how what we wear impacts our performance

The following article appears in The Journal of the American College of Radiology, titled Transforming the Healthcare Experience: Doctors, Nurses, Patients and Beyond. No. JACR-D-17-00166.


FIGS founder Trina Spear recently spoke to an audience of doctors and nurses at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland. Read on to understand how our apparel impacts our performance.

When you hear the name Michael Phelps, what comes to mind? The first thing that may pop into mind is his 28 Olympic medals for swimming. That he has a wingspan of 6'7" - longer than he is tall. What you probably don't think about is what Michael Phelps is wearing in the pool.

Michael’s Speedo was developed with the help of NASA. The polyurethane incorporated into the fabric and strategically placed compression panels helped Michael stay higher in the water and minimize resistance. His cap doesn't wrinkle or ride up and is angled so he can hear and get motivated by the roar of the crowd. I'm not going to tell you that it was his swimwear that won him 28 Olympic medals, but when he competes you better bet that he will utilize everything, including his apparel, to give him the edge to be the best.

As a medical professional, your work is demanding, dynamic, physically and emotionally draining - literally the world’s most important work. The tools you use could be the difference between life and death. Your workwear should not be an afterthought. It needs to be developed with the same level of care, dedication and science that you put into your work every single day. It should help you perform at your best because you’re not swimming laps, you’re saving lives.

It takes Michael Phelps 50.77 seconds to swim 100m butterfly. The average heart surgery takes 3.5 hours. One could make the argument that NASA should be developing medical apparel - not swimwear. 


The Impact of Workwear on Performance

How our clothing impacts performance is influenced by a gamut of variables, tangible and intangible.

The most tangible: incorporating pure functionality. Under Armour has shown that function increases performance. Their compression clothing can increase muscle power and stamina, improve coordination, and speed up recovery. Ironically, Under Armour took this concept from the medical field where, as you are acutely aware, compression clothing has been used to improve circulation in patients.

But beyond that, researchers have also found that clothes have the psychological power to increase confidence in our own abilities and increase our actual performance.

In a study done in 2012, Northwestern University gathered a group of volunteers to complete a series of tests that required mental concentration and measured their ability to focus. One group was asked to put on a white lab coat while completing these tests. Consistently, the group wearing lab coats performed twice as well as their un-coated counterparts. The researchers also tested another group of participants, asking the volunteers to put on the same coat, only this time referring to it as an “artist’s smock” rather than a “lab coat.” They could not replicate the same results. The participants only performed significantly better on the tests when they associated the coat with a medical professional or scientist.

“There seems to be something special about the physical experience of wearing a piece of clothing” the researchers wrote in their study. The clothes we wear have power over ourselves.

So when you look good, you feel good. And when you feel good, you perform better.

That’s why at FIGS, we create medical apparel with the ultimate goal of increasing performance of medical professionals. To let you do what you do best and keep you on top of your game. We develop products that are supremely functional – yoga waistbands, pockets for your iPhones, iPads, medical supplies, fabric that is anti-microbial, wrinkle resistant, stain repellent, sweat and odor resistant, lint free. Our fabrications are ridiculously soft, breathable with stretch to move with you. While developing our medical apparel, we study medical professionals – how you reach for that pen, where you like to put your stethoscope, what tools you keep on you.  We incorporate these observations into our designs to give you the physical functionality required to do your job more efficiently. Beyond that, our designs are modern, tailored, and sophisticated. Because we want you to look professional. We want you to know your outfit fits impeccably and makes you look like a million bucks. Because it actually does matter.

The Importance of Workwear in Healthcare

It is an interesting time for healthcare as design has been an afterthought. That being said, healthcare is in the midst of an evolution. How do patients determine one hospital is better than another? 1) someone tells them that Hospital A is better than Hospital B or 2) they walk in and look around.

People depend on visual cues to provide them with information and judge quality. Is the place clean? Is the staff in uniform? Do people look sloppy? Is everything organized? Our minds distill these simple initial cues to a snap judgement of the quality of the hospital. If we want to transform the healthcare experience, increase healthcare provider performance, and elevate the patient experience, we need to focus on the look, the feel, and the design holistically. What we’ve found through our work with hospitals around the country is that when patients walk into a hospital and see each department is color coded by team with everyone in well-fitted, pressed scrubs and lab coats with the hospital logo embroidered prominently, it changes how they think about the institution. It increases patient trust in the doctors and nurses. When opinion of the staff’s credibility increases, it influences the patient’s subsequent experience.

It’s not just the aesthetic. It is also about patient outcomes and how design impacts them. When a patient perceives they have good care, they are more likely to survive, heal faster, live longer, maintain their dignity, and have a more positive experience. It has been proven that when a terminally ill cancer patient moves from the hospital into hospice where the focus is on comfort over medical care, the patients are not only more comfortable but also live longer. As a service-oriented industry, determining exactly what the patient outcome is important. What does the patient want? What are we optimizing for? Medical outcomes or patient driven outcomes? Is it to live longer or to live better? In this case, both outcomes succeed when the experience was put first.

We have even seen examples of this in extreme situations where our core beliefs are tested and validated. What happens when you give basic tools to someone who does not have anything? When we first started FIGS, we were very focused on giving back and making sure this was ingrained into our DNA. For every set of scrubs that we sell, we give a set to a healthcare provider in need. This was important to us because there are so many clinics around the world where medical professionals do not have the tools to perform in their jobs and we wanted to do our part – provide clean scrubs. What we did not fully realize was the impact we would have on individual self-esteem and team dynamics. Imagine living in Kenya and not having a visual cue that tells the world – I am your doctor, I am your nurse and I am here to care for you. Through our medical mission work, we have seen firsthand the pride that radiates from these doctors and nurses when they put on their first set of scrubs. The way they stand a little bit taller. The way they get back to work with a new zeal.

At FIGS, we’ll never stop trying to change the face of healthcare. NASA’s teams of rocket scientists got nothing on us. And we’ve got better lab coats.