A pediatrician's dissatisfaction with standard order scrubs led her to become a fashion entrepreneur.
If nothing else, Neela Sethi Young, MD, is unwavering.
A pediatrician at Valencia Pediatric Associates, Young knew on her first day doing clinical rounds during her surgery rotation in medical school that the scrubs she was given to wear were not going to work.
“I foolishly went to the teacher and said, ‘Oh, I’m sorry, I think you’ve given me men’s scrubs,’” Young recalls. “And she laughed and said, ‘No, those are women’s scrubs.’ And I thought, we’re giving all this service to all these people and we’re supposed to be passionate about what we do, and yet we feel so frumpy.”
But Young did more than just think. She took action. And together with her brother, Shaan Sethi, founded Jaanuu, a company that is putting the word “fashionista” into medical world vocabulary.
Passion for Fashion
Young says she has always had a sense for fashion. It was something in her genes, and it started in elementary school.
“I didn’t really have the budget that other kids had growing up,” she explains. “I love doing my Target shopping and making outfits look great.” It was also a skill she acquired from her mother, who grew up in an impoverished area in India. “She was able to express herself through her clothing on a lower budget as well. I learned that from her.”
So when she was handed the boxy, low-in-the-crotch, high-in-the-waist hospital scrubs, she knew there had to be another option.
“How am I supposed to feel good about myself when I’m in these pajamas, and they’re not even cute pajamas?” Young asks, rhetorically.
She began working with a friend, a talented seamstress, who sewed some new scrubs for her, and immediately began receiving compliments from her colleagues. Recognizing there was a need—and a market—Young took the small amount of funds she had and began working with a patternmaker. One year later, she had the pattern she wanted.
But there was a problem.
“Fabric was always the big obstacle for me,” Young says. “I needed something that would wash well, wouldn’t wrinkle and wasn't see through, and there just wasn’t anything like that out there that had stretch and give. And it didn’t help that I was doing 100-hour weeks and got married, and didn’t have the time to give the project what it needed, so it was at a standstill for many years.”
Several years later, Young’s brother, Shaan, obtained his MBA and, as a young entrepreneur with a passion for business, encouraged her to revisit the scrubs idea.
“He came in with this breath of fresh air and brought life to the company,” Young says. “He was able to take the company to the next level.”
And when the issue of fabric surfaced again, they decided—after examining, testing and washing hundreds of fabrics—to develop their own. It would stretch, wouldn’t wrinkle or fade, and could be pulled straight from the dryer and worn to work.
“We know how busy women in medicine are,” Young says. “They don’t have time to iron their scrubs.”
Yet another passion for Young was that the new scrubs be antibacterial—that they resist bacteria, and provide a type of barrier. By then she’d given birth to two children, and the thought of coming home from doing rounds at the hospital and having to take off her scrubs and run upstairs to shower before her children could hug her was unacceptable.
“I felt most women shared those feelings,” Young says. “So that was the second compliment to the company. Not only can you look good and feel comfortable, but you can have this extra barrier for your family, the community, and yourself.”
The response to the new scrubs has been extremely positive, says Young, noting that it has been humbling to see women coming back to the online site and purchasing additional colors. The next goal? Enabling men to feel comfortable in scrubs, too.
“It’s a dream of ours to go in that direction,” she says. “Fingers crossed that we will be able to get there at some point.”
More Than Just Clothing
Designing comfortable and practical scrubs is not all Jaanuu, Young’s fledgling company, does. Young has been drawn to helping children since her early college days working in Camp Ronald McDonald for children with cancer. She also recognizes that she and her family are blessed to be living the American Dream. Together with her brother, they launched Runway 2 Remedy.
“It’s our way for the company to have some heart and soul,” she says. “We want to have purpose and meaning in life. It’s not just about looking good, it’s also about doing good.”
In medical school, Young had an opportunity to work in an HIV clinic where she saw newborn babies “with ridiculously high viral loads born to HIV mothers.” But one year later, with the proper medical therapy, the children were HIV negative.
“It’s so amazing,” Young says. “If you catch it early you can literally save people’s lives. And change their entire outlook.”
That foray into children who were HIV positive also revealed the shocking and sad world of child trafficking. Runway 2 Remedy was formed as an initiative whereby with each apparel purchase, Jaanuu will contribute medicine to human trafficked children around the world.
As you might imagine, Young loves spending time with her family.
“I always say I have my on button and my off button,” she explains. “And when I’m not working on Jaanuu, I feel like I am in full mommy mode.”
But she still leaves time to read, hike, and exercise.
“I’m an avid Pilates girl,” she says. “I love being in the gym with girlfriends, or enjoying a nice glass of wine at sunset with my husband.”
In short, Young likes being with, and helping, people.
“I think that’s what gets me up in the morning,” she says. “It makes me feel that I am making a difference. I don’t have to make a huge difference, but I can make small differences. And those are just as important.”