s very diluted once it’s washed in and gets on the clothes.” The formula itself is a unique mixture of essential oils, some of which repell mosquitos and others of which have a masking effect which makes it harder for them to detect the wearer’s scent. It also includes silica to help attach to the clothing, but is fairly simple overall and contains relatively few ingredients. The name of the brand, Le Fay, is a nod to the medieval sorceress character Morgan Le Fay, inspired by the product’s crystalline, “witchy,” appearance as it was first being developed.
Once Nicole realized that her product could bring real value to consumers and expand the options available, she and Braden decided to apply to be an eLab team. “The reason for joining eLab was that I have had limited experience with entrepreneurship and business. It’s a really big opportunity to just learn and understand the potential that this product could have and making it into something others could buy,” Nicole elaborates. She was also able to turn to her co-founder Braden for advice with respect to navigating the application process given that he had applied twice previously with different startup teams. Since starting the program this fall, she and Braden have begun laying the groundwork to bring Le Fay to scale and strategize their goals for the business.
Nicole details their first steps starting the process of customer discovery–– “So far what we’ve been doing is figuring out who we want to have as target market. It’s difficult in that it’s both laundry and mosquito repellent, which requires us to find a specific overlap in two very distinct markets.” Another challenge for the team will be the promotional and marketing aspect of the product. “That’s the main issue–– if people don’t know that it exists it will be hard to sell it.” She aims to use the resources available through eLab to overcome these obstacles and help build Le Fay into a company that is eventually a household name.
She particularly looks up to eLab faculty members for insight, such as their advisor Andrea Ippolito. “Andrea has been really helpful, especially with just figuring out how to go about customer discovery and finding out how to approach people in the first place.” In addition to the mentors available to them, the Le Fay team is grateful to be a part of a network of some of their most ambitious peers at Cornell. Describing the eLab community, Nicole remarks, “Our mentors in general have been very supportive. It’s just been really amazing not only to be around them but to be around other eLab teams. We’re all interested in what everyone else is doing and finding ways to help each other grow.” Nicole also appreciates the way that the program supplements her curriculum in the classroom, as she has the opportunity to learn material such as marketing firsthand through eLab concurrently with her marketing classes. “It definitely helps with understanding how it all works.”
Looking forward, the team plans to hone their brand identity in the short term while making progress with their customer discovery process. Towards the end of the program, they aim to conduct a round of Kickstarter fundraising. Though they are very small-scale now and “not at a stage yet of finding a supply chain and retailers,” they hope to eventually acquire a small warehouse or facility to be able to make their product for sale on ecommerce platforms such as Amazon. When asked about potential competitors to Le Fay, Nicole’s response was optimistic. “There are laundry additives with some common ingredients but it’s not our mixture. They’re just scent-based and don’t have the same effect anyways. Some are applied directly or to clothing but that requires continuous re-application. In terms of mosquito-repelling laundry additives, this would truly be the first of its kind.”