Giving Back One Shower at a Time: A Q&A with The Right to Shower Co-Founder and General Manager Laura Fruitman
Brands x Better is a coalition of like-minded companies fostering stability in a time of crisis. We asked 10 members of the Brands x Better family a few questions about what they do, why they were drawn to BxB, and what this pandemic has meant to their company. Meet The Right to Shower, a brand that is working to ensure that homeless people have access to hygiene services, in particular, showers. We caught up with Co-Founder and General Manager, Laura Fruitmanto learn more about how The Right to Shower got its start, how their mobile showers work, and what they are focused on next. Here's what she had to say.
Tell us how The Right To Shower came to be. What is your origin story?
I grew up in New York City where one in every 128 people is currently living on the street. When I was a child, I had a connection with a man who lived on the streets in my neighborhood, who told me that despite the city streets’ constant flow of people, he often felt invisible and alone as people walked by without ever acknowledging him. As children, we are taught to look people in the eye, say hello and be polite, but as adults, it becomes easy to ignore someone standing right in front of you. This moment really ignited my passion to help support and address issues faced by our unhoused neighbors, and ultimately inspired the mission behind The Right To Shower, because no one deserves to feel invisible or ‘othered.
We created The Right To Shower as entrepreneurs in residence at Unilever as a social enterprise, starting first with the commitment to improve the health and wellbeing of people experiencing homelessness. We donate 30% of the brand’s profits to support mobile shower organizations around the country that help provide safe, reliable access to showers and other basic hygiene needs.
What are The Right To Shower’s core values? Do you have a mission statement? If so, what is it?
The brand was built upon the belief that access to cleanliness is a fundamental human right, as is the feeling of dignity and confidence that can come with a single shower.
Our full mission statement:
We started The Right To Shower because we believe access to cleanliness is a fundamental human right. Americans experiencing homelessness lack access to everyday necessities and services — including showers. This makes it all too easy for them to be “othered”, rejected, and unseen by society, compromising their sense of dignity and their chance to feel included in the community. We believe no one should be denied access to cleanliness. Free showers should be made accessible to those living on the streets - because one shower can contribute to improving health & well-being and restoring one’s dignity in their community.
Right now, 550,000 people are experiencing homelessness and have limited or no access to the everyday services many of us take for granted, including a shower. We’re working to fix that. We’ve crafted a range of products with the absolute best ingredients, sourced responsibly, and formulated with care. And we’re using the profits to help ensure that everyone has access to a shower every day.
At Rhone we talk a lot about our customer’s pursuit of progress. How do you feel like you as a company help your customer progress?
We know consumers are becoming much more conscious of the positive difference they can make through their everyday shopping choices, especially during this unprecedented pandemic. The Right To Shower was developed as a social enterprise, starting first with the social issue and utilizing Unilever resources to drive social change. With The Right to Shower's social enterprise model, consumers can feel good about the purchase they are making – with every shower they take, they are also helping us bring safe and legal showers for people that need them most.
What motivated you to join Brands x Better?
As a social enterprise, we’re always looking for opportunities to join consumers and brands to help generate as much impact as possible. Once we saw the commitments put forth by the Brands x Better coalition, we jumped at the opportunity to join in and give back as much as possible.
As a member of Brands x Better, you have pledged to donate proceeds until May 1. What charity are you donating to and how and why did you choose that charity?
For those experiencing homelessness, not only is access to showers at times completely denied but in many places alternatives like washing in public areas or restrooms are often unsafe or illegal. That's why we’re donating 30% of our proceeds to Lava Mae, a non-profit organization and that provides mobile hygiene to our unhoused neighbors.
What is the best way for others to support/get involved in your cause to provide everyone with a shower and the gift of hygiene?
Without basic supplies like soap or shelter to self-isolate, those experiencing homelessness are more vulnerable now than ever before. We’re taking several actions to provide support for the community and we’ve made it super easy for others to join in.
We’re donating 10,000 units of bar soaps and 10,000 body washes to 501c3 organizations aiding our unhoused neighbors. People can nominate an organization of their choice to receive the products through a simple process you can find HERE.
We have started #TheRightToConnection movement, encouraging others to help us create messages to accompany our product and hygiene kit donations for our unhoused neighbors. Those experiencing housing instability already feel isolated, but even more so during times of crisis so we want to make sure they feel seen and connected during this exceptionally difficult time. All you have to do is post a message using #TheRightToConnection + @TheRightToShower on @Instagram @Twitter or @Facebook and we’ll collect and deliver them through written/printed notes or digital means based on each organization's’ capabilities.
Beyond our COVID-19 related efforts, people can always go to our website to see how they can get involved and support our unhoused neighbors.
What’s one of the hardest obstacles you’ve overcome as a company and how did it shape what your company is today?
One of our toughest challenges was figuring out how the brand could make the most impact. Homelessness is a complex issue, one that requires investments in prevention, housing and reintegration, along with resiliency services. We recognize that the issue is compounded by an unfortunate stigma around people experiencing homelessness, making it easy for the public to ignore it and those it affects. Showers alone won’t solve homelessness, but they can be a first step toward unlocking hope, dignity and opportunity for those living on the streets. That’s why, from the beginning, we worked closely with our partners like Lava Mae to truly understand the needs of the communities they serve and created a brand that builds change into its business model. We also wanted to make it easy for others to join our movement. TheRightToShower.com provides ways for people to get involved by donating, volunteering with our partners, or starting a new service to expand access to hygiene services for people experiencing homelessness in their communities.
What’s one takeaway you’ve had as a company during this recent pandemic?
We know how vulnerable the homelessness community is, however, this pandemic truly shed a light on how important it is for everyone to have access to shelter and cleanliness. As the COVID-19 crisis continues, we hope to be able to generate as much awareness and impact as possible so that everyone has the resources to protect themselves from this virus.
How many mobile shower units have you deployed? Are you focused in certain cities or are you all across the US?
In our first-year as a brand, The Right To Shower has donated $500,000 in funding to Lava Mae and a network of mobile shower partners across the country. Through those donations, we’ve been able to provide more than 30,000 showers to 9,000 individuals in 16 communities across the country.
What has been one of the most rewarding moments with being involved with The Right To Shower?
Throughout the launch of our brand, spending time working closely with our partners has had an immeasurable impact on me. I had the pleasure of volunteering a few times with Lava Mae at their San Francisco and Oakland sites and was able to see firsthand what a shower can mean to someone living on the streets. Throughout the day, as each guest emerged from their shower, I saw their heads held a bit higher, their shoulders a bit straighter, the smile even bigger. I spoke with many guests who shared how incredible it was to have a service like Lava Mae, how much better they felt, how it made them feel human again. I met a man who was taking a shower before he went to work for the day since he had part-time work but was living on the streets. I spoke with a woman named Billie, who told me how amazing it felt that someone cared enough about her to care if she had a shower, how she looked forward to those 15 minutes in a warm shower when she got to feel safe, clean, and how it changed her whole day. That is why we’re doing all we can to support this community.