More Malaysian designers joining Melinda Looi and fashion community to make surgical gowns and face shields amid Covid-19

The protective gear will be offered to hospitals that are expected to be overwhelmed and under-resourced.

(Right) Malaysian designer and president of MODA Melinda Looi. (All photos: Melinda Looi)

The novel coronavirus, which has brought life as we know it to a halt, is hitting the fashion industry hard but local designers are stepping up as the government scramble to respond to the crisis. Prominent designer Melinda Looi — inspired by entrepreneur Liyana Zainal who has been donating protective gear to health workers in government clinics — decided to take things into her own hands, reassigning her seamstresses to make masks and Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) for frontliners. 

Nearly a week has passed since she — and a group of well-known names including Khoon Hooi, Celest Thoi, Alia Bastamam, Key Ng, Jimmy Lim, Datuk Radzuan Radzwil and Nurul Afidah Zulkifli of Mimpikita — crafted, cut and sewn these essential garments for health personnel. Fashion designers are playing a crucial role in this effort because they have the skills to sew, while masks on the other hand still can be donated. 

Words can‘t describe how I feel when I walked into the library of Hospital Kuala Lumpur on a Sunday today.. Off day will never be an Off-Day for most of the Staff, Doctors, Nurses, Therapists, Sisters and Volunteers at HKL during this difficult time. Even Pengarah of HKL was cutting the material himself too! They are heroes with no wings, flying capes or super power, but they have compassion and love that are priceless! I salute them from my bottom of my heart! A scene of this story must be told! Thank you to everyone who are contributing their bit to help to fight this together with all the frontliners. We want u to know YOU ARE NOT ALONE! WE CAN FIGHT THIS TOGETHER! Please help them and us to collect more fund to allow us to purchase materials and PPE items for them to continue to fight for us and protect their lives and ours. Find out how you can help at @modamalaysia @fashionvaletcom and @imaret_my website and social media. THANK YOU FRONTLINERS AND ALL VOLUNTEERS. YOU ARE NOT ALONE. WE FIGHT TOGETHER AND WE WILL WIN THE BATTLE AGAIST COVID-19. #MODAforFrontliners #mydesignerscare #mODAMalaysiacares #Fashionfightscovid19 #fashionvalet #imaret #youarenotalone #kitajagakita

Posted by Melinda Looi on Sunday, 5 April 2020

As of yesterday, headscarf designer Neelofa and ready-to-wear couturier Datuk Jovian Mandagie were the latest to join this 35-strong group of designers who are partaking in this cause. While the response was heartwarming, there’s no denying that the pandemic has dealt a huge blow to the fashion industry as designers could not run their business as normal and their income had been affected. 

“No one is buying fashion at this time. Everything is on pause. We were all meant to launch Raya collection but there’s no way we can do it now. All stocks were ready during the week of lockdown but it would be impossible to sell anything.

“The Raya celebration will not be the same this year, and it’s one of the biggest festivals we all look forward to. With no sales at all, designers will struggle for a long time. With shows being cancelled, models will have no jobs. The same goes to event management and production houses,” says Looi during a phone interview.


Designer Khoon Hooi sewing a PPE gown for health personnel

Sourcing materials to make the PPE gowns has been extremely challenging due to fabric shortage and its prices that keep rising. One roll of the non-woven material costs around RM5,000, which can be used to make 600 gowns. The Malaysian Official Designer Association (MODA), of which Looi is the president, has around 40 members and 200 home seamstresses are on hand to do the job. 

Currently, around 3,000 to 4,000 pieces of gowns are made over four days, including some head and shoe covers too. Looi and the team of designers are targeting to make 8,000 pieces of mixed PPE in the next two weeks. 

“Big hospitals can easily throw away a few thousand pieces a day while smaller hospitals can use up a few hundreds. Don’t forget the klinik kesihatan too. We definitely need to produce as much as we can.”


(Left) The non-woven material used to make the gowns; Celest Thoi and a volunteer helping out with the cause

Looi’s initiative has not only kept her team occupied but provided a sense of purpose to their work too. When they’re not working on the PPE gowns, they are helping other volunteers who had sent 3D plastic frames, elastic plastic sheets to make face shields for health workers. 

“It’s time for designers to restrategise the way we do business. We need to learn new technology, go digital, and make products locally to support local manufacturers that boost our economy. Local consumers, too, must start to appreciate locally made products and support our homegrown talents.”


Anyone who’s keen to lend a hand in the form of sewing or assembling face shields can contact MODA Malaysia, Fashion Valet and Imaret on their respective Facebook pages. Alternatively, monetary aid can be donated to MODA via Maybank (account no: 5140 8433 9201). 

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