“There’s a little Buddha on a spring on the edge of the washer,” says the entrepreneur Cynthia Kallile, walking me through her daily ritual in poetic tones, “and he’s waiting for me to bring in towels. I dump them in, I turn the water on—hot—and you start to hear the water pour in. I get my detergent, Tide Free and Clear, I unscrew it, pour it in. The lid comes down—boom. Hum, hum, hum, a quiet din in the back of my condo. Then it’ll get to its point of aggression—the whoom! whoom! whoom! —then it’ll thud to a stop, I’ll lift the lid, I’ll throw the towels into the dryer and turn it on medium, and rurr, rurr, it’ll make a noise. It’s almost meditative in a way. It is meditative. Instead of nice music in the background, I’ve got the whirl of my laundry.”
If Kallile, who is the CEO of Chicago’s Meatloaf Bakery, is able to speak poetically of laundry, of all things, it’s because she loves it so much. Doing laundry—a chore, for most of us—for Kallile is a way to recharge, to rest her brain, and to reconnect with fond memories of her past.
“People might thing I’m kind of obsessed,” says Kallile, 59. “It’s just kind of cathartic for me.” She’s not sure why she loves laundry so much, though she has a few theories. It has something to do with order, perhaps. Growing a business is a chaotic, frantic thing—“there’s no order in it.” But with laundry, everything’s neat, organized. Whites in this pile; darks in the other.
There’s also the sense of accomplishment. “In business, you can keep working at something and working at something, and sometimes it takes forever. With laundry it’s really clear and simple. It’s hot, warm, and very finite, and there’s a sense of completion.”
Her decision to do her own laundry every day after work is all the more remarkable for the fact that there is a professional dry cleaner right next to the Meatloaf Bakery, which she in fact patronizes daily for her business. The kitchen towels she uses at work sop up so much grease on a daily basis that she only trusts an industrial cleaner with them. But the black aprons she and her staff uses? More lightly soiled, so she takes them home each day and washes them herself.
She says it’s a decision she made more or less on Day One, when she opened the business in 2008. “I like to do things myself,” she says simply, and of course there’s the matter of saving the business some money. Sometimes she’ll throw in some black garments of her own, and sometimes an employee will draw out a tangled sock when they put on the apron the next morning, to Kallile’s embarrassment. (“I’m a little bit more careful now.”) Still, she won’t stop. “It’s a ritual for me. It’s something I can control and manage,” she says. No matter how successful she’ll get, she says, “it’s highly unlikely I’ll stop washing those aprons. I’ll be doing it as long as I’m making meatloaf.”
The decision to make meatloaf was something of a surprising one, and one she made as she was nearing 50. She had spent her adult life in corporations, and felt a desire to do something entrepreneurial. Working from a remembered recipe of her mother’s, she opened the Meatloaf Bakery. Both her venture and her hobby, then, connect to a love for her mother (who passed away almost three years ago); it was her mother who taught her to do laundry, a fond memory. Kallile broadly recommends that entrepreneurs “try to find something that connects you—and it might sound a little trite—on a soul level, on a deeper level, to what makes you who you are today.”
The image of a woman shuttling between the laundry room and the kitchen is the dream of many a retrograde antifeminist, but it doesn’t bother Kallile at all. “If you could see me right now, I’m smiling, and I’m thinking that’s a really good point,” she says. “But I like to do it. Hey, if you get some joy out of doing laundry, for whatever set of reasons, that’s not diminishing your role as a feminist or woman in the workforce. Do what makes you tick! Do what gets you juiced up!” She goes on: “Everybody should do everything, is my theory, if it works for them and gives them some kind of pleasure. I guess you could say I’m leaning in to my laundry.”
For all her love of washing and drying, though, Kallile has one dirty secret. “I cannot stand folding clothes,” she confides. “I hate it.”