Michael Cushner, an orthopaedic surgeon in Westchester, New York, used to head to work wearing hospital-issued scrubs. But at the start of the pandemic, he decided to try out Figs — the original direct-to-consumer scrubs brand, which went public in May of this year. In February, he transitioned to L’Atelier Forte, a luxury scrubs brand with products made in Italy and designed by Thom Browne and Theory alum Chris Lee.
A L’Atelier Forte lab coat costs approximately $1,400, while a set of scrubs is more than $300. But for Cushner, the price tag is worth it.
“It makes me feel exactly the same way I felt when I first bought my custom suit,” he said. “It fits better, it feels better, it’s more professional.”
Figs helped to change the experience of shopping for medical gear, overhauling the category with a direct-to-consumer marketing playbook that rebranded scrubs as lifestyle wear and left a deluge of Instagram ads and healthcare influencers in its wake. The brand’s success has led to an influx of new entrants in the market in recent years, rushing to meet the demand for nurses and doctors rethinking their work uniforms and looking to differentiate themselves inside and outside of hospitals.
Beyond L’Atelier Forte, those include Clove and Bala, both sneaker companies for healthcare workers, which launched in November 2019 and early this year, respectively, as well as Mandala, another direct-to-consumer scrubs brand, which debuted in 2019. Even mainstream brands have taken note: New Balance, for example, collaborated with Figs on a line of shoes for the frontline in November 2019.
Figs essentially created a new market, one outside of brick-and-mortar retailers and hospital-issued garb. Now, the opportunity in the healthcare apparel market seems endless. But to replicate that success and keep customers coming back, brands must differentiate themselves and push forward with unique strategies.
“They’ve captured an audience that hadn’t really had access to this type of innovative products,” Dana Telsey, chief research officer of Telsey Advisory Group, said of Figs. “I think there’s a long way to go to broaden their lifestyle offerings within adjacent categories.”
In the eight years since its founding, Figs has grown to be a behemoth: net revenues over the past year reached $381 million, with revenue growing 41 percent year over year to over $102 million.
Still, new entrants see plenty of room in the market. There are over 20 million healthcare professionals in the US, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The global market for medical clothing, primarily scrubs and surgical gowns, was worth $86.15 billion in 2020 and is expected to reach $140 billion by 2028, according to Fortune Business Insights.
Despite the opportunity, brands are realistic about Figs’ outsized presence in the market. “I don’t think anybody’s beating Figs anytime soon,” said Kaustubh Varma, founder of Mandala.
Most haven’t yet pursued large funding rounds: Mandala and L’Atelier Forte haven’t taken outside funding; Clove raised seed funding and is exploring other options. The only other brand within the market to receive significant funding is scrubs maker Jaanuu, which launched the same year as Figs and has raised $25 million, the most recent being a $15 million growth equity round by JMK Consumer Growth Partners.
Many of Mandala’s collections have sold out within days, leaving Varma struggling to meet restock quickly enough. Clove, similarly, has seen demand climb rapidly since its 2019 founding.
“We’ve had shoes sell out in less than 24 hours that we thought we’d have like three weeks of inventory for,” said Clove founder Joe Ammon.
Creating New Demand
The new wave of healthcare wear brands are taking some cues from Figs, such as using a direct-to-consumer model and emphasising influencer marketing. They’re all also crafting an identity that’s easy for consumers to understand. While Figs sold itself as the Lululemon of scrubs; Ammon referred to Clove as the “Yeezy of Healthcare,” and Mandala sees itself as the Everlane of scrubs for its similar approach to price transparency.
But new brands aren’t competing with Figs as much as they are angling for their own piece of a market to which Figs opened the door.
Clove, for example, is focused only on sneakers — a category Figs only experimented with through collaboration. The brand is adopting signature streetwear tactics, using a “drop” model to debut new colourways and styles. Mandala and L’Atelier, meanwhile, cater towards healthcare professionals outside of Figs’ price range. Mandala offers scrub tops for $16 compared to Figs’ $32. L’Atelier Forte’s tops are $149.
All brands lend themselves well to accessories and other merchandise beyond scrubs, hoping the lifestyle branding they’ve done will convince customers that there isn’t a need to change in or out of their clothing.
“Although we do sell scrubs, we really see ourselves as a company offering luxury attire for medical professionals, as our customers’ work wardrobes go so far beyond scrubs into other pieces,” said Joe Vasold, co-founder of L’Atelier Forte. “Many don’t solely wear scrubs and that is the real opportunity to deliver a great product for them.”
That’s also when the market will begin to see larger challenges with competition, as more brands move into outerwear and accessories. But in these new categories, there are new players, as more brands move into outerwear and accessories for healthcare professionals.
Figs, Jaanuu and Mandala have all launched jackets, while others have begun to add cardigans and other accessories to their lineup.
So far demand is there: Figs’ lifestyle offering outside of scrubs grew nearly 77 percent compared to last quarter, led largely by demand for “underscrubs” — basic staples meant to be layered beneath scrubs — and outerwear according to the company’s most recent earnings report.
Brands are also experimenting with new ways to connect with consumers. Clove is continuing to grow its influencer marketing program and offers a rewards programme for those who participate.
Despite the new competition and growth in the market, Figs remains undaunted.
“We have great respect for anyone else who’s focused on serving healthcare professionals, but this combination of innovation on product, experience and community is extremely difficult to replicate,” said Trina Spear, co-founder and co-chief executive of Figs.
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