Introducing the medical workwear brand bringing style to scrubbing up
After years of wearing ill-fitting scrubs as veterinarians, identical twin sisters Dr Alison and Audrey Shen took matters into their own hands and launched 21 Scrubs with the help of their long-time friend and fashion expert, Rebecca Lau Marsh. The brand specialises in medical workwear that’s both stylish and functional and comfortable, including a fashionable jumpsuit that can go from day to night.
We chat with the team behind 21 Scrubs about the development process behind their collection, what the workwear landscape is like and their plans for the business in the future.
How did you guys come up with the idea for 21 Scrubs?
Dr Alison and Audrey Shen (identical twin sisters and vets) have been practicing veterinarians for over 15 years. Wearing scrubs is part of their everyday [routines]. After years of wearing ill-fitting scrubs that worked against them rather than with them, they started a project to find the perfect material and styles that were functional, comfortable, durable, practical, stylish, professional and had all the qualities needed for the demands of their job. Some of these qualities included being stretchy, crease-proof, stain-proof, waterproof, squat-proof, hair-proof and quick drying.
To help them on their mission, they joined forces with [White Runway founder] Rebecca Lau Marsh, a long-time friend and expert in fashion, e-commerce stores and business. With Rebecca’s knowledge and experience and the twins’ experience in the health and veterinary industry, 21 Scrubs was born.
What has business been like since you launched and what are some of the clients that you’ve got on board so far?
We launched 21 Scrubs in mid-July and sold out our initial stock within the first month! Our team orders and corporate boxes have been a favourite. We also sold out of our signature jumpsuit scrubs in the first couple of weeks. Our range has been popular with veterinarians, dentists, dog trainers, pet hotels, groomers, hairdressers, doctors, midwives and beauticians.
How would you describe what the experience of wearing traditional scrubs is like for medical staff?
Traditional scrubs have been the uniform in many healthcare industries. Unfortunately, most are ill-fitting and unstylish at the compromise of being “comfortable”. Healthcare workers deserve to wear a uniform that is not only comfortable, but stylish enough to look professional at work and fashionable out of work. The scrub material should have all the properties and features that make them durable, functional and practical.
How would you describe the range of scrubs from your brand and how are they different to what traditional scrubs are like?
21 Scrubs is reinventing the traditional scrubs and challenging the way we view our health professionals. We offer a range of different styles of scrub tops and bottoms and our signature jumpsuit scrubs in our original Core21 material. All our scrubs are waterproof, stain-proof, hair and fur-proof, squat-proof (four-way stretch), crease-proof, quick drying, breathable and durable. Every style comes with our signature details – our stethoscope holders, deep pockets and breathable air vents.
How would you describe the product development process and how did you come up with the 21 Scrubs style?
With Rebecca’s experience in the fashion business, we were able to form a great relationship with our suppliers and production team. The challenging part was actually sourcing the perfect material for our Core21 range. We knew exactly what we wanted in quality and features but finding one that fit all those criteria took time, testing and trialling. When we finally found our Core21 material, the design and style process could proceed. Our styles aim to be practical and comfortable, yet stylish enough to be worn in and out of work. A favourite is our signature jumpsuit – a fitted, collared, one-piece that can be zipped on and off, professional enough to wear into consultations with clients and stylish enough to wear out of work.
Extensive research, testing and trialling has gone into each and every piece with collaboration from experts in both the health and fashion industry. Every “mock-up” sample was actually tested in real life, to provide feedback and fine tune every details.
What are some of the important things that need to be taken into consideration in terms of the design of medical scrubs?
Scrubs have become the uniform for a range of industries spanning from medical to beauty. But these scrubs are much more than just a uniform. They are worn not just to protect the wearer, but their patients too.
In particular, scrubs worn in the healthcare industry have strict requirements to maintain a sterile environment in theatre, from the type of material, to how they are worn and when they are worn.
Suitability of surgical scrubs are measured on comfort, stretch, breathability, whether the material is lint free and tightness of its weave.
We also took into consideration the different variety of industries that wear scrubs and the demands of their job. Such as the physical activity level, amount of soiling (and type, such as urine, blood, saliva etc), length of shift work, work environment and type of patients (animals and humans). We set a criteria of features that were essential for our scrubs.
Our scrubs are durable to last long shift work, can be washed daily and are quick drying (no more rushing to wash them after each shift), have a four-way stretch (for all the bending, lifting and running), are waterproof, stain proof, lint-free, hair-proof and crease-proof (you can wear them straight out of the washing machine)/
We also added some unique extras to each design. Our signature stethoscope holders below each shoulder to prevent slip when hung around the shoulders, as well as deep pockets for tools and phones.
What has the consumer feedback been like since you launched 21 Scrubs?
We have done a lot of group work orders, as well as individual orders over the last month. Our clients constantly tell us how amazed they are with the light feel of our fabric and the fact that it really is hair-repellent!
We fitted the whole vet team at work and they still keep coming up to me to show me how
all the pet hair and stains just float off the fabric.
We have an Instagram tag #showusyourstain and we have had so many happy customers post their videos showing them getting everything from tomato ketchup, milk and water thrown on their scrubs. It’s so fun to watch.
What is the workwear category like? Is it particularly competitive and what are the opportunities and challenges for brands?
The workwear category consists of many mass produced and bulk buy brands with a ‘one fits all’ approach. However, there are some companies that offer personalisation and do it well. I think the challenge for brands is being able to keep pricing affordable when there is customisation or personalisation involved. For 21 Scrubs, we are a niche brand offering premium product with unique properties so our pricing reflects that. We don’t mass produce and we have the opportunity to offer customisations to our corporate customers which is a great opportunity for us.
What are your plans for the business in the next 12-18 months?
In the next 12-18 months we want to continue to grow and become a trusted, recognised, premium design workwear brand for essential workers.
We have worked hard to make stand out pieces and to choose fabric that really makes a difference. With designs like our signature jumpsuit, we want to shake up the work wear space and prove that you can look great, even in practical work clothing.
We plan to release a few more unique designs in the next few months to target a wider audience. We are in the process of expanding into more colours and different fabrics. We can’t wait to see them on our customers.
Audrey and Alison, how has your experience as veterinarians helped you at 21 Scrubs?
Being veterinarians was the drive to start the business. We were frustrated with the lack of choice, style and the material of available scrubs. Being in a profession which needs to portray trust, compassion and professionalism but is physically demanding, dirty and long hours is challenging for any workwear to achieve/ We used to joke that “we wear pajamas all day”!
With the current pandemic and being essential workers, veterinarians have never been busier. This really was the drive to turn an idea into reality. Now more than ever, we need to support our health professionals, our essential workers that have supported us during these challenging times.
Rebecca, what are some of the invaluable lessons you’ve learnt as founder of bridal online retailer White Runway that you were able to implement at 21 Scrubs?
So many invaluable lessons it would be hard to list them all! However, perhaps finding the right suppliers to work with from the start to ensure a smooth sampling and production process.