Making a difference through fashion, one suit at a time

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By Aliyya Sawadjaan
Features Writer, The Philippine STAR

With the rising number of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) confirmed cases, the number of personal protective equipment (PPE) used by medical professionals has become scarce.

PPE sets include gowns, gloves, masks, goggles, and alcohol-based handrubs. PPEs are important in the fight against the novel coronavirus as these help prevent the spread of germs and viruses in the hospital, protecting people and health-care workers from infections. Medical professionals need these when taking care of COVID-19 patients.

To put things in perspective, the Philippines Health System Review of 2018 reported that as of 2017, the Philippines has a total of 40,775 doctors, 90,308 nurses, and 13,413 medical technologists, which is why more PPEs are needed.

UP Medical Foundation Inc. president Dr. Mediadora Saniel estimates that a hospital with 1,000 healthcare workers need 90,000 masks, 2,500 N95 masks, 5,000 surgical gloves, 2,500 hoods, 2,500 caps, and 300 gallons of alcohol in a month.


Due to the global shortage of PPEs, many frontliners have had to improvise using garbage bag or plastic raincoat as gowns, garden gloves instead of surgical ones, plastic bags for shoe covers and surgical hoods, and DIY reusable face shields from acetate plastic sheets and elastic bands.

Helping frontliners, fashionably 

Hoping to help in the fight against COVID-19, fashion houses, brands and designers have stepped up to the plate by helping frontliners acquire face masks and PPE sets.

Swimsuit designer Domz Ramos, together with his DR Styles Fashion staff, relatives and neighbors, turned small pieces of cloth (retaso) into 2,000 face masks and distributed these to barangays and hospitals.

Designer to the stars Michael Leyva went back to his studio and created hazmat suits and head covers, as well as washable face masks. His team targets to finish at least 3,000 suits. Following the specifications set by the Department of Health (DOH), the suits are made from non-woven, washable and waterproof fabric — the same fabric used to make eco-bags. 

Project Runway Philippines alumnus Santi Obcena and his team have also been sewing masks for donation. He also shared a video tutorial on how to make a reusable face mask using eco bags, umbrella cloth and retaso. The masks they make have an outer water-repellent layer and a pocket for a removable filter. Mr. Obcena also specified in his video that these masks are for communities or households that do not have access to surgical masks.

Fashion designer and milliner Mich Dulce and her team in Manila created the first medically-reviewed open-source PPE suit design. They were able to “reverse engineer” an isolation suit lent to them by Vice President Leni Robredo, creating a pattern and an instructional PDF file for others to follow.

The Office of the Vice President called on Filipino fashion designers to help produce the PPEs for medical frontliners, and Ms. Dulce was one of the first to respond, tapping others to commit to the project. The group is now called the Manila Protective Gear Sewing Club. Aside from calling on fellow designers for help, she also called for donations for fabrics and other materials to make the suits.

Other fashion designers have also chipped in to help address the shortage for PPE suits. Designer Rajo Laurel reopened his factory and his company has donated to different hospitals and healthcare facilities.

Outside of Metro Manila, Cebuano designer Valerie Alvez and her team stepped in by creating PPE sets using eco-friendly material taffeta — a water-repellent fabric. The disposable customized PPE suit has been approved by the DoH. Alvez and her team say they have no plans to stop making the suits as long as it is needed.

Josip Tumapa from Dumaguete City started creating PPE suits for relatives who are frontliners, but then other frontliners requested for these, too. She then created more suits and even personally delivered them to health centers in the city. She has since shared the design for the PPE suit on Facebook.

Adrian Pe, meanwhile, is the designer responsible for the now-viral Teletubbies-inspired PPE suits. He also created suits inspired by Power Rangers and Star Wars.

Pop culture-inspired PPE suits created by Adrian Pe, featuring Teletubbies. Photo from Adrian Pe’s Facebook page

Iloilo-based designer Ram Silva created suits inspired by the popular drama series Money Heist. He gamely posted on Instagram photos of frontliners from Western Visayas Medical Center wearing his creations.

Money Heist-inspired PPE suits created by Iloilo designer Ram Silva. Photo from Ram Silva’s Facebook page

Another Iloilo-based designer, James Roa, created a panda-inspired PPE suit to spread good vibes to patients and medical workers. After reaching out to friends to raise funds for the production of the protective suits, he was able to collect enough to make 100 suits.


Panda-inspired PPE suits created by Iloilo designer James Roa. Photo from James Roa’s Facebook page

The Bunny Project PH, on the other hand, has already distributed more than 7,000 bunny suits or PPEs as of April 7. They were able to produce these suits with the help of the Victoria Tarlac Livelihood Group, the local government of Victoria, Tarlac, and the provincial government of Tarlac who helped mobilize more than 50 tailors and dressmakers.

Just some of the PPE suits prepared and delivered by the team behind The Bunny Project PH. Photo from The Bunny Project PH’s Facebook page

Disenyo Pandi, a group of designers and gown makers based in Bulacan, also created and donated PPE suits for hospitals in Bulacan and Metro Manila.

School of Fashion and Arts (SoFA) Design Institute’s faculty members and alumni have also joined in to address the growing need for the protective suits. Many of the alumni have shared their own designs for the PPE suits and are also available on Facebook for download.

Local clothing brand Penshoppe is also doing its part by working with its vendor partners.

Calls for PPE suits are still on-going with the number of COVID-19-positive cases nearing 5,000.