Ward+Robes Designer Gowns Offer Individuality for Hospitalized Teens

Boring pale blue gowns with snowflakes don’t exactly make a hospital stay any better. That’s why the agency Rethink Canada partnered with the non-profit organization Starlight Children’s Foundation Canada to help young patients feel like they’re more than just their illness.

With Starlight’s mandate to brighten lives of hospitalized teens in mind, Rethink got thinking. “Teenagers seemed underserved in hospitals. We wanted to come up with an idea that they would like and make them feel better,” says Lia MacLeod, art director at Rethink Canada. At this in-between age, the décor at pediatric hospitals feels a bit too juvenile while an adult hospital can be overwhelming. “What are teens actually interested in? Clothing and fashion,” MacLeod adds.  

Thus, the resulting Ward+Robes initiative reached out to designers across Canada to create original hospital gowns as full of personality as the wearers. The country’s top designers, including Izzy Camelleri, who’s worked with David Bowie, and tattoo artist India Amara, got enthusiastically on board using the hospital gown as a blank canvas, and the project evolved as a range of original creations came to life. 

“A hospital gown does have to be functional, but it can be fashionable as well,” says Rethink copywriter Krista Raspor, who brought her personal experience as a teen hospital patient to the project. Ward+Robes worked with nurses and medical staff to determine a gown’s parameters—for example, to avoid things like tassels or latex that can interfere with procedures—to make gowns not only stylish but efficient. 

The program launched in 2016, then expanded with a new smattering of colorful gowns debuted at the annual Starlight Children’s Foundation Gala. For its first in-hospital foray, teens at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario could pick out their own gowns, ranging from camouflage to lightning bolts. “No two gowns were the same; each one was handmade and individual,” Raspor says. “Depending on which kid gravitated toward which gown, you could see how their personalities matched the gowns.”

Now, anyone in the design community can get involved; design teachers are using it as a project in their classes, or creative people inspired by the online video with access to a sewing machine can get on board. After mailing in the gown, Starlight takes over and works with the hospital to get it in use.

Patients have become attached to their gowns, some seeing it a good-luck charm to wear to each series of tests, and families are grateful for the morale boost. “Obviously, having a sick child is heartbreaking. To see their child light up a little or a lot, is really important,” Raspor says.

Entries for the 2017 Clio Health Awards are now open. The first deadline for submissions is July 14. For more information, please call 212.683.4300 or visit Clios.com.