Ex-executives from companies like Lululemon and The Honest Company are looking to the medical apparel industry for their next big successes, hoping to make it more fashion-forward in the process. They’re aligning with two brands in particular — Figs and Jaanuu — who are competing to elevate the uniform beyond basic scrubs.

In April, Los Angeles-based Jaanuu raised $5 million from investors including Dan Nordstrom, the former chief merchandising officer of Nordstrom.com, and Innovation Global Capital, which is run by the former chief executive officer of Uniqlo. This brought the company’s total funds to $7.63 million, thanks to earlier investments from the likes of BAM Ventures and John Suh, the chief executive officer of LegalZoom.

Figs — which was co-founded by Heather Hasson and Trina Spear, and is also based in Los Angeles — is relying on experts in the e-commerce and apparel industries for its funding, as well. Last May, the company raised $5 million, led by Campfire Capital, a Vancouver-based venture capital group with a portfolio that includes Juicero and the menswear startup Frank & Oak.

“We see a tremendous opportunity to leverage [our] collective experience and relationships to further brand and scale Figs to transform this $9 billion unbranded industry,” said Christine Day, the former chief executive officer of Lululemon and a partner at Campfire, at the time.

Biker Jacket and Pant (Floral)
An image from Jaanuu’s latest lookbook

That investment drove FIGS’ total funding to $10 million, giving it just a slight boost over its competitor, despite both companies launching in 2013.

That gap, and the fact that Jaannuu is made for women only, is one of the few points of differentiation between the brands, which both boast wrinkle- and stain-repellent fabric that uses anti-microbial technology to deter the spread of germs. Both lines privilege sleeker tailoring than traditional, shapeless scrubs, although Jaanuu’s styles are more influenced by trends. For instance, it updates athleisure-inspired pieces like bombers and sweats with unexpected details like peplums and gold buttons.

Unsurprisingly, both brands are also direct-to-consumer, a move which disrupts the long-term phenomenon of mom-and-pop shops across the country selling scrubs. “Historically it’s been a brick-and-mortar, offline story — there really hasn’t been a vertically integrated, digitally-native business in this space,” said Jaanuu’s chief executive officer, Shaan Sethi. “Scrubs, to date, have not been distributed in very attractive outlets, so it’s sort of been a race to the bottom, from a cost standpoint.”

Research by Jaanuu has found that healthcare professionals buy anywhere from four to 12 sets of scrubs per year, with the average retail price being $40-$60 per set. “This multi-billion dollar industry is built on a replenishment model where the useful life of a pair of scrubs is fairly short — it’s not like denim, where you’re not washing them daily and extending the life of the garment,” said Sethi. “Scrubs take a beating day in and day out, requiring the consumer to go back and replenish that stock often.”

Both Jaanuu and Figs hope to tackle that problem with well-made products that require a larger investment (both companies’ pieces retail for around $35-$100), but ultimately have greater payoff.

figs
An image from Figs’ latest lookbook

“We view the medical apparel category to be this diamond in the rough, and I think, for the first time, we’ve created this aspirational brand that’s able to create allegiance with the core customer,” said Sethi — and he’s not exaggerating. Jaanuu, in particular, has a huge social media following, with over 108 thousand followers on Instagram, who regularly post photos of themselves wearing the brand, along with the hashtags #jaanuu #fromthefans. (Figs, by comparison, has 40 thousand followers on the platform.)

Though Sethi couldn’t highlight any particular social initiatives that drove this popularity, he said Jaanuu regularly communicates with its customers to crowd-source future design ideas. “When you build a business without a lot of capital [to start], it doesn’t allow you to miss, so you really have to de-risk,” he said. “And the way to do that is by speaking to the end consumer and finding out what exactly she wants.”

That’s led Jaanuu to sell products not just to people working in hospitals, but also to those in less obvious locations, like outpatient facilities, spas and hotels. The potential for penetration, said Sethi, is greater than expected.