London shirtmaker acts to comfort Afghan wounded

Wed Mar 28, 2012 8:54am EDT
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By Giles Elgood

LONDON (Reuters) - Emma Willis runs a fashionable men's shirtmaking business in the West End of London. She is also deeply impressed by the bravery and sacrifice of British soldiers in Afghanistan.

While the war garners grim headlines in the West and public doubts about the long and inconclusive campaign grow, there is no shortage of goodwill at home for the soldiers themselves.

After hearing about the rehabilitation centre where amputees and other victims of the conflict receive therapy, Willis worked out a way of combining her business with support for wounded soldiers - she makes them bespoke, luxury shirts.

"It gives me the opportunity to say this is a token of gratitude for what you do for us and our security," Willis said.

The shirts are made out of what she describes as "caressing cottons". She says that for many of the wounded, young soldiers at the Headley Court rehab centre she visits, being measured up for a shirt is the first time they have been touched "in a non-medical way" since being evacuated from the front line.

Willis's regular customers include members of the British royal family, several dukes as well as bankers and pop stars. U.S. President Barack Obama owns one of her shirts.

Wealthy men ready to pay up to 390 pounds ($620) for a made-to-measure shirt are keen to support her "Shirts for Soldiers" venture, Willis told Reuters in an interview in a cafe opposite her Jermyn Street store near to Fortnum and Mason and The Ritz.

She said she has no difficulties in funding the shirt scheme. "My well-off customers feel so strongly as well. I just send a text and the cheques roll in," Willis said.   Continued...

Bespoke shirtmaker Emma Willis poses for a photograph in her shop in Jermyn Street in central London March 23, 2012. REUTERS/Toby Melville