“Anyone and everyone that can contribute to help humanity can and should.”
While she may be better known for creating elegant wardrobe staples worn by the likes of Meghan Markle, Canadian creative Nina Kharey is now leading the future of design in a different direction with the launch of her PPE-focused company, Folds.
With the brand’s introduction yesterday (pre-orders are currently available with an official launch scheduled for February 3rd), Kharey has pivoted part of her focus from her fashion label, Nonie, which she founded in 2008, to concentrate on providing innovative and stylish scrubs to medical professionals.
Shortly after the pandemic hit, Nonie began offering masks as part of its e-commerce offerings, with the brand’s local factory eventually making around 10,000 face coverings a week. To many, that sounds like a business doing its fair share to improve the lives of its community. Yet Kharey recalls thinking, “What more can we do?”
Understanding the wastefulness of existing PPE items, Kharey delved deeper into the idea of designing and manufacturing medical wearables. “The first thing I noticed when I got my hands on the patterns that are generally used for scrubs was how dated they were,” she says, adding that the designs also catered more to a male body’s fit. “I started talking to doctors and nurses, especially women, asking them what they wore to work and if they liked wearing [scrubs]. It was disappointing to hear their answers.”
Kharey already had an awareness of the environmental and ethical impacts of garment design–from material creation to manufacturing to the end-of-life factors of fabrics–through her fashion line; and she recognized that there was significant room for improvement when it came to the materiality, wearability and sustainability elements of scrubs.
“I genuinely felt like I could do this for them,” she says of making the decision to commit to creating a better kind of PPE. Kharey’s background is in engineering, so embarking on this challenge had context; but she notes that the process was a long one when it came to working with a European lab to develop the nanotechnology that would result in the creation of Folds’s recyclable fabric. Additionally, it’s a textile that’s made from post-consumer plastic that lasts twice as long as materials used to make traditional scrubs; it’s also odourless, anti-viral, anti-bacterial, anti-microbial and possesses a 4-way stretch fit.
“Anyone and everyone that can contribute to help humanity can and should,” she says when asked why she wanted to put so much time and effort into making Folds a reality. And Kharey goes on to add that the project helped her explore aspects of her creativity in novel ways, at a time when optimism was likely waning for all of us.
“My inspiration has always come from books and music and movies,” she says of what she’s looked to during quarantine to keep her inspiration flowing. And while she’s spent much time ruminating on the legendary music of everyone from Rush and Led Zeppelin to Sufi singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, there was also a hyper-modern point to one of her lockdown activities which influenced her design work for Folds. “Every single day I’ve watched an episode of Star Trek,” she says. “[And] my mood board for Folds was covered in Star Fleet uniforms. I’m so fascinated by where they were as a society.”
She highlights that in the futuristic world of the Enterprise’s crew, earth had come out of a “petty and embarrassing” time (sound familiar?). And Kharey says that we’re at a point in history where we’re better informed about consumption and its consequences, and coming to an understanding of “how connected we are.” But she adds that we’ve a long way to go in terms of supporting and assisting those who have given so much in the past year.
“It’s sad to see that we expect [frontline workers] to perform such an Olympian task to protect us and help us, and fight this pandemic while putting their own lives at risk as well–and we don’t do anything to help them,” she says. “Yet we spend millions of dollars on our military to fight wars; and we spend millions of dollars on our athletes to win awards for our country. It’s shameful.”
Instead of allowing herself to be swallowed up by the shortcomings of society, however, Kharey has channelled her energy, engineering know-how and design prowess into moving us towards a better way of living–while also finding herself on a journey of self-discovery as well. “It’s a full circle moment,” she says of Folds’s founding and its ability to satisfy so many facets of her experience and background. “I feel like I know myself now.”