Why I took on the medical apparel industry

Taking on an industry that had remained undisrupted for half a century seemed like an insurmountable feat for FIGS CEO Heather Hasson. Below she shares her thoughts about the origins of the brand and why it's so important to give back...

You’ve seen them. The quiet shops tucked away in a strip mall emblazoned with stark block lettering: “SCRUBS AND UNIFORMS.” If you ever ducked into these stores, you’d see shelf after shelf of scrubs of various colors with little discernibility between brands and features. I’d always wondered how these seemingly-sleepy brick-and-mortar stores stayed in business. What I didn’t realize was these stores were the only channel medical professionals had to purchase their work wear. If you wanted to buy scrubs, you had to go to one of these stores and sift through the shelves to find the outfit you would wear 12 hours a day, five days a week.

The medical apparel industry has been around for over 100 years with very little change or innovation. The advent of the internet did little to improve this shopping experience, save the gas to drive to the store. Dozens if not hundreds of brands were funneled through third-party retailers, all fighting for real estate and differentiation amongst each other.

In additional to an antiquated distribution model, I also found that the products themselves were not optimal. Scrubs were ill-fitting, uncomfortable, poorly designed, non-functional and made out of harsh, non-technical fabrications. The healthcare profession is so demanding and dynamic, where people are on their feet all day and having the right tools at hand could mean the difference between life and death. Yet, the workwear available to healthcare professionals was not conducive to performing at their peak.

One misconception in our industry is that people believe hospitals supply scrubs to all of the healthcare workers within their facility. They don’t. Over 90% of medical professionals purchase their own uniforms. Despite such a huge market, why was no one focusing on the end consumer? Why was there such a disconnect between the manufacturers that were creating the product, the distributors selling the product, and the actual customers buying the product? I believed that there had to be a better way and only through vertical integration, would I be able to bring the industry into the 21st century.

On the product side, I made it my mission to create the highest quality medical apparel in the world. The inspiration for my company FIGS came when I met up with a friend of mine, a nurse practitioner at Cedars Sinai Hospital, for coffee back in 2013. She was wearing a cheesy printed top and baggy pants and I thought to myself, what are you wearing?? She agreed that her uniform was pretty terrible but explained that there was nothing really out there. I was unconvinced and spent a lot of time trying to find a better option. No luck. That is when it clicked – I can create a better product that the medical community will actually want to wear to work every day, medical apparel that keeps up with the demands of their profession throughout the days and nights.

In an industry that looks like it is stuck in the last century, we create medical apparel that is modern, tailored and sophisticated. No more cheesy owl prints, boxy, itchy, unisex scrubs. Our medical apparel is functional – yoga waistbands, pockets with intention in terms of size and placement. Our apparel is also technical from yarn to finish – anti-microbial, wrinkle resistant, stain repellent, sweat and odor resistant with four-way stretch. In an industry where most of our competitors care more about their bottom line than about the quality of their product, we stand a part and are 100% committed to creating the best product.

On the distribution side, we sell direct. Given the medical professional is making the end buying decision, we sold directly to them. We were the first solely branded e-commerce company in our industry. This was important to us for a few reasons: 1) we have a direct relationship with our consumer so we can hear feedback and quickly improve and evolve our product line; 2) we have the ability to offer a beautiful product at an affordable price point because we sell at retail pricing; and 3) we can engage with our community in a purposeful and meaningful way.

One way in which we do this is through our threads for threads initiative. From day one, giving back was ingrained into our DNA. For every set of scrubs sold, we give a set to a healthcare provider in need. We send doctors and nurses on medical missions as well as partner with organizations like Project C.U.R.E. and International Medical Corps to execute on our mission. We have donated over 90,000 sets of scrubs in 26 countries and have reduced the hospital acquired infection rate by 66% in the areas we have donated to.

I learned that in order to truly disrupt an industry, you need to focus on solving a problem holistically. It was not enough to create a better product. It was not enough to change the distribution model. We had to do both in order to build something truly impactful and meaningful that would completely change the game.