By Josie Gudgeon
As the entire world continues to shut down non-essential services as COVID-19 continues to spread, we’re quickly learning to adjust our relationship with digital technology.
Social Media, FaceTime, and old-school phone calls allow us a small amount of comfort connecting with family on Mother’s Day yesterday. A small price to pay to keep our near and dear safe in these uncertain times.
How can the fashion industry help?
As Covid-19 escalates, hospitals are quickly running out of supplies – face masks, surgical drapes and gowns are all in short supply. These masks can’t be worn continuously, they’re meant to be single-use, and the medical community is getting through them rapidly. The problem is that not only are they lacking in the protective and sterile clothing for treating coronavirus patients, but now they are running out of supplies for many other patients in their care, for example, NICU babies (NICU is where premature and sick babies are treated). This is already one of the strictest units in a hospital, with the highest standards for safety and cleanliness, and minimal outside visitation. Premature babies have no immune system, so its vitally important medical workers wear protective clothing when entering these units.
Gowns and drapes are made of thin fabrics, likely cotton, so a designer could feasibly make them in their studio; the main challenge will be ensuring they are produced in a clean environment and arrive at hospitals in sterile packaging. Each sterile gown comes in its own plastic sleeve, and the factories must follow FDA regulations. However, if facilities are not up to providing sterile supplies there is just as much need for ‘regular’ gowns, these are not classed as sterile, but are still brand new and clean. Often for tasks such as seeing to a patient in isolation, these will protect workers form whatever the patient is tested positive for.
Designers are trying to figure ways in which they can help hospitals. It seems entirely possible that larger brands and luxury designers around the world could pitch in to make surgical drapes, regular gowns, and even face masks. Perhaps these chains could partner with hospitals or health-care bodies to find a way to make hospital-approved sterile gowns and drapes.
Over the past couple of days, we have seen many commendable efforts from designers in order to help our health care. London based designer Phoebe English has a studio full of fabric, supplies, and production equipment, and is currently trying to work with the British government to make masks for hospitals. Phoebe English sources her materials from peer designers; making her collections from deadstock and surplus material. She believes she has the right equipment (like sewing machines) needed to make supplies.
Over in France designer, Coperni’s Arnaud Vaillant posted a sewing pattern on his website for anyone who wants to make a fabric mask at home (medical-grade masks need to be made with specific materials). His Instagram selfie came with an impressionable caption: “Leave masks for hospitals and #makeyourownmask… There is a huge lack of masks in France… and hospitals desperately need them.”
Their post outlined a key point that needs to be addressed. Many of the reason that hospitals are lacking so much for small supplies such as masks is because the wider community has been taking them and using them for day to day life. It is vitally important that medical workers are able to hold onto these. Hence why we need to use Vaillant’s approach of the ‘#makeyourownmask’ to reduce the strain on the hospitals supplies.
In Italy, Gucci is also prepared to make over one million masks and 55,000 pairs of medical overalls upon approval from the medical authorities in that country. As on March 22, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced that all nonessential factories must shut down.
Balenciaga and Yves Saint Laurent, which operate factories in France, will also begin to produce masks there upon approval, complying with the “strictest protection measures” for healthcare workers.
I find it amazing how in such hard times communities pull together and lean on each other’s shoulder. This shows the power of the nation and such commendable efforts by so many high end and luxury brands. We need to keep this positive spirit up through this difficult time. Stay safe, stay isolated and reduce pressure on the health care supplies. Get creative during your social isolation and have a go at making your own masks.