Alleviating Poverty With A Washing Machine Powered By Your Feet

The GiraDora uses the principles of a salad spinner to make cleaning clothes less back-breaking and time-consuming work for millions of people in poverty.

One of the keys to designing products for social good is recognizing that no single object can solve the problems associated with poverty. But if an object or tool is designed in concert with the people who will use it, it stands a good chance of addressing a specific issue–like, say, the surprisingly high time, energy, and health risks associated with washing and drying clothes in Peruvian slums. By working together, you can design ways to give folks a leg up, in this case, by letting folks sit down.


GiraDora is a $40 foot-powered washer-dryer designed by Alex Cabunoc and Ji A You, two students at Art Center College of Design’s Design Matters program. In 2011, Cabunoc and Ji traveled to Cerro Verde, a slum outside Lima, Peru, where they spent two weeks working closely with a host family to identify the specific needs of a community and design a consumer product solution. What they found was that in a city without access to basic utilities, something as simple as washing clothes is a serious undertaking: it requires many hours a day just to find and transport water, and wet garments often get moldy before drying.

Alex Cabunoc

As you can see in this short film Hands in the Mist, which was shortlisted for a Young Directors Award at Cannes, Cabunoc and Yi devised a clothes dryer based on a salad spinner. And when their initial concept fell short of meeting the needs of the people, they refined the prototype to be a more portable combination washer-dryer–one that a user can sit on, which alleviates back pain associated with washing.

As Co.Design writer Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan noted when GiraDora was nominated for an Innovation by Design award, this concept “could have become another forgotten student project, left to languish in the back of a student portfolio” if not for the entrepreneurial spirit displayed by Cabunoc, who spread word about GiraDora among fellow academics and press alike. What followed was a $19,500 NCIIA-E Team grant, with which Ji says they’ve been able to continue developing prototypes and work toward implementation in Latin America.

Ji A You

“Our most recent prototype cleans clothes to a level that our field testers in Lima, Peru, and the campamentos of Santiago, Chile, considered satisfactory,” says Ji, who has a B.A. in English language and literature and B.S. in human environment and design from Yonsei University in Seoul, Korea, where she was born. After this year’s graduation from Art Center, she and Cabunoc will continue to hone the design for implementation in Peru and Chile. “We are striving to improve GiraDora’s cleaning power, and our next iterations of prototypes will improve this function through a new gearing system.”

Ji says GiraDora is dedicated to her host family from Cerro Verde, for whom she remembers buying a bulk box of detergent as a parting gift, which her host mother Karina normally wouldn’t be able to afford. “I knew giving just one bag of laundry detergent [wouldn’t] help to solve the problem but promised to myself to help improve her life through my design.” If it can find large-scale production, GiraDora will make good on that promise.