17 April 2020
From silk wedding dresses to cotton scrubs for the NHS
Sabina Ali is a bridalwear designer, based in North London. Only a few weeks ago, she launched her 2020 collection and was looking forward to the busiest time of year for brides-to-be. Like so many entrepreneurs and small businesses, her bridal boutique, Sabina Motasem, has been severely affected by the Coronavirus and has shut its doors for the time being. But in a time of crisis, Sabina and her team saw an opportunity to put their fashion expertise behind those on the front lines of the pandemic. Read on to find out how.
Can you tell us a bit more about your business?
Although I have a degree in fashion, this actually started as a hobby. I designed my first wedding dress for a friend as a special gift. Word quickly spread and my hobby soon turned into a business.
In 2012, we discovered the Innovating for Growth Programme at the British Library Business & IP Centre. It was a transformative experience. Our business expanded and became an established brand, dressing brides all over the world. We’ve seen a lot of growth since we started out in 2007, but we’re proud to say our dresses are still made right here in London, with the best craftsmanship, by an extraordinarily talented team.
How has the Covid-19 pandemic affected your business and what changes have you made to your business model to keep on operating?
Like most small businesses, we have been affected by Coronavirus. All our brides have either had to cancel or postpone their weddings until 2021. Essentially, the bridal industry has stopped. In the week that lockdown happened, we were about to shoot our new sustainable and vegan wedding dress collection, but that will have to wait. In the meantime, we have been doing virtual appointments with brides, enabling us to talk them through different options and show them the dresses, as well as the fabrics. Being stuck in lockdown means more valuable time to plan a wedding, so we’re also trying to keep our brides inspired by creating useful content on our blog and social media channels.
In the meantime, you and your staff have volunteered to use your skills and facilities to make scrubs for NHS front line staff. Can you tell us a bit more about that?
When the lockdown started, it really made me feel a little redundant, with no way of being able to continue meeting and greeting brides. Sitting around at home doesn’t feel natural to me. Like most people, I like to keep busy.
Through the North East London Sewing Group and De Beauvoir Association, which I am part of, I became aware of the great shortage of scrubs for NHS front-line staff. Scrubs are plain clothes worn by medics when dealing with patients, and they are being used by an increasing number of NHS staff as part of their personal protective equipment. They need to be changed frequently in order to stop the spread of the virus.
We also started receiving many requests from friends, brides, and Instagram followers who are doctors and nurses, asking us if we can help the Coronavirus effort by using our specialist skills. So our dedicated team of professional machinists and pattern cutters have swapped sewing wedding dresses in silk by day for making NHS scrubs in cotton drill and poly/cotton during lockdown, whilst still carefully abiding by the rules for social distancing.
I am stunned at the sheer volume of doctors and nurses who have been left with no scrubs. “Scrub hubs” are bringing together a small army of volunteers to make up the shortfall. That’s why, alongside the work our bridal boutique is doing, I decided to create the Islington and North Hackney scrub hub, to mobilise our local community of sewers.
Finally, in these turbulent times, what would be your message to our readers?
Postpone, pause… but don’t cancel. This is what we’re saying to ourselves and to all our friends and brides: just pause for a bit, but don't cancel your plans. 2020 will go down in history as the year we all stayed indoors… come 2021, hopefully we’ll all be looking for ways to celebrate life and all the good things in it. There are going to be so many weddings, and people getting married! Lots of our brides who were supposed to be getting married will be doing just that in 2021, including some of those couples who decided to move in early together just before the lockdown. We’ll enjoy reconnecting, although we seem to be doing that already, engaging and talking a lot more with one another, and we’ll appreciate it even more once we are all out of this mess. I really hope the world will be a kinder one. I hope 2021 will become the year of love, that’s something worth celebrating and looking forward to.
Ewa Domaradzka, Marketing Manager