Now, more than ever, in this time of a great global health crisis, more people are called to help in whichever way we can.
“My belief is, everybody has skills that can be used to do something good, to help their country. So if someone says there is a need for something and you know you can make it, why won’t you volunteer to make it?” fashion designer Mich Dulce tells us, in light of the lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) for our medical frontliners.
Dulce and the people behind the Manila Protective Gear Sewing Club, formed to address the lack of PPEs in the country, share the same mindset: “We need to find innovative solutions to what’s going on."
One thing that Dulce observed while organizing this initiative is that the spirit of bayanihan is still very much alive in Filipinos today. All it takes is for someone to spark it.
Since September of 2019, Dulce has been based in London, where she is a Chevening scholar taking up social entrepreneurship. In the context of the coronavirus pandemic, she’s considered a high risk individual because she has Grave’s disease and severe asthma. “I can’t go back to the Philippines. I’m actually not allowed to leave my room until June because of COVID-19,” she says. But this didn’t stop her from doing something to help out.
“I saw the Facebook post by my college friend Cynthia Diaz, whose mom is a fabric supplier, saying that she has rolls of 75gsm non-woven fabric and is asking if anybody can turn these into PPEs. So I texted her. Sabi ko, ‘Akin na ‘yan. Let’s do it, let’s make PPEs,’” Dulce recalls in a Facebook interview.
Dulce wanted to make a PPE that’s closest to what our frontliners, especially our doctors, need. So she thought of borrowing one from Vice President Leni Robredo who she knew had been distributing PPEs to hospitals. Dulce is a partner of Angat Buhay, an initiative spearheaded by Robredo. They had met around April of 2019 when the latter participated at the Katutubo Pop-Up market.
The designer’s initial plan was to have her mananahi make the PPEs in her Manila studio, but then she realized her team is too small and won't be able to make that many PPEs. “I thought, if a lot of people will start making PPEs, then that’s where we can make a difference,” says Dulce.
Hence on March 20, Dulce appealed via Facebook to her friends in the fashion industry to DM her if their studios/factories are still in operation amid the lockdown, or if they have sewers with the capacity to work from home, so they can produce some PPEs. She also made a call to fabric shop owners to check their stocks if they have at least 50gsm non-woven fabric, taffeta, and waterproof umbrella fabric.
The following day, March 21, Dulce posted an announcement that they had already assembled a small team of volunteer sewers and fashion business owners via an FB group called Manila Protective Gear Sewing Club (Dulce likens the group to a ‘community sewing club). She reiterated the call to fabric store owners to go through their stocks and encouraged them to donate materials to add to the limited supply of fabrics the group has on hand. Dulce says they were expecting to receive the PPE samples on March 23.
By March 23, Dulce woke up to their group having close to 400 volunteers willing to make protective suits for the frontliners, after Preview wrote about her call for help. By this time, Stephanie Tan, Finance Director of Dakila and Senior Program Officer for Governance of The Asia Foundation had already joined Dulce's team, ensuring the transparency of all the material donations that they are getting.
On that same day, too, their call was amplified when Robredo posted on her Facebook account a call to “all industrial designers, fashion designers, architects, engineers etc. to come up with alternative designs for PPEs with readily available materials that can be produced and sourced locally.” Robredo stressed the requirement that the PPEs should still offer the same amount of protection for the frontliners.
In the same note, VP Robredo noted that the hospitals are already fast running short of supplies. “Mahaba-haba pa ang tatahakin nating landas and we cannot be dependent on importers anymore, as we are competing for supplies with the rest of the world."
Hello! We made an #OpenSource Protective Suit pattern and an extremely detailed technical pack based on a real isolation suit lent to us by VP @lenirobredo. These are just some of the images (it's 22 pages long) but the you can download a PDF of the entire tech pack and the full sized pattern for the suit in the link in my bio. Technical pack by @kendimaristela, digitizing by @ajdimarucot and patterns by Lea Empalmado. Keep safe everyone !
On to the drawing board
As soon as they got the PPE sample, Dulce and her team buckled down to work. Her studio manager Lea Enpalmado worked on the pattern. AJ Dimarucot, the founding director of the Communication Design Association of the Philippines (CDAP), digitized the pattern, while Candy Maristela, a faculty member of the UP Department of Clothing, Textiles, and Interior Design, helped make the tech pack, which would contain all the necessary components needed to construct the PPE.
The minute they finished the tech pack, Dulce uploaded it at the Open Source COVID-19 Medical Supplies on Facebook, which was run by Gui Cavalcanti in Berkely, California. “They were super impressed!” Dulce enthuses. The group’s medical team reviewed their suit design and suggested they make it out of the Tyvek 1433R (i.e. thin and flexible covering). However, the said material is not available in the Philippines so the team of Dulce had to look for alternatives.
Dulce says uploading the PPE pattern on Open Source allowed them to share important information that can be used globally. “COVID-19 is a global emergency. Everybody in the world needs this pattern. So it would really make a difference if it’s open sourced,” she says. She’s happy to note that she’s been receiving messages from as far as Egypt, Morocco, Botswana, Australia, Indonesia, and Thailand showing appreciation for their team’s effort in making the tech pack.
