Fashion house produces free PPE for frontline staff
By World Healthcare Journal-
When the UK suffered from a shortage in PPE, designer fashion house Isabell Kristensen stepped in to supply hospitals with the scrubs they required urgently. The garments were made in-house by a small core team of seamstresses and tailors, all of whom were working voluntarily as part of the #Scrubs4Heroes movement.
The company, which is based between London and Monaco, usually creates bespoke designer clothing for Royal Family members, celebrities and socialites. Isabell Kristensen gowns are seen regularly at events such as the Baftas and other red-carpet events, Strictly Come Dancing, as well as chosen by guests attending private functions such as christenings and bar mitzvahs.
As a result of Covid-19, most of these events were postponed, resulting in significant numbers of order cancellations from customers. For a small designer fashion firm such as Isabell Kristensen, this can have serious consequences.
However, the firm decided to use this opportunity for a charitable purpose, to create PPE for those on the Covid frontline, delivered in order of urgency regardless of location. The hugely successful change towards this type of production was in sharp contrast to usual processes, where skilled workers spend months creating a handful of couture pieces for just a few people.
Scrubs4Heroes has provided 50 NHS facilities with more than 5,000 free sets of scrubs, with help from 300 volunteers, all made of high-quality and long-lasting materials, which are appropriate and comfortable for long shifts.
Martin Kristensen, House of Kristensen Managing Director and son of designer and former fashion model Isabell Kristensen, described the initiative as “repurposing business to meet the need for a health crisis, after realising how big the need was”.
Supplying the UK
The initiative started after the fashion house reached out to three local NHS trusts and asked if they needed any support with PPE. After receiving an order for 300 scrubs per facility, details were shared with other institutions, increasing the response to Scrubs4Heroes.
“We were able to find a supplier from whom we could purchase fabric at about £1.75 a metre – better value than the regular retail price of the fabric,” says Martin. This reduction allows the firm to produce more PPE more cost-effectively in order to give it away.
“Due to the exponential growth in orders, we realised additional hands would be required to meet demand, so we spread the word that we would provide all thread, fabrics, patterns and haberdashery if folks were willing to donate their time to sew. The team and I are so grateful to the 300 volunteers who answered our call,” he says.
Some of the volunteers came from within courier and driving firms in London and the Home Counties, who gave up their time to deliver the scrubs. For long-haul deliveries to northern cities such as Liverpool and Manchester, House of Kristensen used its own vehicles to transport large volumes of scrubs and fabric.
“This crisis has taught me just how resilient our national community is,” Martin says. “The desire to help was so strong that even inmates in HM Prison Service reached out - we have amazing volunteers sewing away in Prison Activities departments. One prison, HMP Altcourse, has been restocked with more than 600 metres of fabric and is still supporting Scrubs4Heroes. ”
What initially started as a “grassroots volunteer organisation” has garnered the interest of celebrities across multiple social media platforms, including broadcaster and adventurer Ben Fogle and Hollywood actress Kate Beckinsale.
For a week Ben Fogle gave Scrubs4Heroes his Twitter platform, which boasts more than 400,000 followers, spreading awareness and incentivising more hospitals to secure orders for Isabell Kristensen’s PPE, and encouraging more volunteers to join in to make them.
Alongside Ben, Kate Beckinsale tweeted a video explaining how people could participate. “If you’re handy with a needle and you have some time (Scrubs4Heroes) will deliver absolutely everything … they will coordinate the pickup … and it would really be a fantastic thing if you could contribute”.
Due to its evolution, Scrubs4Heroes has now been registered as a non-profit organisation, working with NHS charities. Martin is also registering the organisation with the Charity Commission to provide PPE for deprived areas or for any future outbreaks.
Emphasising the firm’s commitment, Martin says “it’s about community engagement, bringing people together to do something without having to put that burden of cost on the NHS. ”
On 4 June he announced that Scrubs4Heroes would be pursuing a new strategy to support the UK’s most deprived districts, by focusing on supplying scrubs to health workers living there. “After extensive research, analysing data published by HM Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government, we identified the UK’s 20 most deprived districts.
“I felt it was crucial that the organisation should focus on those most in need. Many frontline staff reside within these communities and free kit lifts the financial burden on them to pay the £18-£28 for every new set of scrubs they need. We have to recognise that many NHS facilities do not provide a laundry service, so individuals are required to take kit home to clean it or pay for dry-cleaning, potentially exposing their families to risk,” he says.
An Office of National Statistics report on 12 June showed that the UK’s most deprived districts typically suffered twice the impact of Covid-19, including deaths, with numbers averaging 128 deaths per 100,000 compared to 60 per 100,000 in more affluent areas.
Now their usual business is recommencing, House of Kristensen has promised to continue to support Scrubs4Heroes by pledging a certain amount of scrubs per couture dress sold. They hope to recruit other brands to this pledge as well.
In addition, Scrubs4Heroes has also received requests for assistance from countries such as India, Malaysia, Kenya and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, following Martin’s participation as a panellist for a Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS Innovation event in Geneva. In front of an audience of 400 delegates the panel discussed varying means of tackling Covid-19 through repurposing of businesses and community engagement.
“I would love to support international requests,” he says, although the organisation is not yet at that stage. “Medical care is not something that should be defined by borders; everyone should receive medical care”.
But with an ever-increasing online presence and donations to their JustGiving page, there is every reason to think that Scrubs4Heroes might be able to help other countries in the future.
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