“We didn’t think we would have to step up and help like this again,” says Holly Fulton.
Fulton usually designs clothes – Killing Eve star Jodie Comer recently wore a jumpsuit by her – but since Covid hit, she has been making scrubs for NHS workers. The Emergency Designer Network, which Fulton runs with fellow designers Bethany Williams and Phoebe English, with Cozette McCreery, has provided nearly 3,500 sets of scrubs, mainly to the Royal Free and Middlesex University Hospital.
They pivoted when a mentor of Fulton’s who works with the Royal Free told them that there was a need for more scrubs – and they fast became experts in which materials were technically up to NHS standards (they were surprised to find that each NHS trust has different guidelines as to what constitutes the right, safe PPE and scrubs).
“Demand has soared because the people working in hospitals are changing their scrubs several times a day and that is where we could help,” says Fulton. “Speed and agility are of the essence in responding to this and anything that can alleviate the pressure is appreciated.”
How do they feel about charities and volunteers like them stepping in to support the NHS, which is funded by taxpayers? Fulton says: “We shouldn’t have to exist. But we don’t want this to be about blame, it is about solutions.
“Hospital staff have been said that it is nice to know that people still care. It is inevitable that people get donation fatigue. 10 months on from the first lockdown people’s circumstances and lives have changed but anything is appreciated, whatever people can contribute – donations to buy cloth and to manufacture the scrubs or their help getting them out.”
Staff have said the scrubs provided by the Emergency Designer Network are “the Rolls Royce of scrubs” – the fabric has brilliant climate control for when staff are running around in hot PPE.
Working on the project has helped Fulton and her colleagues at a time when their own industry is challenged, with Covid causing store closures, shuttered factories and cancelled shows. “The people helping have said it has had a positive impact on them, it has been good for their mental health to have something to focus on.”
But Fulton has a positive take. “Challenges are good for creativity,” she says. “In many ways the fashion industry was due a reset. You have to think of new ways to convey your message if you can’t have a physical fashion show. I would hope people buy less and move strategically and think about where clothes are from, celebrating British manufacturing.”
For now though it’s all about the scrubs. “Staff at the Royal Free have told us they wouldn’t have made it through the year without them so we are keeping going.”