HOMETOWN HELPERS: NYC fashion professionals design medical gowns for hospital staff battling coronavirus
Amy Tiefermann, Alex Baylis and Rachel Rothenberg pose with the gowns their volunteer group Garmet District for Gowns is manufacturing to donate to local hospitals Thursday, April, 2, 2020 in the Manhattan, New York.
A trio of fashion professionals are giving “designer gowns” a whole new meaning.
Struck by the severe shortage of personal protective equipment for medical staff treating coronavirus patients, Rachel Rothenberg, Alex Baylis and Amy Tiefermann joined forces and stitched together a plan to manufacture hospital gowns by pulling strings in their network of contacts in New York City’s Garment District.
While these gowns won’t make their debut on the red carpet, they’re being appreciated in the hallways of hospitals across New York and New Jersey, where doctors and nurses have been photographed wearing plastic garbage bags as they try to shield themselves from the deadly virus.
“We self-funded our first batch of 300 medical gowns that we’re donating, and (then) cut about another 800," Rothenberg, 34, told the Daily News about the initial production run that began in late March. "We’re going to cut as many as we can.”
The women normally work as designers, pattern makers and product developers for high-end brands like Dior, Oscar de la Renta, Carolina Herrera and Ralph Lauren. But with most of the fashion industry on hiatus right now, they found themselves with extra time on their hands — and with the resources to make a real difference to front line hospital workers.
So they sprung into action: sourcing materials, touching base with the neediest hospitals, getting approved by area health departments and recruiting volunteers to help with sewing.
“We did a lot of research as to what materials we could use and the function of them and who would be using them,” said Tiefermann, 27, a pattern maker.
Consulting directly with hospital professionals, she came up with a functional medical gown that opens in the back, ties around the waist, and comes in two different sizes. The fabric, originally made for military use in Afghanistan, is waterproof, breathable and FDA-approved.
The “Garment District for Gowns” initiative escalated quickly. The designers were able to produce a few hundred gowns a week at first; now, they are up to almost 10,000, and are hoping to ramp up to 30,000 a week by mid-May.
The world has noticed — more than 700 donors have helped them raise over $61,000 in less than a month, to make sure their work can continue.
After donating the first batch of gowns to doctors at Mount Sinai Hospital, the New York State Department of Health, Metropolitan Hospital, and the Jersey City Medical Center, the designers said the list has grown to include 14 area hospitals in all.
“What’s really beautiful about our first batch of gowns is that we’ve had a lot of volunteers come forward to help sew, like 30 plus … and we’ve had many volunteers step up since then. And I think now we’re in the position of starting to streamline the operation,” said Rothenberg.
“We plan to continue at this momentum or more, so long as the need is there for New York and the rest of the country.” Even big companies are rallying around the project: Johnson & Johnson donated 2,000 resealable bags to package the gowns, and Grand Prix Subaru in Long Island offered up cars for the deliveries.
While gratefully accepting all the help, the women are quick to point out that strict social distancing guidelines are in place to protect everyone involved. Sewers and fabric cutters work in teams of two, six feet apart, and are equipped with masks, gloves, and plenty of sanitizer.
Rothenberg, Baylis and Teifermann, based in Manhattan, Jersey City and Brooklyn, respectively, communicate with each other and everyone else over Zoom.
“One of the greatest things about this experience is seeing so many people come together. No one is profiting, people are donating their time and materials at the lowest possible price,” said Baylis, 32.
“It’s like an extended community, and it’s been really heartwarming. There are people in New York, New Jersey, China, who are all sharing information. And that’s been one of the most inspiring things.”