Jaanuu's bacteria fighting scrubs bring high tech fabrics and runway worthy designs to the medical sector

By Michael Carney , written on August 5, 2014

From The News Desk

There are certain products that make too much sense not to exist. That was my reaction when I first heard the words "antimicrobial medical apparel" (aka, scrubs). There’s a reason most people don’t like hospitals, and it has more to do with the fact that they induce fear and sadness. They’re basically giant, petri dishes of bacteria. Gross.

According to one study by The Journal of Hospital Infection, after a single work shift, 92 percent of nurse uniforms carry either MRSA, VRE, or C. difficile bacteria. If you think about all the things doctors and nurses come into contact with on a regular shift and then transmit with them to other patients, co-workers, their car, their home, their kids, and public places like grocery stores and restaurants, it’s a wonder there aren’t more infectious diseases being spread.

Jaanuu is a Los Angeles ecommerce startup born so solve this very problem. Founded by siblings Shaan Sethi and Neela Sethi Young, the former a prior private equity investor who is the company’s CEO and the latter a practicing pediatrician, the company has completely reimagined boring old scrubs.

The Sethis began by developing a proprietary, eco friendly four-fabric blend that has many of the fit and feel properties of popular sports performance fabrics like Under Armour and Lululemon, such as moisture wicking, stretch, and wrinkle-resistance – already a huge improvement from the basic cotton out of which most traditional scrubs are made. They then treated the fabric with an antimicrobial solution called SILVADUR produced by Dow Chemical that reduces the spread of bacteria and keeps the products smelling and looking better longer. Jackpot.

Had the Sethis stopped there, they would have had a winning combination, in my book. But I’m not a doctor or nurse. Talk to your average medical professional and the number one complaint you’re likely to get about scrubs has to do with their poor style and fit. Put simply, most scrubs feature a bland solid color or terrible print cut in a large, boxy, unflattering silhouette. Sure they’re utilitarian, but if you’re spending 60 plus hours per week in these garments, you’d like to feel good in them and have the ability to express your personality a bit.

“As I put my first scrubs on, I thought they gave me the wrong one,” Neela recently told LA Parent. “These must be for a man. The shirt was boxy, the crotch was low and they made me feel frumpy.”

So Jaanuu has taken a fashion forward approach to its apparel designs. The company writes on its Website:

We asked ourselves, if flight attendants at Virgin America can have their trendy uniforms designed by Banana Republic, then why do us hard-working medical professionals have to be stuck purchasing ill-fitting uniforms with unattractive print designs? Why can't our apparel be reimagined? Why don't we design a better option? At Jaanuu, we study the silhouettes of contemporary runway-inspired garments and push the envelope to deliver chic, flattering and form-fitting medical apparel.
Jannuu assembled a design team from the worlds of both high fashion and traditional medical apparel design, Shaan Sethi tells me, all with the goal of delivering a contemporary look to medical professionals without compromising functionality. The pants feature denim-inspired pockets and stitching, while the tops have tasteful embellishments like topstitching or accent zippers. The company will continue introduce new designs at regular intervals. The result is, shockingly, the first line of scrubs that users might actually want to wear out in public. And with Neela actively working in the medical community, the company has the ability to extensively field test its designs before ever sending them to production.

“The customer feedback via email and social media has been the most encouraging and flattering,” Shaan Sethi says. “We’ve been hearing some which include words that were never in the same sentence as scrubs, like, ‘Not only do they feel comfortable, they are super glam as well. Even my husband likes them and how they look on me!,’ and  ‘I love how feminine they are.’”

For all the product innovation Jaanuu has done to date, the young company’s most disruptive attribute may actually be its distribution strategy. Most medical apparel today is purchased in dingy, dusty uniform supply stores, with products shoved onto crowded racks alongside Dickies and other utilitarian garb. Jaanuu is flipping this script and looking to sell direct to consumers via its website. Initially, the company is just selling its sets individually, but eventually, once manufacturing reaches scale, the plan is to offer medical apparel on subscription, with new sets arriving on regular intervals. All distribution is handled via a third-party logistics (3PL) provider, meaning that scaling shouldn’t be an issue.

At $39 for a top and $42 for bottoms, Jaanuu is priced in the middle of the traditional scrubs market which typically runs $40 to $100 for a set, according to the Sethis. The company plans to run regular promotions and will offer discounting to subscription subscribers. Early feedback has not shown any price sensitivity, according to Shaan, who says that consumers are more than willing to pay a premium for a product that they’re actually excited to wear.

The Jaanuu brand also features a giving back element with each purchase resulting in a donation to Runway2Remedy, which delivers medications to victims of child trafficking, with a focus on India. It’s a cause dear to the Sethi’s hearts given Neela’s work in pediatrics and their family roots in this part of the world.

Given the wear and tear they see, scrubs are a classic replenishment product. Women may want a new pair of high heels every month, but doctors and nurses need new scrubs regularly – the average nurse owns 20 to 30 pairs of scrubs and buys eight to 12 new pairs annually, according to Jaanuu’s anecdotal research. In total, the medical apparel market is worth $10 billion annually in the US alone. If Jaanuu can get these 15 million consumers onto autopilot purchasing its fashionable, germ-fighting designs at regular intervals, the company may be able to grab a meaningful slice of this giant legacy market.

There is another startup tackling the medical apparel space, and it’s based right across town from Jaanuu. Figs has been in the market since late 2013 and takes a similar fashion-forward eye to the traditional scrubs. The company also incorporates a giving element in which it donates a pair of scrubs to a medical professional in need for each one purchased by its customers. But unlike Jaanuu, Figs don’t have the same level of antimicrobial properties. The company’s biggest advantage, beyond the philanthropic aspect, may be its partnership with Crocs, which allows Figs to sell through the footwear giant’s retail stores and also to bundle its apparel with the comfortable rubber shoes.

Given the size of the medical apparel market, there’s likely room for both competitors. And given their respective limited resources, the combined marketing might of the two should actually speed up the market education process. At the end of the day, it’s the incumbent offline scrubs brands that Jaanuu and Figs need to be more concerned with.

Jaanu has been in the market for approximately two months and has seen better-than-expected demand, according to Shaan Sethi. The company has already sold into more than 30 states (including Alaska) and has seen a repeat order rate of under 20 percent, with average order values in the triple digits. The medical community has proven to be an attractive one from a customer acquisition perspective, Shaan says, describing the company’s customers as relatively easy to target online. Viral word of mouth has also helped the company keep its customer acquisition costs in the “very low double digits.”

The Sethis have bootstrapped Jaanuu to date but will look to raise their first round of venture capital in the near future, Shaan says. The company has been getting inbound inquiries from traditional brick and mortar uniform retailers, B2B suppliers, and hospitals, all of which want to stock or distribute Jaanuu apparel. The company will evaluate all opportunities in due time, Shaan says, but in the near-term will likely stick to its direct-to-consumer approach.

Jaanu is more than a business to the Sethis. It’s evident from talking to them that it’s also a passion project. The word “jaanuu” is Hindi for sweetheart, and at its root is the word “jaan” which means life. Mothers regularly call their children “jaanuu,” which more directly translates to, “as important as life itself,” Shaan says. It’s no mistake that the Sethis named their company after this beautiful sentiment.

“We want to make an emotional connection,” Shaan Sethi says. “The work medical professionals do every day is the stuff of miracles and they deserve to be as comfortable and healthy as possible while doing so. Jaanuu is a company that was created to make this possible.”