One of the most unexpected side effects of the pandemic has been to forever change our relationship with personal protective equipment; to make medical clothing, at least in the sense of the mask, a new accessory of self-expression and a part of almost every wardrobe. And the arsenal of every designer.
Now this relationship is entering a new phase. Josie Natori, a designer known for her loungewear and lingerie, partners with Care + Wear, the “health wear” company known for its fashion approach to PICC line blankets and clothing with port access, to present a line of scrubs modeled on its best-selling pajamas.
Ms. Natori is the latest entrant in a growing effort to reposition what could be one of the most important and neglected professional sectors as the Next Great Fashion Frontier.
Last month, for example, FIGS, the scrub brand introduced in 2013 and billed as the Lululemon of medical clothing, went public with shares selling well above the expected range and valuation of around 4.5. billions of dollars. Jaanuu, founded the same year and known for its scrubs that include gold zippers, peplums and names like “princess top”, is also reportedly considering an IPO.
And these are just the dominant names from a competitive pool that includes Koi, the ‘feel good’ scrub brand (which has also teamed up with Betsy Johnson for some patterned scrubs), WonderWink, and Grey’s Anatomy (well , of course).
According to Fortune Business Insights, the global medical clothing market, of which scrubs and surgical gowns is the largest segment, was $ 86.15 billion in 2020 and is expected to grow to $ 140 billion by 2028. At the same time, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that healthcare-related jobs are expected to increase 15% from 2019 to 2029, adding 2.4 million new jobs, or “more jobs than n ‘any other occupational group’.
Everyone needs clothes for work.
And while some doctors moved away from scrubs before the pandemic, last year made them even more important.
“This is the only way everyone in the hospital can express themselves,” said Chaitenya Razdan, founder of Care + Wear, which he started in 2014 on the assumption that people with medical problems should feel like people, not patients. And part of that is dressing like an individual.
“When you think about the way we express ourselves when we go into work, it’s crazy that nurses and doctors have never had this opportunity,” Mr. Razdan said. As dress codes are reassessed everywhere, including in financial institutions and schools, why should medical workers be exempted?
This is especially true given how the pandemic has pushed healthcare workers to the center of cultural conversation, turning them into heroes – and given the rise of athleisure, which has expanded the scope of application of the designer to the field of stretchy and comfortable clothing. It’s not a big conceptual leap to believe that scrubs, which fall somewhere between pajamas and performance clothing, deserve the same treatment.
A brief history of scrubs
Scrubs, which get their name from being worn in a cleaned environment, according to an operating room dress story from the American College of Surgeons, were first mentioned by a surgeon in 1894. But they didn’t spread to hospitals until the 1940s. (Doctors would just put aprons on their coveralls.) Originally made in white, scrubs turned to their familiar green because under bright lights the white turned white. mixed with the white of most operating rooms.
Traditionally, most scrubs for medical personnel have been provided by hospitals and medical programs and therefore have had one common denominator: unisex, shapeless enough to fit almost any body, and tough enough to withstand industrial laundries.
Dr Donald Macdonald, ophthalmologist and oculoplastic eye surgeon and reconstructor at Riverview Medical Center in New Jersey, said he started wearing scrubs in medical school (he graduated in 1980), and since then , no matter where in the world he’s been, “They’re all the same.”
While hospitals still provide scrubs for operating rooms, it is increasingly left to individuals to purchase their own uniforms. This means that although large uniform purveyors like Dickies and Cherokee historically produced the unisex cotton scrubs used by hospitals (which tend to be cheaper and bought in bulk), the door has opened for start-ups. ups that are aimed directly at consumers seeking to disrupt the market. The group of surgeons released their first “Statement on Operating Room Dress” in 2016.
Ambulatory care facilities like plastic surgery surgeries and dental clinics used to have trendy scrubs, but they have now spread to the general medical population.
“People started collecting them,” said Marina Hartnick, 25, who is in her final semester of nursing school at the MGH Institute of Health Professions in Boston, and enjoys FIGS skinny scrubs. Although the Massachusetts General has scrubs that operating room staff can use, Ms Hartnick said she has rarely seen anyone use them. Most employees want to wear theirs.
Kim Zafra, 29, an acute care nurse practitioner in Mount Sinai, New York and one of the test subjects for Care + Wear x N Natori, has between 10 and 15 pairs. But until recently, she said, “I never thought of them as something that could make you feel good about work. It’s weird that we realize that. “
PhD student a new look
Ms Natori, who said she had ‘at least 20 uncles, aunts and cousins who are doctors and nurses’, met Mr Razdan in early 2020 as part of an initiative called Fashion for the Front Lines , which was created to enlist the retail world in the supply, manufacture and distribution of PPE during Covid. They began to discuss the possibility of scrubs.
“We talk a lot about people who have too much: too many things, too many clothes, too many choices,” Ms. Natori said. “But that’s not the case with the healthcare worker.”
The evolution of the fashion for scrubs can be difficult to determine with the naked eye. It’s not like they are taffeta or come with ruffles or have different hems. And most hospitals have rules on colors, which are used to denote floors and specialties, so suddenly appearing in a leopard print or awning stripe when the mood strikes isn’t really an option. (When it comes to scrub caps, there are more choices.)
Even within the scrub specification limits, however, there is design leeway. The challenge is to find a balance between the desires of the individual and the demands of the institution.
“Fitness definitely makes a big difference,” said Nursing student Ms. Hartnick. It helped build confidence “when you’re constantly walking into new rooms and meeting new people.” You don’t worry about pens falling out of pockets or that your top will pull open and expose you when you bend over.
The first real breakthrough came with pants, especially jogger-style scrubs, ribbed at the ankles, like sweatpants, which are usually the most popular style. Now just about every brand, whether it’s a mass supplier or one of the new cutting edge names, offers jogging as an alternative. There are also slim cuts, cargo styles and flare scrubs.
Likewise, tops have become less square and more technical fabrications to allow for breathability, moisture wicking and layering.
According to Heather Hasson, co-CEO of FIGS, the company offers 13 different styles, including sleeveless tops and a fleece that Ms. Hasson calls the “first jacket to be designed for the interior.”
As for the Care + Wear x N Natori looks, which is a long-term partnership, there will be two styles of pants in the four most common hospital colors for men and women, as well as three options of shirts for women and two for men, followed by more drops later in the year. The style lies mainly in the details: pockets with zips slightly offset from each other, longer cuts in the back, trapunto stitching at the neck and strategically placed loops for hanging badges. The pockets also play an important role so that the scrubs can be mixed and matched to allow for up to 20 in a single outfit.
When Mr. Macdonald, the ophthalmologist, brought the Natori scrubs into his office for his employees to try on, “they made everyone happy,” he said. He looked surprised to discuss designer scrubs. It hadn’t occurred to him that it would make a difference.
Ms Natori believes her Fashion Week peers could follow her lead and expand their reach to medical clothing. “I don’t see why,” she said. “Fashion is always on the lookout for new markets, and this one is really exciting. “