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YES SCRUBS

Runway-worthy scrubs are the result of a booming US health care sector

A nurse peers into the emergency room of the Unfallkrankenhaus Berlin (UKB) hospital in Berlin April 27, 2008. The special burn injuries center is one of Europe's most modern departments to treat patients with heaviest burn injuries optimally and to complete skin transplantation.
Reuters/Fabrizio Bensch
The lowly scrub is getting a makeover.
  • Dan Kopf
By Dan Kopf

Data editor

Health care jobs are growing fast. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics projects home health aide jobs to increase by 37% over the next decade, an addition of 300,000 jobs. That would be the fastest rate of growth among all jobs that were done by at least 40,000 people in 2018.

It’s not just home health aides. Personal care aides, occupational therapy assistants, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, and physical therapy assistants are also among the ten fastest growing jobs. An aging population has meant a surge in jobs taking care of the sick and elderly. Health care recently surpassed retail to become the largest job category in the US.

The fashion industry is taking notice.

Health care workers need apparel that fits the specific challenges of their work; increasingly, they also want clothes that look and feel good. As more of these jobs appear, the industry is responding with products for the fashion-conscious health worker. Medical apparel is already an estimated $60 billion global industry, and growing fast.

 

The biggest companies emerging to meet the needs of health care workers are high-end scrubs makers. Medical scrubs have been used since the early 20th century by surgeons as a way of ensuring a sterile and safe environment for patients and doctors. Eventually, the use of scrubs spread to nurses and other health care professionals, mostly because they were a simple uniform that allowed for identifying staff in a hospital. Historically, they were made of cotton and not cut in a particularly flattering manner. Hospitals typically provide surgical scrubs, but non-surgeons have to buy their own.

The company Figs is one of the leaders of the fashion scrubs wave. Started in 2013 by former investment banker Trina Spear and fashion designer Heather Hasson, the company has over $100 million in annual revenues  and investors include actor Will Smith and Lululemon’s former CEO. In an interview with the website Inc., Hassan said the idea for the company came to her after making alterations to the scrubs of a friend who is a nurse, and then receiving requests from other nurses she worked with to do the same.

Figs boasts of more stylish fits and more comfortable fabric than generic scrubs. The most basic Figs scrub top goes for $38, and you can choose between the traditional v-neck or a mandarin collar. There are also special tops that go for $48, including one that is Jedi-themed. Unlike most scrubs brands, Figs scrubs are not available at medical uniform stores and can only be purchased online. (The company sits at the fortuitous intersection of rising health care jobs and the proliferation of direct-to-consumer startups.)

Other fashionable scrubs brands to appear over the past decade include Grey’s Anatomy and Jaanuu. Grey’s Anatomy is a tie-in between the eponymous TV show and uniform company Barco. “Wear the same nursing uniforms as your favorite medical professionals on television!” exclaims a write-up on the uniform store Uniform Advantage’ website. Jaanuu, another online-only scrubs maker, describes its work as being influenced by trends on the runway.

Beyond just scrubs, Figs and Jaanu also offer jackets, lab coats, and accessories like headbands and badges. Figs even sells compression socks and sunscreen.

Health care and elderly care jobs are often filled by women, people of color, and those without a college education. According to the Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute, nearly a quarter of elderly care workers were not born in the US (pdf). The fact that many of the people who do this work are marginalized in US society may explain why the rise of care jobs has flown under the radar.

The fashion industry won’t ignore a big opportunity though. This is a large group of workers that will continue to grow. The medical apparel market’s expansion is just getting started.

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