A BEAUTIFUL DEFENSE
Fashioning Beauty for the Frontline, Kevan Hall and Malena Ruth Find a New Mission
For Malena Ruth, working with fellow Los Angeles designer Kevan Hall is part of her design evolution. While Ruth counts Hall among the mentors who have helped forge her path, the two luxury designers have come together on one of their most-important collaborative projects. Hall and Ruth are making protective masks for consumers, in addition to creating these crucial pieces for workers in the healthcare industry by enhancing existing products to provide greater protection against COVID-19.
“Malena got a call from a doctor at UCLA,” Hall explained. “They had hospital gowns, but they had short sleeves. In order for them to feel safe and have more coverage, they asked her to put sleeves on the hospital gowns. We took that on as an initiative, and we added in the masks. They have nice, protective hospital gowns and the masks.”
Members of the Black Design Collective, Hall—who is a co-founder of the organization—and Ruth discovered that the request from UCLA Medical Center’s Dr. Retha Goodglick was perfect timing during an imperfect situation. A close associate of the BDC, the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising had recently supplied fabric to the organization. Through this generous contribution, Hall and Ruth were able to use the donated fabric to create sleeves for existing gowns.
“The timing worked out beautifully. I was able to pick up fabric from the fashion-institute store,” Hall said. “That was a great connection between the BDC, FIDM, and Malena and me, working on putting these pieces together.”
For Ruth, contributing to frontline efforts by helping to protect workers such as doctors, nurses, healthcare aides and maintenance crews was an opportunity to help boost morale. Through enhancing these protective garments and creating coordinating masks with attractive fabrics, she feels that uplifting the mental outlook of frontline workers can yield an additional, positive effect that is often lost when medical staff is faced with a public-health crisis.
“When you look and what Kevan and I are doing to help these communities, because we come from a creative standpoint, we thought that by enhancing the gowns, we could put a smile on the faces of those who are on the frontlines and in the midst of so much sorrow,” she said.
In addition to helping frontline workers, Hall and Ruth are creating masks for the public. Their washable, reusable masks are handmade in Los Angeles using 100 percent cotton and include a pocket inside for customers to add a filter. For each mask sold, the designers are donating one additional mask to a frontline worker in Los Angeles at sites including the Santa Monica Healthcare Center, The Rehabilitation Center of Santa Monica, Berkley East and West Convalescent Hospitals, and the Brentwood Health Care Center.
“The masks are going to people who are working in senior facilities. They are for people who are on staff taking care of people. The gowns are for nursing-home facilities. They are meant to protect patients and workers who are taking care of the most frail and vulnerable. They are worn by nurses and janitors,” Hall said. “Some aren’t even being paid. They are sacrificing. It was something we could do to support them.”
On her Etsy shop, MR2020US, and maskaids.com, Ruth is selling masks for $18 to $45, with more-expensive designs featuring embellishments or lace overlays. Hall is selling masks at $18 via KevanCares on Etsy. He has also created a line of women’s tops that complement certain masks. As masks are increasingly being recognized as part of the new normalcy, fashion is adopting these protective pieces as part of their collections as a crucial accessory.
While the mission of Hall and Ruth’s project is to aid frontline workers, another silver lining has appeared through their mission. Hall reports that he was able to invite a portion of his staff to return to work in order to create the masks.
“We let everyone go to shelter-in-place but brought back some workers to do some cutting and sewing of the masks,” he said. “We brought back as many as we could.”
Grateful for the opportunity to contribute to fighting COVID-19, Ruth recognizes that many people remain sheltered in their homes and might feel helpless, but she believes every person is able to help. The seemingly simple gesture of supporting businesses and organizations that aid essential workers can make an enormous difference.
“In so many ways each one of us is confined in our own homes and overwhelmed with the magnitude of it,” she said. “Finding a niche, a place, where you can contribute gives you hope that this will end one day.”