Judith Stein is used to making dresses that seduce the senses and tease an audience.
Some well-placed sparkles, perhaps a sultry slit along the leg, accessorized with a fluffy boa to wave on a stage. Stein, who has performed for over 40 years as the Canadian Legend of Burlesque, needs an outfit to make a statement.
So when she was asked to make surgery gowns for a Nelson dental office, Stein faced an unexpected problem.
“They are boring as hell,” she says.
What Stein’s gowns lack in aesthetic they make up for in practicality. Dana McKernan, who works at Dr. Matthew Osepchook’s office, says the COVID-19 pandemic has made finding supplies like gloves, face shields and gowns difficult.
Seven staff members at the office use the approximately 30 gowns Stein has made for surgeries, some fillings and procedures that require aerosols.
“We take it off after each person and we’ve got ourselves a washer and dryer now,” says McKernan. “So we’re washing our own gowns so we don’t have to dispose of them.”
The dentists started turning to local solutions following a conversation between McKernan and one of the office’s patients, Liz Cohoe.
Cohoe, a longtime fashion designer, makes luxury hats for her business Lillie and Cohoe. But scrub caps, which she’s made for Osepchook’s staff, were a new challenge.
When she first began making the caps, for example, Cohoe realized she using the wrong fabric. Her own hats, which are sold across Canada and the United States, aren’t supposed to be washed as frequently as scrub caps.
“We think about care of a hat, but not regular washing machine dryer every second day,” she says.
But because design is in her bones, Cohoe couldn’t help but find creative leeway. Bouffant caps for staff with longer hair, for example, looked like shower caps, which she describes as unpleasant.
“I made one and then I did some improvements so that it would fit better and sit on the head better and I felt looked better,” says Cohoe. “So I was able to play with it a little bit, which is what I like to do.”
Cohoe has already begun to see a business potential in the caps. She said she has plans to pitch them to other dental offices, and is also considering selling them on her website as housecleaning hats.
Stein meanwhile became involved after Cohoe was asked by McKernan if she knew anyone who could supply gowns. Stein earns her living performing in burlesque shows, and also runs a side business making Victorian-inspired night gowns.
But the pandemic has put her burlesque work on hiatus. “So I’m just sitting here and plunking away on the old Singer sewing machine,” she says.
Stein’s surgical gowns run from neck to calf, with cuffed sleeves so gloves can fit over the fabric, velcro in the back and a tie around the side. She’s already made 50-to-60 gowns for Osepchook’s staff and another dental office in town.
She’s also so far resisted the temptation to add a little flare to the gowns.
“There was part of me that said, ‘I really should stick a rhinestone on these.’ But I haven’t.”
Not yet anyway.
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