The laundry industry across much of the Middle East is flourishing thanks to high-spend, fast-paced urban living. The United Nations Development Programme says 60% of the population is below the age of 30 and the textile care industry’s fortunes are married to a thriving middle/upper class and glittering, growing tourism. Some industry pundits predict up to a whopping 20% yearly growth, fuelled by unprecedented hotel development, ever-growing five-star compounds, skyscraper apartments and worker dormitories. Add to this heady mix major events such as Expo 2020, expected to attract an estimated 25 million foreign visitors to Dubai, plus the Winter World Cup in Qatar in 2022, and you begin to see the industry growth potential. Witness Dubai alone, which plans to increase its number of hotel rooms from 65,00 to 100,000 this year.


Five-star market

Closely linked to the five-star market and big industrial premises, textile care providers are having to keep up.  Renzacci’s general sales and marketing director, Marco Niccolini, reports “stable but remarkable” equipment orders. He says Middle Eastern tensions have merely resulted in many businessmen, including those from Syria and Libya, simply shifting their business base to the Emirates, making the UAE the trade hotspot with fast-flowing new equipment orders.  Unsurprisingly though, Iran, suffering a United States’ trade embargo, is the one country not investing, says Renzacci and Pony.

Meanwhile, Niccolini also notes that, unlike in Europe where family-owned businesses often battle to raise the money for investment and expansion, many Middle Eastern textile care operators often have big and important families, with money aplenty behind them. “They can expand, invest in new equipment and see quick returns. Financing in the Emirates in particular is quick,” he observes. Moreover, drycleaning, he predicts, is on the increase “to meet growing upper-class living demands”.


Water reclamation

Niccolini has also recorded a notable increase in demand for bio dry cleaning machines and singles out Champion Cleaners as a major success story. Started in 1996, it now has 40 retail locations across Dubai, Sharja and Abu Dhabi. The brand is known for its use of mild chemicals, spotting agents and treatment of fragile, expensive fibres. Renzacci has equipped Champions’ Dubai premises with its HS Ecocare System, equipped with a ‘superstorage’ water reclaiming system of vast capacity and a fast-flowing system to speed up water circulation. Its estimated this saves up to 40% of water consumption and up to 15% of energy use.

That’s significant for this region, which is one of the hottest, driest places on the planet. Temperatures spiral to 50 degrees centigrade. Operators need to keep not only water usage and costs down, but their staff cool. Husret Koyun, sales engineer for Kannegiesser in the Middle East, says the manufacturer has introduced many technologies to the region in terms of linen distribution systems, high speed ironer lines and automated garment systems. “The main emphasis is to provide a constant supply of linen to feeding stations to achieve a high operator PPOH and reducing fatigue to operators which is important when working in such a high temperature country, as not all laundries have the luxury of air conditioning,” he explains. An example of this new approach to improving productivity, he adds, is with Kannegiesser’s EMR feeding machine which takes the stress out of feeding for machine operators. Heavy damp duvets, for example, are handled with a lifting clamp enabling an operator to find the second leading edge without having to hold the duvet while searching for the next corner. It halves the physical effort, says Koyun. Meanwhile, Kannegiesser says its PowerTrans Vario which minimises consumption of water, chemicals and energy, thanks to an inner drum washing design, is seeing good take up in the Middle East, although Koyun says places like Saudi Arabia and Iran are slow to invest in the technology.

Curiously though, water saving for many buyers in such a water-starved region is not the premier issue, argues Alliance’s Middle East and Africa Sales director, Tim Bacon. “The region is very price-driven,” he says, and Alliance’s main drive there is to prove that processing laundry in house is better than outsourcing for five-star hotels, due to better quality, quicker turnaround, longer linen life, less shrinkage and, over five years, more economical. 

Pony reports that while UAE service providers have mostly always ordered low-tech presses and tables, other countries traditionally orientated to basic machines are beginning to look at innovation, automation and energy savings. “One of them is Saudi Arabia which has started to order our automated shirt finishers,” says marketing and communications manager, Stella Fumagalli.

Saudi Arabia increasingly offers rich pickings. The Jensen-Group has equipped Saudi Airlines Catering Company with the country’s largest laundry. It has a washing capacity of 45 tons of linen per day. Two Senking Universal P50-12 tunnel washers are capable of a combined 2,160kg per hour, based on a 30-minute wash time, with a 90% utilisation factor. Three high performance ironer lines are in charge of adding a finishing touch to all flat linen. In-flight passenger blankets have a blanket folder. The installation is rounded off with garment handling, sorting and finishing system.  Its control system tracks all movements and handles the sorting of garments by delivery route, account, customer, size, locker and wearer. This is to ensure no mix up of garments for cabin crew working for Saudi and those working for other airlines. Saudi Airlines Catering Company privatised in 2008 and has since expanded into offering catering and housekeeping services to non-airline businesses.


International incomes

Meanwhile in the UAE, 50% of the total population is made of up expats with tax-free, international incomes. It is more common to send domestic laundry out to the myriad of professional laundries than to do it at home. Dubai and Abu Dhabi in particular are witnessing many cheeky newcomers to the market. 

The new crop includes Washmen, co-founded by former investment banker, Rami Shaar. The young Palestinian-Canadian says 60% of the volume in any laundry is shirts. With Washmen’s app you schedule a 30-minute pickup and drop-off between 9am and 11.30pm, seven days a week. Turn-around is 48 hours with a surcharge of 50% for next day delivery. Washmen outsources it laundry to a secret location which it calls “super-automated” and which reportedly handles 3,000 items a day.

The Laundry Clubs in Abu Dhabi works on a membership model. Issam Maakabry has a facility catering for about 4,000 clients and you pay a set fee per month to have your clothes laundered “to hotel standards”  – as many items as you like. It’s a traditional pick-up/delivery service using an app.

Laundrybox recently expanded into Mybox and is based around lockers. Customers order online or via an app, get a locker password assigned individualy, then drop off and collect laundry – or repair items  – from the same locker. Founder Kuwaiti Al Kalooti is expanding into dormitories, villa compounds and commercial premises.

Detergent manufacturer RP Adam (Arpal Group) wants to increase annual production by 50% across the UK and Middle East by next year. Middle Eastern investment is centred on new markets such as Oman and Saudi Arabia. Xeros, developer of polymer bead-based textile cleaning, partnered with Consolidated International Corporation (CIC) a while back as a springboard into future Middle East expansion. It has long trumpeted its systems as perfect for low rainfall regions. CIC is big in the industrial laundry services industry supplying and distributing laundry equipment, parts and supplies, particularly popular to hotels.


Water and heat

If two things unite the Middle East, its water and heat, and it has had to counter fast-receding resources. With North Africa, the Middle East (MENA) now accounts for nearly half the world’s desalination capacity. By World Bank calculations, this makes it the largest desalination market on the planet. But by 2050, if it continues with ‘business as usual’, water scarcity will cost it up to 14% of the region’s total GDP.

The push for water security tops most Middle Eastern agendas. The UAE has launched what it calls a `Water Security Strategy 2036’ to ensure sustainable access. Abu Dhabi’s got a spanking new, multi-million dollar reservoir, and the private sector is wading into the region with new solutions from solar-powered reverse osmosis, to recycling waste water, to harnessing humidity from the air.

Textile care manufacturers, high on water, energy and labour-saving devices, will no doubt showcase their innovations in the Middle East this year. Trade shows in October 2019 include Clean Middle East Expo, Middle East Cleaning Technology Week, and Gulf Laundrex Linen Care Expo.