An elderly Taiwanese couple that have been doing their local community’s laundry for 70 years decided to model abandoned clothes online, and have become an Instagram phenomenon.
Hsu Hsiu-e, 84, and her husband Chang Wan-ji, 83, are the humble owners of Wansho Laundry, a small laundrette in the quiet Houli District of Taichung City. They wed back in 1959 and have two sons, two daughters, and six grandchildren. Wan-ji began dry cleaning at the age of 14 to help his family.
They’ve amassed hundreds of pieces of clothing left by customers over the years. While they’ve donated much of it to charities – especially in the wake of natural disasters – they’re still left with mountains of garments. So, the couple’s grandson hatched a brilliant plan.
Reef Chang, 31, convinced them to wear the clothes and model them on Instagram. Business was slow amid the current pandemic, even with Taiwan’s stringent measures – the country has only reported 458 cases, with seven deaths.
Reef told BBC News: ‘Their business is not always busy. They would doze off in the shop and their spirits weren’t high. So I thought since our family has these clothes, I can remind people to pick up their clothes, and remind my grandparents their life can still be great even in old age.’
Their WantShowAsYoung account was born, with Reef stepping in as their stylist for the photos, also getting them to pose as if they were appearing in a magazine. ‘Dressed like that, I feel 30 years younger,’ Wan-ji said. Dressed in a plaid skirt, a hat and leftover blouse, Hsiu-e also said: ‘I like the way I look in that outfit.’
They didn’t understand at first. They also don’t understand fashion trends, but when they were young they were very fashionable. They thought why would people of this generation like clothes from their generation.
I feel when I was young, they gave all their time for me. Now that they’re so old, I don’t know how much more time I will have to spend time with them. They’re very happy now; they’ve never been recognised like this.
Their account now has more than 232,000 followers and counting, despite only being active since June 27. Hsiu-e told The New York Times: ‘My grandson is very creative. His creativity has made us happy, and other people, too.’
Reef added: ‘I was really surprised. I had no idea so many foreigners would take interest in my grandparents.’
Wan-ji added that ‘in the past, clothes were very expensive… when I got married, it cost an ox-cart loaded with 20 bags of rice to pay for my suit. And back then clothes were so valuable that you could take them to the pawn shop if you needed money’.
However, clothes get left with them for any number of reasons, whether it’s people simply forgetting, moving out of the district, or others passing away. As for the modelling, ‘It’s better than sitting around watching TV or napping. I might be getting on in my years, but I don’t feel old,’ Wan-ji said.
Now, anytime Reef eats with them, he ‘can tell they’re elated’. However, throughout their Instagram, there’s plenty of reminders to do one thing: pick up your laundry.