Swedish partners with Refugee Artisan Initiative for custom scrubs

October 19, 2021 Swedish Communications


In this article:

  • Swedish faced significant difficulty getting quality, well-fitting scrubs for its caregiver workforce. 

  • A community investment grant program opened up the possibility of working with a new local supplier, a nonprofit group that helps refugee and immigrant women.

  • Ultimately, Swedish partnered with the organization to supply much-needed high-quality, custom-measured scrubs for caregivers.

Swedish has long grappled with procuring appropriately sized, high-quality medical scrubs for caregivers. Scrub orders can take up to 13 months to arrive from overseas and are usually ill-fitting for many because of the “one size fits all” sizing. Even the embroidery of Swedish’s logo on the scrubs was consistently problematic with errors in placement and even spelling.

A solution for Swedish’s scrub supply problem was just around the corner with a partnership with Refugee Artisan Initiative (RAI), a non-profit founded in 2017 by Ming-Ming Tung-Edelman to help refugee and immigrant women utilize and improve skills already developed in their home countries, ultimately connecting them with artisan job opportunities in the U.S.  

Tung-Edelman applied to Swedish’s Community Investment Funding Grant to pursue funding to train their artisans in sewing medical scrubs, a natural transition after the organization’s wildly successful mask-making venture early in the pandemic when PPE was scarce. Swedish’s Community Health Investment team felt inspired to fund the grant, which supports its mission to provide funding for community-based organizations that support immigrant and refugee women.   

Throughout this process, Tung-Edelmam was introduced to Kevin Christ, regional director of logistics and operations for Swedish, who has a long history of community involvement, particularly in helping women and children in need around the world. Christ visited RAI and was blown away by its women’s scrub-making skills and resulting quality. Christ was so enthused that he invited Tung-Edelman and her team to tour Swedish’s supply chain facilities and attend his regional leadership development training. There, Tung-Edelman learned about the challenges Swedish was experiencing in the timely procurement of quality, well-fitting scrubs.    

Not long after, it was decided: Swedish and RAI would form a partnership to supply caregivers with measured-to-fit scrubs.  The partnership with Swedish is the first in health care for a non-profit aiding refugee and immigrant women.  

“The scrubs sewn by RAI’s refugee artisans will not only provide our caregivers with custom-fitted scrubs, but they’ll also provide them a professional appearance at a lower cost, which is very important to our caregivers,” Christ explained.

A “train the trainers” program, funded by a grant from Swedish’s Community Health Investment team, started RAI’s labor readiness for the large order. Heading the project for RAI is a small group of women from Myanmar, Ethiopia and Afghanistan who, after completing their training, will then teach additional women from their respective countries.

The sewn-to-fit medical scrubs will also be embroidered with each health care worker’s name and the Swedish logo. For the custom embroidery, RAI will contract with Seattle’s Satsuma Designs, a social enterprise that, like RAI, empowers refugee and immigrant women with job skills to empower them to secure livable wages.

"It's a win-win for everyone"

RAI’s scrub project for Swedish officially kicked off in late April 2021 as artisans took the measurements of 100 caregivers, each who will each receive five pairs of scrubs and one jacket. A database will store the measurements for possible future needs. After the large quantity of chosen fabric arrived in July, sewing commenced. Delivery of the completed scrubs and jackets to Swedish is targeted for Wednesday, October 18, 2021.

“It’s a win-win for everyone,” Tung-Edelman says of the partnership between RAI and Swedish. “Our refugees’ sewing skills have never been so valuable. These women will be able to provide an income for their families and achieve their own American dream.”  

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