Wearables Business

‘fun’ scrubwear finding a serious side: sales

‘fun’ scrubwear finding a serious side: sales – clothing for health care professionals

Brian Anderson

Byline: Brian Anderson

Much like boxers and camp shirts, scrubs usually fall into that “fun” wearables category as a promotional product.

They have long been a favorite fun and unique giveaway as party favors, and many a college student has been known to lounge endlessly in their casual comfort.

But scrubwear also has a serious side, such as when a promotional products distributor sells them as uniforms for healthcare professionals, a market that more and more distributors are discovering they can service.

They can also be very effective when printed all over with, for example, the name and/or logo of a new product from a pharmaceutical company.

So while they remain a niche product offered by relatively few industry suppliers, scrubs have a little more versatility than many other wearables. And their popularity in recent years has been buoyed by a trend away from the drab solid colors that used to be the rule in hospitals and were mimicked when scrubs were used as promotional items. Now colorful printed scrubs are the way to go, in the healthcare industry and the promotional industry.

Whether the credit goes to dental hygienists, nurses in children’s hospitals, veterinarians, or even those stuffy doctors, somewhere along the line healthcare professionals decided enough was enough with the drab scrubs. They wanted to wear something a little more upbeat, a move patients no doubt appreciated given the general somber tone in places that deal with health issues.

Scrubs of Key West got its start in 1994 when a registered nurse, Arlene Mira, who was also a seamstress and a native of Key West, Fla., began making tropical printed scrubs out of her one-bedroom house with two sewing machines and a dining room table that doubled as a cutting board. Mira was tired of the scrubs that were out there, and her colorful designs quickly caught on throughout area medical offices and hospitals.

A website ( began in 1996, and the first of two retail storefronts opened in 1998. In March 2003, Mira sold the business to a pair of medical professionals who have since debuted a wholesale line, available to promotional products distributors.

Kathy Battreall, a pharmacist who is now one of the owners of Scrubs of Key West, says the items in their line “are certainly not your run-of-the-mill prints. They are prints that you’ll never see from another manufacturer.”

These scrubs are made of 100% cotton, and the necklines are interfaced, so after they come out of the dryer they lay flat, and don’t have to be ironed.

“They’re not a lower-end scrub. They’re more a designer-type scrub,” Battreall says.

In addition to scrub tops, Scrubs Key West offers coordinating jackets, pants, surgical caps and scrunchies. Solids are also offered. If a customer, for example, buys a pair of pink scrub pants, the pink will coordinate with the pink in one of the printed scrub tops, creating a variety of mix-and-match combinations.

The print line includes eight exclusive prints, six handpainted Bali batiks, and usually between 10 and 20 “limited edition” prints to keep something new in the line for repeat customers.

“We find that once we get a customer, we keep them for life,” Battreall says.

The look for lounging

While Scrubs of Key West products are intended to be used as uniforms for healthcare professionals, many promotional industry suppliers who offer scrubs sell the majority of them to clients with promotional uses in mind.

Dan Murphy, president of Indianapolis-based supplier Krazy Klothes, knows the vast majority of the scrubs Krazy Klothes sells via promotional products distributors are being used as promotional products rather than as actual uniforms.

“We don’t try to compete with the big scrub manufacturers,” Murphy says. “We try to be fun and creative.”

Krazy Klothes, which also offers boxers, Hawaiian shirts, jams, bottoms, and assorted other “fun” wearables, makes scrubs in more than just the standard cotton sheeting. Krazy Klothes has 150 fabric themes, and “we can make any one of them into a scrub,” Murphy says.

With choices ranging from tropical prints, team color camouflage prints, various theme prints (ladybugs, chili peppers, partying pigs, casino games, etc.), and even flannel plaids, there are plenty of opportunities to customize a scrub to a theme with minimums as low as 24 pieces.

Murphy says the team camouflage and Hawaiian prints are the most popular at the moment. How can a logo or event title be seen over the loud print, you may wonder? Often by adding a solid-colored pocket, and screenprinting the logo on the pocket.

Scrubs are popular party favors at bar mitzvahs and bat mitzvahs, Murphy says, and college students tend to use them for theme parties. He has noticed that college students are also wearing scrub bottoms as lounge pants.

“They’ll go to class in them, or just lie around the house in them,” Murphy says.

In fact, scrub pants have been very popular for the last 18 months at Krazy Klothes, something Murphy attributes in part to the popularity of flannel pants dying down. He notes that retailers such as Old Navy, The Gap and Abercrombie & Fitch pushed scrub-type lounge pants pretty big last year, and they usually see a lag of about six months until that trend hits the promotional market.

At Aprons ‘n More, a supplier based in Lindsay, Ontario, President Andy Letham says that while universities seem to buy the pants, Aprons ‘n More sells more scrub tops.

“A lot of people tell me they wear them just as a casual shirt,” Letham says.

Easy item to customize

Scrubwear has been one of the most requested items in the last year at Aprons ‘n More, leading to the creation of three lines of custom scrubs. Six solid colors are offered, as are tropical inlay scrubs (solid except for tropical pockets and V-necks), and tropical/Hawaiian scrubs.

Still, Letham says, “we do more custom ones than we sell stock styles.”

PPDs and their clients can custom design their own scrub, such as a repeating logo all-over print. One recent client wanted 100 pairs of scrub pants made with a special cell phone pocket.

Since they make everything domestically, Letham says custom orders can be turned in as little as a couple of weeks. Price-wise, scrubs fall between a camp shirt and an apron.

“They’re a little more work than an apron, and a little less work than a camp shirt,” Letham says.

Patrick Walsh, president of New York City-based KTP Design Company, says KTP’s custom-designed scrub top is “the perfect wearable item for the healthcare market.

“Instead of just a solid-colored scrub with a one-location imprint, these scrubs are completely custom-designed with an all-over imprint; using the entire scrub as the canvas,” Walsh says. “For example, for a Children’s Hospital, we can take the hospital’s logo and create a bright, colorful design with a children’s theme. This design would be completely unique to the customer.”

KTP Design Company’s scrubs are printed using a reactive dye process. This process is permanent and the colors will not bleed. Just like the scrubs available at retail, Walsh says, they are available in a 65% polyester/35% cotton blend for easy care, and are cut with a ‘V’ neck and large armholes for maximum comfort.

The minimum is 200 scrubs per design. KTP Design Company’s design team will create a full-color custom artwork presentation free of charge.

At Dexter, Mich.-based supplier Marathon/Prestige, there are 17 stock colors to choose from for scrubwear items, and they offer all-over or one-location prints in addition to selling blanks. Pants and vests are available in addition to scrub tops, all made of a 65/35 poly/cotton blend that will not shrink and will retain color integrity. Marathon/Prestige scrubs are made in the USA, and the minimum order is 24 pieces.

Brian Anderson is Senior Managing Editor of Wearables Business.

Suppliers mentioned in this article:

Aprons ‘n More: 800-897-0224 Krazy Klothes: 800-848-8147 KTP Design Company: 888-245-1979 Marathon/Prestige: 800-521-2860 Scrubs of Key West: 305-853-1700

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