New York-based patient apparel startup Care+Wear has added some fashion star power to its operations through a partnership with womenswear designer Josie Natori.
The medical garment brand, founded in 2014, was born of a mission to provide patients with more functional, comfortable and fashionable garb for their time spent visiting medical facilities and receiving care from home, founding CEO Chat Razdan told Sourcing Journal.
Razdan first noted a need for evolution in the “healthwear” space when a relative battling cancer was forced to use a cut tube sock to hold a picc line—a catheter that carries blood to the heart—in place on their arm. Razdan found the makeshift solution unsatisfactory and undignified, and an exploration of alternatives blossomed into a passion for providing patients with solutions that delivered on both form and function.
In working with doctors and nurses from institutions like Johns Hopkins University and University of Virginia, Care+Wear created its first products. With the help of clinicians, the line has grown to include a range of items, from picc line covers to post-surgical bras, hoodies with easy chest access for ports and tubes, bodysuits for premature babies, and more. The company even partnered with American designer Oscar de La Renta on a collection, stripping patient gowns of their clinical aesthetic and streamlining them for easy wearing.
As the pandemic took hold in early 2020 and hospitals were faced with a massive PPE shortage, Care+Wear pivoted to fill the need, producing masks, gowns, gloves and surgical goggles for frontline workers. “We leveraged our expertise on the patient side to bring that to the clinician side,” Razdan said, “and as we were doing that, we started hearing that they wished they had better products for themselves.”
Doctors and nurses were not only overburdened and exhausted—they were uncomfortable, Razdan said. Spending days on end in scratchy, shapeless scrubs was taking a toll on morale, he added. “We’ve all heard stories about how they were missing inspiration, and a feeling of dignity in general,” he said. “And as I started to think about it more, I realized that in the U.S. alone, there are over 20 million health care workers with no one really focused on allowing them to look good and feel good.”
It was around this time that Razdan connected with Natori through an organization called Fashion for the Front Lines, which was providing an avenue for designers and brands to help leverage their supply chains in support of PPE production. Known for creating intimate garments like bras, underwear and sleepwear that provide “ease of movement and comfort,” Razdan said he felt the “iconic” designer would be the perfect partner for a line of garb tailored to the needs of medical professionals.
Natori worried about the health and safety of essential workers in her own family, Razdan said, and was eager to lend her design expertise to the range. “Josie and our head of product worked hand in hand on the design actually of every single product,” Razdan said. “A lot of the scrubs actually do have that Natori look and feel,” he said, noting subtle details like a triple-stitched neckline allowing wearers to clip pens and badges to their garment’s neck opening and avoid the issue of gaping. Other touches include more sleek, strategically placed pockets that add functionality without contributing bulk to the scrubs’ silhouette.
Care+Wear surveyed over 100 hospitals and individual clinicians to determine their most pressing functional needs, Razdan said. The Natori-designed scrubs are slightly longer in the back than in the front, allowing wearers to bend over to perform tasks like checking on patients’ vital signs without exposing their backsides, for example, and feature two fabric loops at the shoulders that badges and tools can be clipped onto.
The garments were also built for durability, and made to withstand the high temperatures of commercial dryers used in hospitals, which can reach up to 450 degrees, Razdan said. “That’s one of the big reasons that you don’t see innovation in the hospital scrubs space,” he opined. “No one wants to invest the time and resources that it takes to figure out how to survive that commercial laundry.” The N. Natori x Care+Wear line has been tested to withstand over 75 wash cycles, Razdan said.
What’s more, hospitals had a hand in determining the line’s color range. “While hospitals won’t necessarily require their nurses or doctors to wear a specific design of scrubs anymore, they are still very strict on specific colors, and they vary by unit,” Razdan said, noting that varying shades denote different roles within a medical facility. The men’s and women’s lines will launch with the four most common color ways: dark and light blue, cerulean and black and will be available in sizes XXS-XXL—a range that Razdan hopes to open up even further with later product drops. A selection of under-scrub base layers will also launch with the line, along with medical bouffant hats.
Currently, the direct-to-consumer line is being produced through N. Natori’s existing supply chain in China, while the enterprise line, which is sold in bulk to hospital systems, is being made in Care+Wear’s factories in India, Razdan said. “We went with these two factories because we knew that they could scale with us very quickly, and we knew the quality of what they could produce,” he said. It was important to allow Natori to produce part of the line in her own factories, as the designer has developed a level of comfort with her suppliers over the course of many years, he added.
While the introductory capsule is relatively small, with five different silhouettes and four color ways, Razdan said Care+Wear sees the N. Natori partnership as a longstanding collaboration. “We’re already working together on future products, and she’s bringing new ideas to me pretty much daily,” he said of the company’s creative head. “There’s a lot of admiration on both sides—the brand she’s built has been well known for years for comfort and support, and those are the key tenets for us when we think about creating solutions.”