A local company is trying to create a niche with nurses who want an upscale alternative to the scrubs commonly worn throughout the medical industry.
Brenda June Inc. of Akron is selling a line of fitted nurses’ tops, pants and shirts that are “made in the USA by American hands.”
The Brenda June apparel line, manufactured for the company by Royal Park USA at the Burlington Technologies plant in North Carolina, is made from woven and knit blends.
Founder June DeAngelis and her sister, company President Apryl Gleespen, wanted to sell American-made apparel even though it’s more costly to make as a way to honor their late mother, who picked cotton as a young woman in Arkansas.
“She would be so darn proud,” Gleespen said.
Unlike many of today’s colorful print scrubs, Brenda June’s apparel is all white — a complete change from DeAngelis’ original plans.
When DeAngelis started the company three years ago that has her full name, she wanted to design medical uniforms featuring uplifting artwork she created as a way to grieve after the death of her mother.
But then Gleespen became extremely ill after she contracted a Clostridium difficile (C. diff) infection during a hospital stay in the summer of 2011. Medical experts recommended she wash clothes with bleach to kill the bacteria.
C. diff infections cause severe diarrhea, damage that can result in surgical removal of the colon and even death.
“We thought, ‘We can’t do artwork on these,’ ” Gleespen said of Brenda June’s apparel. “They need to be bleachable.”
For now, the apparel is sold exclusively through the company’s website, www.brendajune.com. DeAngelis’ artwork is used on accessories that are sold on the website as well.
Brenda June faces plenty of competition from retail stores and online businesses selling scrubs to nurses at considerably lower prices.
Many online retailers sell scrub tops and pants for $30 each or less, compared to $115 or $140 for Brenda June’s pants or $103 to $116 each for its line of tops.
But DeAngelis’ goal is to attract just a small fraction of nurses looking for upscale, well-designed apparel, similar to the way some shoppers will shell out hundreds of dollars for a Coach purse instead of a discount store model.
“They can upgrade and look better on the job,” DeAngelis said. “We realize not everyone wants the top of the line.”
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, an estimated 2.7 million registered nurses are employed nationwide. That number is expected to grow by more than 526,000 by 2022.
“I think there’s a great need for this,” DeAngelis said. “We saw a need to really bring back a professional image. … When you dress professionally, you work professionally.”
DeAngelis said she started the company with her own money, but she declined to release financial details. The goal is to be profitable by the end of the year.
To get the products out into the market, Brenda June has launched an “ambassador” program, which provides apparel to nurses to try. A Northeast Ohio infectious disease practice is among the offices that has agreed on a trial for the apparel.
“It’s an educational process,” DeAngelis said.
“People need to see them, feel them,” her sister added.
Susan Benner, a registered nurse who works at Wildwood Orthopaedic and Spine Hospital in Toledo, has been wearing the products for the past three months as a company ambassador. She was introduced to the company through the friend.
Benner, who has been using the Brenda June cargo pants and a vest, said in an email interview that “the fit is exceptionally comfortable, stylish and flattering to wear.
“I am very impressed with the care that was taken in the design to provide a very functional garment,” she said. “Bending, stretching, reaching and stooping over, the garment stretches in just the right places and conforms to one’s shape. I like that the garments are bleachable and after repeated washings they have held up extremely well.”
Benner said she likes the professional look of the clothes compared to scrubs.
“As I was walking through the lobby of my hospital, I was approached by an individual who was lost and asked if I could help her,” she said. “After providing her with directions to the surgical waiting area, she thanked me and then commented on how professional I looked and that she liked that I was wearing white. She was able to identify that I was a nurse. I really believe that how you dress does and will convey to the public a sense of professionalism.”
Cheryl Powell can be reached at 330-996-3902 or email@example.com. Follow Powell on Twitter at twitter.com/CherylPowellABJ.