JUNE 02, 2020

Fashion for passion

BY FIEL ESTRELLA

A group of fashion designers is helping health workers fight the pandemic, one protective suit at a time.

When the enhanced community quarantine began, almost three months ago now, citizens came together to help out and give back to urgent causes aided by organizations, from fundraising for research and testing, to outreach for lower income families, to meal programs and resources for health workers and other frontliners.

One of these organizations is Fashion for Frontliners — a group of fashion designers who have combined their abilities and resources to create personal protective equipment (PPEs) to distribute to hospitals and health centers. Designers involved in the cause are Jot Losa, Debbie Co, Yong Davalos, Steph Tan, Jill Lao, Dre Tetangco, Rob Ortega, Vina Romero, Daryl Maat, Rosenthal Tee, and Bessie Besana.

Photo courtesy of Rosenthal Tee.

Founded in late March, Fashion for Frontliners has produced PPEs made of lightweight and waterproof Taslan fabric costing only P400 each. While they are not medical-grade, the suits are still approved by doctors. PPEs tend to require constant changing, and they have to be durable and able to prevent workers from contracting and/or further spreading COVID-19.

“My sister is actually a frontliner,” says designer Rosenthal Tee when asked how she got involved and decided to dedicate her time to the cause. “In the weeks prior to the Luzon lockdown, she was already telling me that there was already a great need to prepare. We were, I suspect, a little bit in denial about the gravity of the situation, and paid very little attention to it because I thought it was so far away from us. But when it really started to hit me, with much effort on her part to make the current situation clear to me, I decided to get my head into the crisis and try to do my part with the current skill set we had available to help.”

Photo courtesy of Jot Losa.

Jot Losa, meanwhile, was already at work trying to source fabrics from warehouses during the first few days of the quarantine. “I also had my studio utilized as the receiving and dispatching center of PPE suits because I’m located in San Juan, the center of Metro Manila, which makes it more accessible.” 

The movement began with designers reaching out to clients and announcing the cause on their social media accounts. “We were hesitant at first but surprised that a lot of pledges came and donors reached out,” says Jot. 

“The moment I sent out my social media blasts about producing PPEs, so many of my clients responded both in cash and in kind,” Rosenthal adds. “I believe that it helped also to know that the work that I’ve produced in the years prior [assured my clients] that I was trustworthy enough to take on their donations and properly dispatch it to those who needed it most. My clients openly poured out their resources, and I count myself lucky that I didn’t need to directly ask for their help. They gave it in such open solidarity.”

To create the suits, the designers gathered swatches and tried water tests. They also had to find a way to work around the mobility issues due to the lockdown. “We had prototypes and had it sent to each designer to check on form and function,” says Jot. “Then once approved, we distribute fabrics to all production houses.”

Photo courtesy of Rosenthal Tee.

“We worked on the open-source information shared on social media to get the right fabrics, materials and pattern needed,” Rosenthal adds. “Then it was a matter of aligning those in my team able to work to still meet the deadlines of our pledges. It entailed a lot of Facebook chats and video calls to really align everyone to produce the PPE suits that would be Hospital-grade and safe for our Frontliners to use.”

When it came time to distribute the PPEs, they prioritized public hospitals and other health centers chosen by each designer. “We worked with a lot of private individuals who  provided us with their respective list of hospitals to address so it was really on my donors’ end, who provided the information,” Rosenthal says. “As much as possible, we tried to dispatch it to hospitals that didn’t have strong enough support from other bigger initiatives.”

The initiative was able to raise millions in donations, creating a total of around 12,000 suits for frontliners. Donations have been closed as of May 5. 

Out of the 12,000, 2,000 and counting have come from Rosenthal’s studio. “Since I was also able to maintain two of my seamstresses in-studio, and work remotely with a dozen more, the company was also able to provide a salary to the staff, and allowances for those who were unable to work,” Rosenthal shares. “In the meantime, this has helped everyone get through the summer.”

Photo courtesy of Jot Losa.

“We were able to produce more than 7,000 PPE suits and deliver these to more than 50 hospitals within Metro Manila and outside even up to Marawi City!” Jot adds. 

Rosenthal has high hopes for the initiative and its effect during and beyond the time of the pandemic. “I’m hoping that once this is over, Filipinos will purchase and patronize Filipino-made products to help the workers who were most affected during this pandemic. We really have to boost and support all that is local to recover.”

She adds, “This pandemic has definitely shown us that there is power that clothing gives to its wearer. But I suppose from giving our clients the power of beauty, we are now giving our frontliners the power to protect life. It’s a very heavy responsibility but I’m glad that I am able to contribute.”

“We hope that we were able to provide our health care workers the protection they need while providing medical care to people battling the virus,” Jot says. “We hope that in a way we were able to boost their morale and made them feel they are appreciated and not alone in their mission.”

For updates and information, follow Fashion for Frontliners on Instagram.