Spotlight, 4 May 2020
A hub of creativity for future-Vera Wang’s, Stella McCarntney’s or Karl Largerfeld’s, The Fashion School on the King’s Road offers fashion design and sewing classes for adults all the way down to tinies. Today, it produces PPE surgical gowns for those on the Covid-19 front line in our hospitals. We caught up with founder, Caroline Gration who tells a little more; from her inspiration to her incredible support network, this really is an inspiring store and one you can get involved in too.
How did this initiative come about?
Caroline – My daughter is Dr Betty Gration who is heading up a Covid-19 ward. I really wanted to do something to help, working directly with a hospital on a large scale to say thank you. Together with Tom Bennett from the Royal Brompton Hospital, we came up with the genius idea of using a stock of hospital theatre drapes as the fabric for PPE surgical gowns for those on the front line.
How many do you have on the PPE mission in total now?
Caroline – At each venue we have approximately 32 machinists, 12 cutters, 8 folders/packers and 4+ hospital staff. I think the combined volunteer list in the 100s. I’ve made a free download of the pattern, complete with technical and set-up information so I’m sending that out to other organisations too.
Can you tell us a little about the sense of community the work is fostering among the volunteers in your workrooms?
Caroline – I felt very strongly from the outset that we worked entirely with volunteers within the community who wanted to be part of this rather than try to source a factory. Both venues are full of sound of selfless volunteer joy and laughter, a real sense of togetherness and a determination to give back to our local hospitals. Loneliness in lockdown is a real issue, but we can interact using social distancing. It’s so rewarding and uplifting to see the boxes go onto the back of the hospital truck at the end of each day and straight to where they are needed. Some of our smiling volunteers come in seven days a week – it’s very humbling to see such dedication.
What’s the highest number of gowns you’ve made in one day since you began on 11 April?
Caroline – We started on Wednesday 18th April. 705 gowns made on the King’s Road is the highest figure to date!
Are you on track to surpass your original targets?
Caroline – Absolutely. The Royal Brompton Hospital originally wanted 5,000 gowns and we will probably at least double that. Hospitals can use 2,000+ gowns a day so we will keep going and increasing daily bests until matters change.
Even if people can’t sew, can they still get involved?
Caroline – Absolutely! Folding, packing and cutting are really helpful areas. The volunteer list might currently be full but this changes daily and we must remember that we are in the middle of a pandemic – if people feel even the slightest bit unwell, they must not come in.
Designer Michael Halpern is one of the famous names amongst volunteers – has the project brought any other well-known faces to the workroom?
Caroline – Yes, Michael is just amazing – works his socks off with the biggest smile. He’s a local boy so it’s even more wonderful to have him onboard. We have lots of other well-known faces, but I can’t tell you who… they might not come back!
Have you received much support from the local community to help you realise this fantastic project?
Caroline – Cadogan are always a fantastic support and without them, The Fashion School wouldn’t have been in a position to do any of this. Nigel Garrigan, Estates Manager at Kensington & Chelsea College, immediately responded with a big “Yes!” on using The Chelsea Centre on Hortensia Road as the venue. Designer, Julie Brogger immediately responded with an offer to take the basic pattern and created 20 large card versions (blocks) strong enough to withstand being traced around time and time again. Janome machine immediately sent 35 machines to supplement and even the builders at the King’s Road re-development site closed the road for me so that I could dash in and out of the studio to load. There were so many offers of support and even though we didn’t use some of them because of the urgency to set this up, we are grateful of our new contacts.
What valuable lessons do you think have come out of this crisis?
Caroline – Many; belief in the strength of the community and what it can do; the benefits of manufacturing in the UK; that we really don’t need fast fashion and can be content with what we have; the lockdown has given a space for reflection and how you can change things in your life for the better and finally, keeping your business as agile as possible.
For other fashion lovers stuck indoors, what other inspiration are you able to provide?
Caroline – The Fashion School has moved online during the crisis. I’m a big believer in giving children their own creative space and the lockdown is an ideal environment to experiment creatively without being assessed and marked by your school. There is no school curriculum to worry about when you create your own designs and you can let your imagination run free. We have lots of online courses, private tuition and kits for the young creative and adults – and free little projects for tinies. My favourite is the build your own mannequin online kit and the online tutored fashion illustration classes.
Which King’s Road haunts are you itching to return to once lockdown measures are eased?
Caroline – In an effort to be more sustainable, I made a pact not to buy any new clothes for a year, so I am going to find in incredibly hard not to take advantage of any of the sales. Food wise, I love Pavilion Road, the Duke of York Square Saturday market, the sense of community at Chelsea Green. My first port of call will be Sign of the Times, a vintage clothes shop as this was on my to-do list before the lockdown. I’m a big believer in Octavia Trust, Oxfam, Hospice and other charity shops to supplement any pricey designer purchase I’ve done in the past. However, and the temptation is great – I’m just window shopping at the moment!
To donate to The Fashion School’s PPE Drive, please visit their Go Fund Me page here.
The Fashion School’s PPE project is majority sponsored by Cadogan and so far has delivered over 10,000 surgical gowns across the local area. The Fashion School is now aiming to produce 1,5000 gowns a day and can provide advice, a PPE pattern, and a tech file, for free, to any hospital or care home wishing to make gowns.