Glasgow tailor gathers volunteer army to make medical clothing

Glasgow (AFP) –


Scottish tailor Thomas Rae snips a strip of cloth from what will soon be clothing worn by a nurse, carefully placing the material under a sewing machine for stitching.

Rae, 56, owns a string of tailoring stores across Scotland's industrial capital Glasgow and until six weeks ago his work mainly involved mending trousers, jackets and dresses.

But these days he spends his time working with a small army of volunteers to create the hygienic clothing, known as scrubs, worn by the nurses and doctors on the frontline of the coronavirus pandemic.

"The lockdown had been announced and so I sat in the house and I thought what could I do to help these nurses out or the NHS, the frontline workers," he said, referring to Britain's state-run National Health Service (NHS).

"I started making masks and then I started getting emails and messages from nurses that work on the front line asking me would I be interested in making scrubs."

Rae posted an appeal on social media for machinists, cutters and people with extra sewing machines to see if he could "set up a small factory" to make scrubs to NHS standards.

His call was answered with a level of enthusiasm he had never encountered before.

- 'Like a family' -

Glasgow's local authority was among the first to respond, giving Rae an empty shop to use opposite his dry cleaning and alterations store in a shopping centre in the Easterhouse suburb on the city's eastern edge.

Once the work space was set up, the volunteers started to arrive. Nurses, retired tailors and seamstresses all offered their services to get the project rolling.

One of the first to sign up was former dressmaker Tony McGlynn, 62.

"I retired three years ago," he said. "I answered the call from Tommy because I had machines, I had fabric that was lying back home doing nothing."

Donations of cotton cloth -- the material required by the health service -- and food keep on coming as the volunteers put in long days.

Fashion companies across Britain are also helping to fight the coronavirus.

At the end of March, Burberry -- famous around the world for its trench coats -- started using its factories in Yorkshire to manufacture hospital gowns and masks for patients.

Meanwhile, David Nieper, a fashion firm in England's East Midlands region, this week urged other British manufacturers to switch production after receiving its first order to make scrubs for NHS trusts.

The Derbyshire-based company is set to make an initial 5,000 sets of scrubs for a local trust running hospitals.

For Rae, the devastation caused by the pandemic has in some ways been countered by the kindness shown by people.

"For me it is quite overwhelming -- the kindness -- especially the volunteers that have come on board and the other store owners here," he said.

"They've been making sure we have enough food to get us through the day. We are like a family now."