FOR MOST OF US, medical scrubs—like toilet paper, open parking spots and triple-A batteries—are something you don’t think about until you really need them. But for the 20 million Americans who are part of the healthcare industry, the nation’s largest employment sector, scrubs are a daily necessity. To serve that vast market, Heather Hasson and Trina Spear launched Figs in 2013, a Los Angeles-based, direct-to-consumer, “premium” scrubs company that’s on track to notch $100 million in revenue this year. What Warby Parker did for glasses and Casper did for mattresses, Figs is doing for scrubs. But while those startups have universal appeal, Figs caters solely to M.D.s, P.A.s, R.N.s, D.D.S.s as well as the various orderlies and attendants that lack initials but still need scrubs.
Neither Ms. Hasson nor Ms. Spear has those letters trailing their names either. Ms. Hasson, who got her start in the fashion industry, came up with the idea for Figs when a friend of hers, a nurse practitioner, arrived for a coffee date in baggy, scratchy scrubs. “I said, ‘I can’t believe you still wear this—where are you shopping?’” she remembered. If the scrubs were bad, the medical supply store Ms. Hasson’s friend pointed her to was worse, with racks of unrefined scrubs crammed next to wheelchairs and canes.
With the help of Ms. Spear, who’d previously tracked medical-supply companies in the Blackstone Group ’s private equity division, Ms. Hasson learned that the majority of medical professionals must buy their own scrubs. Until the late 1980s, she explained, when scrubs was still a business-to-business industry, “hospitals did buy on behalf of their staff.” But then, she continued, “budgets were constrained and the hospitals said, ‘We’re not going to do this anymore, we can’t afford it.’” Doctors and nurses were left picking up the tab. Though medical apparel is now a $10 billion industry here in the U.S., and a $60 billion industry worldwide, little else about it had changed as of 2013. Coarse cotton one-size-fits-most scrubs were still sold by large-scale supply shops for as little as $10 a top.
Into this marketplace, Figs introduced its direct-to-consumer model with $38-and-up prices, innovative styles and a Silvadur-treated antimicrobial, wrinkle-resistant and odor-free fabric that took nearly two years to develop. In the early days, Ms. Hasson and Ms. Spear parked themselves in hospitals, soaking up feedback from the staff. They discovered that doctors had been tying their wedding rings to the drawstring of their pants because standard scrubs skimped on pockets, inspiring the Figs duo to add a zippered pocket to their pants. The brand also trimmed down the sack-like fit of traditional scrubs, offering shapely “jogger” style pants while banishing “one-size” tops. “They’re very slimming,” said Danish Hasan, 25, a registered nurse who recently moved from Chicago to New York. “They don’t even look like scrubs—they look like nice clothes that you would wear out.” After buying his first Figs pair about a year ago, Mr. Hasan has sworn off supply-store scrubs entirely.
Figs has taken a “lifestyle” approach to marketing that the founders liken to that of Lululemon , the athletic-wear brand that helped make yoga a way of life (former Lululemon CEO Christine McCormick Day was an early Figs investor, as was the actor Will Smith). Figs has a well-curated Instagram page with over 166,000 followers that showcases customers—primarily women, who make up 70% of Figs’s customer base—in brightly lit settings, far from the mayhem of an emergency room. Last week, Figs opened its first pop-up store on Melrose Avenue in L.A., alongside boutiques for trendy fashion brands like Marc Jacobs, A.P.C. and Theory.
“Their advertisements are everywhere: Instagram, my Facebook page, so that’s how I heard about [Figs],” said Mr. Hasan. But the brand’s marketing savvy extends beyond social media. Figs has also created traditional advertising, blanketing subway cars with ads here in New York. This multi-channel strategy appears to have worked by hooking a younger, millennial generation. “Everyone on Instagram seems to have a pair of these scrubs,” said Macie Lucas, 23, a physician’s assistant in State College, Pa. Ms. Lucas’ hospital actually does not allow for staff to wear Figs because they do not meet its uniform color and logo requirements, so she wears them surreptitiously to and from the operating room. Other hospitals have less rigorous standards. Catholic Health Initiatives, a healthcare system with over 12,000 employees allows its staff to wear scrubs from any manufacturer, though they do have to be in a set color that corresponds to a given occupation—ceil (light) blue for nurses, for example.
It is a “keeping up with the Joneses” sort of mentality that has led Ms. Lucas to break the rules. Though a patient would not immediately notice the difference between Figs and traditional scrubs, Ms. Lucas and her savvy peers can spot them instantly. “They have the little logo on the sleeve and pant–that little white logo, which you automatically know,” said Ms. Lucas, adding that the brand’s online marketing strategy works particularly well with her and her young colleagues. “Because Figs started online…I think that’s why we see it on the 20-year-olds.”
Tom Booth, 27, a nurse in Middletown, N.J., came to Figs after seeing a colleague in a pair of its scrubs. “They looked really good,” Mr. Booth said, and when he was urged to feel them, he found the fabric really soft in a way that promised comfort. “So I went out and got a pair and then I just kept buying them.” Rather than worry about wearing the same shirt as his co-worker, Mr. Booth actually wanted to copy him; a unique benefit for a medical apparel brand like Figs.
Figs is not alone in this space—Jaanuu is another direct-to-consumer scrubs brand that launched in 2013—but Figs’s reported growth (9,938% between 2014 and 2017) places it at the vanguard of the medical apparel space. Last year, film producer Thomas Tull (known for movies such as “The Dark Knight” and “The Hangover”) invested $65 million into the company.
Still, expansion has not come without growing pains. A scan through recent Instagram and Twitter posts revealed many customers complaining about delayed orders and a lack of communication. According to Ms. Spear, a need to switch warehouses led to a delay in fulfillment. Ms. Lucas was not among the customers who experienced the delay, though she did notice the complaints across Figs’s online community. That did not stop her from ordering a set of scrubs. They came within four days, helping her keep up with her fellow P.A.s.
Write to Jacob Gallagher at Jacob.Gallagher@wsj.com