“When you can’t wear what you want, you feel like you’re just your illness.”
That’s how one teen expressed his disdain for the drab hospital gown before he was lucky enough to trade it in for a brand new one—one that would hopefully make him feel special and a little more like himself again.
In May, the Starlight Children’s Foundation decided to upgrade the wardrobes of 100 teens undergoing treatment at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario in Ottawa and began working with Rethink Canada to create Ward + Robe, a design initiative that aims to help sick teenagers, an underserved segment in most children’s hospitals. Starlight wanted to restore a sense of individuality through the one piece of clothing the kids were made to wear everyday and brought on six Canadian designers to create custom hospital gowns, allowing each teen to pick one that most resonated.
“Being a teen is exceptionally hard, and being a hospitalized teen is even harder,” says Trevor Dicaire, the senior vice president of development at Starlight. “They go in and their identity gets stripped away and they become another sick kid in a blue gown in a hospital.”
Designer Izzy Camilleri, who owns a boutique in Toronto that sells clothing made for people in wheelchairs, was approached by Starlight to design 10 of the gowns. She was instantly drawn to the project because she’s seen many of her clients struggle not to sacrifice their identity because of limited choices. “When you’re a teenager, you’re at a point in your life when you’re finding yourself, and not being able to express yourself can be depressing,” says Camilleri.
Raegan Hall, a boutique owner in B.C., also designed gowns for Ward + Robe and she was there to see one of the teens choose her design and put it on for the first time. “While I was making the robes, I thought about what the kids might celebrate, what they might have to endure, and when I saw Jacob wearing my robe in his hospital bed, it felt so amazing that I could contribute to one happy aspect of his journey and give him a sense of uniqueness and individuality to lighten the load.”
This initiative isn’t just for established designers. Starlight has a downloadable PDF on its website with a hospital gown pattern open to any creatives out there who want to submit a design. And, after seeing the success of the pilot project, the hope is to make Ward + Robe gowns available to 20,000 kids in 130 hospitals by the end of 2016.