Octogenarian Couple Find Instagram Fame After Modelling Forgotten Laundry
Owners of a Taichung City laundromat, Hsu Sho-er, 84 and Chang Wan-ji, 83, have found instagram fame after modelling curated outfits from hundreds of items left behind by absent-minded customers. Photo: Reef Chang
Customers of Wansho Laundry in central Taiwan who forget to pick up their laundry and leave their bills unpaid aren’t getting a traditional reminder from ownership anymore.
Instead, if their style is up to snuff, they might get the chance to see their threads on Instagram.
The owners of the Taichung City Laundromat, Chang Wan-ji, 83, and Hsu Sho-er, 84, are breathing new life into the garments, modelling curated outfits selected from the hundreds of forgotten items for a new Instagram page that has already amassed more than 500,000 followers — a feat they achieved in just a week with a little more than 20 posts.
Their 31-year-old grandson, Reef Chang, who came up with the idea for the account and serves as their unofficial stylist and photographer, says he was shocked by the couple’s newfound fame.
“I was really surprised,” he told the New York Times. “I had no idea so many foreigners would take interest in my grandparents.”
Chang started the page with the intention of giving his grandparents something engaging to do during the pandemic. Despite Taiwan’s success in controlling the spread of COVID-19, Chang says his grandparents were wary about going outside, and business had slowed due to the country’s strict measures. With a population of nearly 24 million people, Taiwan has reported only 458 cases, 55 local transmissions and seven deaths.
“They had nothing to do,” Chang said. “I saw how bored they were and wanted to brighten up their lives.”
Evidenced by the sheer joy on the faces of the newly minted style icons in several of the snaps, the project seems to have achieved its aim.
“My grandson is very creative,” Hsu said. “His creativity has made us happy and other people, too.”
That creativity shines through in both the selection of outfits — which often feature vintage clothing — and the various backdrops used within the walls of the laundromat.
In one shot, Hsu casually leans against a washing machine in an oversized graphic T-shirt, casting an uninterested gaze toward Chang as he holds the door open grinning.
In another post celebrating 50,000 followers, Hsu pets one of Chang’s voluminous eyebrows, which are often on full display in the photos.
“His eyebrows really are something else,” Hsu says.
The couple, together for 61 years, met in their hometown of Houli, a semirural district in the north of Taichung City, in the late 1950s during a repressive era when it was under martial law. The two were introduced by Hsu’s sister and aunt with the intention of making a marriage match. However, the meeting didn’t go exactly as planned.
“I wanted him to sit down with me, but he wouldn’t,” she recalls. “Things were more conservative back then. He was pretty shy.”
Chang has a different account of the day they met.
“My first time seeing her, I was delighted,” Chang said “Not long afterward, we started discussing marriage.”
The couple wed in 1959 and became parents to two sons and two daughters and, eventually, grandparents to six. Working together at the business Chang had been managing since the age of 14, they built up a large clientele, some of whom remained loyal customers despite having moved to downtown Taichung.
In the 1980s, when martial law in Taiwan finally ended, the pair began travelling abroad, visiting the United States, Japan, Europe and Australia. That experience has helped them connect with followers that comment on their posts from all over the globe.
“I’ll read them some of the messages we get and tell them where the senders are from, and they’ll say, ‘Ah, I’ve been there,'” their grandson says.
The concept of followers, however, was a little foreign to the two Instagram stars at first.
“Last week, Wan Ji and Sho-Er finally figured out what [it] means by 10,000 followers,” their grandson writes in an Instagram caption. “I told them that 50,000 people have subscribed to their newspaper today.”
Those followers appear to be receiving some much needed reprieve from pandemic stress and gloom from the page as well.
“Your posts make me smile. Thank you for brightening my day during this difficult time,” a user named daturabelle writes, while others enjoy seeing the pair explore new styles.
“It’s beautiful seeing your grandparents put life into forgotten clothes whilst showing there’s no age limit to dressing fun,” a user named landbeforeslime writes. “I’m so glad to have found this page!”
Chang says he hopes to inspire other older people, both in Taiwan and elsewhere, to be active.
“It’s better than sitting around watching TV or napping,” he told the New York Times. “I might be getting on in my years, but I don’t feel old.”
Chang says the joy they get from the online interaction has carried over to their offline lives as customers seem to stick around and chat a little longer than usual.
“Lately, whenever we eat together,” he says, “I can tell they’re elated.”
And while he’s enjoying his part-time gig as an Instagram model, Chang still has an eye out for the business he has been managing for nearly seven decades. The fact that the forgotten garments also translate to unpaid bills isn’t lost on him.
“It would be nice to chat with them,” he says of the absent-minded customers, “and to get paid.”
According to the New York Times, the laundromat owners have only had one customer return to collect their clothing after recognizing them on the local news.
Perhaps it boils down to intimidation. After all, posting a selfie wearing your reclaimed garment doesn’t sound so appealing when more than 500,000 people know who wore it best.