COVID-19: Calgary designer pivots from high-end fashion to scrubs for front-line health-care workers

Calgary designer Nina Kharey’s latest creations look like something you might wear to a yoga class, but they’re actually a new take on scrubs you’d wear to work in a hospital.

“We used nanotechnology in Europe to develop the fabric,” Kharey said.

Kharey created her scrubs, using the brand name Folds, after talking with health-care workers on the front lines during the COVID-19 pandemic, battling a new enemy while wearing an old uniform.

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“The patterns haven’t been updated in decades and they were so uncomfortable,” Kharey said. “And there were hardly any pockets in them, and I thought, ‘I can do this. I can do this a lot better.’”

Coming out with a line of scrubs is quite a change for a designer known for her high-end fashion, sold under her NONIE brand.

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“Meghan Markle, a couple of years ago, wore the trench coat, which really helped us become internationally known,” Kharey said.

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But Kharey put her fashion work on hold when the pandemic hit.

“I did not feel comfortable promoting expensive clothing to people who were losing their jobs, so I thought, ‘We have the capabilities to make masks, why not do it, why not contribute?’” Kharey said.

“That was early on, when the hospitals were having shortages, so we just started making masks and sending them to hospitals. And so I thought, ‘Why don’t we do scrubs as well?’”

Kharey was able to shift production to masks and scrubs at her manufacturing facility on Vancouver Island.

“The [scrubs’] fabric is completely eco-friendly and sustainable,” she said.

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Kharey has sold out her first run of 120 scrubs, with another run of 240 scrubs now in production.

“Most of our sales right now are coming from the U.S.,” Kharey said.

Kharey said her goal throughout the process has been to respond to the needs expressed by the front-line health-care workers with whom she spoke.

“[The scrubs pants have] 11 pockets, with smaller pockets for pens, scissors, any other instruments that you may need,” Kharey said. “[The fabric is] cooling, so when you’re working those long 16- to 18-hour [shifts], you’re not getting hot. [It] allows the person to work at their full potential.”

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