To ensure that the suit can adequately protect healthworkers, Aika Robredo, daughter of the Vice President, linked the team to Dr. Cesar Espiritu, President and CEO of Medical City South Luzon. During the first session, Dr. Espiritu together with infectious disease specialist Dr. Mark Pasayan, and otorhinolaryngologist-head and neck surgeon Dr. Amy Espiritu, evaluated the materials and designs and gave recommendations. “During my session with them, the very first thing I did was to separate the materials that were waterproof and instructed them that these would be the only appropriate ones to use for the front liner suits. Then I checked the design—the bunny suit and two-piece options,” relates Dr. Espiritu.
Dr. Espiritu notes the important features of the PPS: “First, the material has to be waterproof to prevent body fluids from contaminating the wearer. Second, if possible, it’s also breathable so that it is more comfortable, but this should not compromise the waterproof feature. Third, the suit should cover the body from head to foot without any spaces that will allow air or fluid to enter (paying particular attention to the face, wrists and ankles). Garterized ends are preferable,” he notes.
The suit should also be easy to put on and easy to take off (ideally it should be zippered). Espiritu suggested a two-piece suit alternative to a bunny suit for women, as it’s easier for toilet necessities. Finally, he reminded them that seams and stitches should be well made and should not tear or come apart easily.
“It took us more than 48 hours of going back and forth—until this afternoon, we got word that, finally, our prototype has been approved [for doctor’s use]! This one was made by Joey Socco using Tafetta Silver Back Lining, suggested and donated by Dr. Reina Tajonera,” said Robredo in a series of tweets last Sunday, March 29. The final approval was facilitated by Dr. Jesus Julio Ancheta, an infectious diseases expert and the Chief Medical Officer at The Medical City South Luzon.
The good thing about the approved material, says Dulce, is that the suit can be reused and disinfected again and again. Evidence from the infection and prevention control (IPC) global network indicates that 15 minutes of autoclaving is effective to kill the virus. “A technical testing was done by Dr. Johanna Alcantara. The Taffeta SBL type was autoclaved under 134 degrees C for 15 minutes, and after taking it out, it was completely dry in four minutes. This was done without the use of an autoclave pouch (with the pouch, it will dry much faster). The Tafetta SBL can take it!”
Dulce clarifies that they don’t claim the suit to be medical grade, because those have to be done in a sterile environment. “It is still a DIY suit, but it’s as close to medical grade as it can get, and its material and construction were approved by an infectious diseases doctor,” the designer stresses. Their group has also released what DuIce prefers to call the “feminist” pattern—as it’s made with special consideration to women doctors and frontliners.
Dulce emphasizes that none of their suits are for sale. “Everything is to be donated. Everybody who is sewing as part of Manila Protective Gear Sewing Club is not getting paid. The designers and business owners are all paying their sewers from their own pockets and are making it as a donation. The suits are given for free. As of now, we are not accepting pledges.”
“Since starting this, my heart really started to swell. We even got messages from mananahi—they’re not even business owners—saying ‘tutulong kami, M’am.’ They are willing to make use of their time habang wala silang tahi. Others are hobbyists who own a portable sewing machine. For me, that’s the spirit of bayanihan. There is no effort too small, all these efforts count,” says Dulce.
She is also happy to note that their project has snowballed into a bigger initiative. They have sewers from Bulacan, Malabon, Cavite, and Makati. She even received messages from Baguio and Iloilo saying they have replicated the project in their respective cities.
At the moment, about 13 factories have started pooling their resources together under the Manila Protective Gear Sewing Club. They also have 99 home-based volunteers (average team size of 2 per location). According to Diaz, who is taking charge of the logistics, they’ve started dispatching materials to the sewers late last week and are continuously dispatching up to now. They are targeting to produce 1,000 Tafetta SBL suits by end of this week. With their DTI request of 5-10 workers per facility during quarantine period, they can produce an output of about 2,500 PPEs per week.
Upon collection by their team from the sewers, the PPEs will be turned over to the Office of the Vice President for proper allocation and distribution. “We have the same values in terms of transparency and accountability, that is why I trust them,” declares Dulce.
To those who wish to start their own initiative apart from Dulce’s team, she advises them to follow the tech pack strictly. “Any kind of veering away from it jeopardizes the product. Don’t veer away from the recommendations kasi inaral talaga namin sya,” she assures. She also encourages them to establish a system of transparency and accountability.
Dulce wishes to inform those who would like to donate to Manila Protective Gear Sewing Club that they have a centralized system.
For material donations, contact Cynthia Diaz at 09178662496
For monetary donations, deposit via:
BPI Savings Account 416 959 1143 (Stephanie Tan)
Gcash Account 0906 474 6084 (Stephanie Tan)
Keep your Proof of Donation (photo of deposit slip/screenshot of online payment) and fill out this form: https://bit.ly/2wCsFp4
They regularly post a list of all donations received. Names of donors will not be disclosed.
For queries, contact: firstname.lastname@example.org / 09064746084