Fashion Rule Breakers: Meet The Designers Bringing Style And Empowerment To Children In Hospitals

"I feel like myself in it. How I'm supposed to feel in it."

Fashion Rule Breakers is an original A Plus Lifestyle series:Each month, we profile a fashion designer, model, organization, or icon who is a fashion rule breaker — someone who acts outside mainstream industry standards to make a positive difference.

For many hospitalized teens, living within the parameters of a ward is hard enough. But in addition to battling their illnesses, these teens are forced to lose their individuality through one important outlet: their clothing. Because in the hospital, the typical one-size, one-style gown erases any opportunity for creative self-expression.

For a handful of Canadian teen patients, however, hospital gowns are no matter when it comes to style. That's because they had the chance to take part of one amazing launch: Ward + Robes hospital gowns

Ward + Robes is a brilliant initiative that brings together top designers to create unique, personalized hospital gowns to help teens express themselves during their stays in the ward. 

Through their efforts to break down the restrictions of hospital wear and allow teen patients to regain their sense of style and empowerment, those behind the Ward + Robes project are being fashion rule breakers. 

Inspiration for the gowns originated when Krista of Rethink Canada, approached the Starlight Children's Foundation Canada — an organization on a mission to improve the "lives of seriously ill children and their families by bringing them joy, laughter, and relief" — with a proposal for the Ward + Robes concept. 

As a former teen patient herself, "She wanted to see if there was a way to allow hospitalized teens to express themselves while in that setting," Trevor Dicaire, the senior vice president of development at Starlight, tells A Plus in an email. 

"Starlight is always evolving and looking for new ways to help. Our belief is that every day, in our own way, we make a difference for seriously ill children," Dicaire continues. "Ward + Robes really seemed to fit with what we do, so we decided to see how we could make the program a reality."

With that, Starlight contacted numerous designers to participate, encouraging them to put forth their own aesthetic and revamp the traditional hospital gown to become "as unique as the teens themselves," Dicaire says. 

The designers, Izzy Camilleri, Sarah Boyce Sargent, India Amara, Raegan Hall, Rebecca Nixon, and Casey Von Esteban featured "designs inspired by streetwear, meditation mandalas, and everything in between, [and] teens were able to choose the gown that best represented their personal sense of style."

"In the past I've designed and worked with David Bowie, Meryl Streep, but this actually means so much more than even doing that stuff," Camilleri says in a video featuring a behind-the-scenes look at the collection's beginnings.

"I hope when someone puts this gown on that they feel like they're stepping into their power," Amara adds.

With that, the project launched at the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario, where approximately 100 Ward + Robes gowns were delivered to patients. 

"We had to see if these Robes would actually make a difference for the teens who put them on," Dicaire reflects. "I was absolutely blown away to see the patients there have their personalities transformed once they changed [their gowns]. Their faces lit up and there was a total and instant sense of empowerment and individuality."

Those reactions were further captured in the aforementioned video, complete with the patients looking through clothing racks and trying on their favorite designs.

"When you can't wear what you want, you feel like you're not who you should be, or you're just your illness or you're just a hospital patient," a teen says in the video.

"When I first saw the new gowns, I saw empowerment in teenagers in a place where they don't have any. I feel like myself in it. How I'm supposed to feel in it," one patient says while wearing her new gown, complete with grey pockets, a grey waist belt and a matching neckline.

Due to that response, Starlight is on a mission to spread the program throughout Canada and, eventually, maybe internationally. 

But they need our help, too.

The project relies on donations, which will help bring more Ward + Robes to hospitals everywhere. You can also design a gown for a hospitalized teen here

"If every person who watches the video donated just one dollar, we could launch this program in a very big way. We have our fingers crossed!" Dicaire concludes. 

For more information, be sure to check out the full video below: