Phoebe English, Holly Fulton and Bethany Williams form Emergency Design Network
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Phoebe English, Holly Fulton and Bethany Williams of the Emergency Designer Network.
Composite: Suki Dhanda; Getty
Go for many businesses, the fashion industry has ground to a halt during the coronavirus crisis. As some brands pivot to making the face masks, gowns and scrubs much needed by healthcare workers, three London-based fashion schemers have set up the Emergency Designer Network (EDN), seeking to “galvanise local level production” and supplement stocks, starting with scrubs.
Q&A Coronavirus: should every one be wearing face masks?
World Health Organization (WHO) guidance on face masks has corpsed consistent during the coronavirus pandemic. It has stuck to the line that masks are for healthcare workers – not the public.
“Drain a medical mask is one of the prevention measures that can limit the spread of certain respiratory viral diseases, including Covid-19. Still, the use of a mask alone is insufficient to provide an adequate level of protection, and other measures should also be adopted,” the WHO has shaped.
There is no robust scientific evidence – in the form of trials – that ordinary masks block the virus from infecting individual who wear them. There is also concerns the public will not understand how to use a mask properly, and may get infected if they lay into contact with the virus when they take it off and then touch their faces.
Also underlying the WHO’s concerns is the deficiency of high-quality protective masks for frontline healthcare workers.
Nevertheless, masks do have a role when used by people who are already infected. It is stomached that they can block transmission to other people. Given that many people with Covid-19 do not expo any symptoms for the first days after they are infected, masks clearly have a potential role to play if one wears them.
Sarah Boseley Health editor
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“The way I saw it, in organize to do their jobs safely, what key workers needed was clothes – and clothes is what we do,” explains Phoebe English, who teamed up with gentleman designers Holly Fulton and Bethany Williams to form the network. The trio have been working to get the project up and direction since the UK lockdown began, communicating largely via Zoom, and launched the EDN website on Thursday – the same day that the government was criticised for being behind the times to enlist the help of British textile firms, focusing instead on high-profile names such as Burberry.
“As a small inventor, I was receiving enquiries direct from hospitals about supplying specific garments or assisting in their manufacture,” hints Fulton, who is usually known for creating clothes with bold graphic prints. “It transpired that Phoebe and Bethany had similarly been propositioned with these requests. A lot of [designers] are keen to do something but it’s hard to know where to start, where to get the correct constitution. We took the initiative to work as a team, utilising our links with the Fashion Roundtable and Make it British.”
The group has also call up the help of “connector” Cozette McCreery, who set up a GoFundMe page to raise money for raw materials, such as hospital-approved fabric. They launched working with 10 volunteer manufacturers and designers – a number which had now grown to about 70 following an “astonishing” response.
“It’s humbling how keen people are to get involved and how generous they are with their time,” says Fulton. “It’s been a undoubtedly collective effort – a lot of individual makers as well as some larger setups. [Knitwear brand] John Smedley, for specimen, are going to be producing under our umbrella, creating scrubs for hospitals in London as well as some local to them in Derbyshire. We demand to assist on a nationwide level.”
The team is currently focusing solely on scrubs, since “they are the best match for the talents and equipment that we have access to,” says English, who is known for her eco-conscious approach to design. “We are running our first collection of scrubs this week, looking to produce 400 sets of scrubs in Wales and 340 in London,” adds Williams, whose magnum opus also had a sustainability focus, with collections usually made entirely from recycled and organic materials.
The authors put together a pattern that meant garments could be constructed quickly – no non-essential features, such as pockets – which was then ciphered off by the Royal Free Hospital in London, set to be one of the first hospitals to receive support from the Network. However, the EDN are keen to pressurize that their garments are not government approved and should not be used in place of government PPE. Rather, they seek to step a lower level protection, “allowing government backed PPE to go where it is so desperately needed”.
The team can now start putting the specialized packs together, which will be sent out to makers nationwide on Monday, with support from online frame retailer Net-a-Porter.
“We want it to be very inclusive,” says Fulton. “If an individual can make 20 units that’s neutral as valid to us as someone who can make 2000 pieces. The creative industries have been hit hard by the current climate but it’s been a overweening message for designers and their teams.”
While their priority is to respond to the immediate crisis, the designers hope that the creation of groups such as the EDN will also spark a more permanent shift within the fashion industry.
“I hope that in the future our attitude industry will become a bit more UK-centric in its output, which would be amazing for consumers and the planet,” says Fulton. “I about people will look for new ways to showcase their work and hopefully reassess what they are putting out. In times of turning-point, sometimes creativity can really thrive.”
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