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Recap: What you missed from our first BURO. Hangouts: Live session with Melinda Looi

Recap: What you missed from our first BURO. Hangouts: Live session with Melinda Looi

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Text: Joan Kong


To kick-start our all-new digital event, we got fashion designer Melinda Looi to let us in on her—and our local designers’—PPE fundraising initiative for our healthcare frontliners

ICYMI: After a successful BURO. Hangouts event hosted in collaboration with BURO Singapore, we’ve launched BURO. Hangouts: Live—a virtual event consisting of Instagram Live sessions on @buromalaysia that aims to educate, entertain, and empower for the whole month of April.

The guest of our first session? Melinda Looi, fashion designer and president of Malaysia Official Designers’ Association (MODA), who has been making waves for spearheading a PPE fundraising initiative in partnership with FashionValet and IMARET. The cash contributions are used to purchase more PPE materials, and our local designers have all joined forces and put their sewing skills to good use by making hospital gowns, and head and shoe covers for the medical frontliners who are tirelessly battling the COVID-19 pandemic.

You can donate directly to MODA Malaysia’s Maybank account, or via e-wallet. More details here.

Below, some highlights from our chat with Melinda:

Who are the designers who are currently onboard?

It’s a huge list (laughs). Basically MODA Malaysia members are all onboard. Celest Thoi is very involved—she’s reporting to me every day, telling me “I found this thing”, “I have that thing”, “I’ve got this done”, “I’ve found you a supplier”, “I’ve found donors”. I mean...she’s really full-on.

We have so many designers—Jimmy Lim, Fiziwoo, Brian Khoo, Justin Yap, Nurita Harith, Alia Bastamam, Khoon Hooi and more. Khoon Hooi was also one of the donors who purchased the PPE materials, and Joe Chia is currently helping him—I saw pictures, and I thanked him, too.

Today I have Neelofa saying that she wants to help us with the head covers, on top of Jovian Mandagie who’s currently working on it. (Dato’) Rizalman Ibrahim’s assistant also called saying that they want to help out. Not only those from Klang Valley—I have designers from Penang—Michael Ooi and Freddie who’s running a factory offering to help. It’s amazing—this is really remarkable.

Aside from the designers, understood that you guys have gotten help from home sewers. Tell us more about that.

When I posted this up on social media, people started tagging their friends and other people, and it’s all just through word of mouth. We have over 200 to 300 home sewers calling daily, asking [to help], and we are very thankful. Currently, a lot of materials are still not in, and since they need huge machines to cut in bulk, we’re still waiting for that, and for the materials to be cut so we can spread out the work. I also have factories calling me to ask if they can help us as well, which is great.

Can you tell us more about the PPE fabric? How many gowns can you make per roll, how long does it take to sew one gown, and more.

The PPE fabric that’s used in the operating theatres are all sterilized, non-woven, and SMS (Spunbound-Meltblown-Spunbound) material. For the frontliners, as long as it’s waterproof, non-woven, and of certain weight—around 40 to 55 GSM (grams per square meter), they’re ok.

Length-wise, different suppliers vary. When we received the first few orders they were all 2,000 meter per roll, but the width was very small—you can’t make much from it, so I’ve ordered the ones in 63 inches. I think we need about 2.2 meters to make a full gown, and the shoe and head covers use around less than one meter. If the width is big, we can adjust it accordingly to fully utilise the material. As for the fabrics that the hospital has in stock, some are very small in width, so we could only make arund 600 pieces.

It takes around 20 to 30 minutes to sew one gown depending on the machine you’re using. Because a lot of them are doing from home with a home sewing machine, it’ll take around 20 to 35 minutes for one, but if it’s an industrial machine, you can easily finish it in 15 to 20 minutes.

Is the fabric recyclable, and if not, are there recyclable alternatives?

Unfortunately, they’re not. They’re non-woven materials—they have a percentage of plastic in there, and they are waterproof. Recyclable materials are not waterproof, which is not safe for the frontliners. All the materials that are purchased have to go through the doctors—I send them pictures, videos, and actual samples to get tested to make sure they’re safe and the workers will be protected.

Will the funds be used to purchase other PPE such as latex gloves and masks as well?

We’re focusing mainly on the gowns and head and shoe covers, but if we have a supplier who come to us and say that we have this PPE item, the quality is up to standard, and if the price is good, we will also stock up. Every day each hospital uses up about 2,000 sets per day, and it’s not reusable—that’s the problem. We just have to keep going to make sure they have enough standby.

Raya is coming up. How are you planning to launch your collection in this given situation?

We already have our Raya collection online—if you go to our site and Facebook you can see it. Because of this lockdown, we have decided to delay the launch. I think people are not really looking at Raya at this point of time, but we are planning something for the next week or so. We were initially supposed to launch this week but we put it on hold because we wanted to see how we can make it better.

Last but not least, do you want to send a message to the healthcare frontliners out there?

I went to send some PPE to Hospital Sungai Buloh and Hospital Kuala Lumpur today, and I met the frontliners who are taking care of the children with COVID-19. They all came up to say thank you, and they were all so cheerful and happy. They are all keeping a very positive mood because they don’t want the patients to feel the tension and stress.

I salute them—they’re amazing as it’s not an easy talk. I also spoke to the doctors who are taking of the patients—from a distance (laughs)—and they said that it’s very tiring but they’re staying positive and they hope everything will be over soon. I want to say thank you to them, and I just want them to know that they’re not alone—we’re all here for them and praying for them.

Our next BURO. Hangouts: Live sessions will feature our Beauty team—Deputy Editor Wei Yeen and Editorial Assistant Red—who will go head-to-head in a live #BUROBeautyBattle at 8.30pm tonight, and doctor-comedian Dr. Jason Leong's 'Quaran-time Qs' on Saturday.

Check out our next week’s schedule here.

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