Chaitenya Razdan has a healthy sense of humor. But even he doesn’t see anything funny in glimpsing a bare butt that isn’t looking for exposure. Most definitely not one belonging to a hospital patient.
Equally unamusing, he said, is seeing cancer patients wearing tube socks on their arms to protect intravenous access points known as PICC lines.
“'This really stinks. People are already going through so much,‘” was Razdan’s reaction upon seeing the latter, some of whom were friends and family. “’There has to be something better.'”
And that’s how a former investment banker at Goldman Sachs came to be a “fashion” CEO who sees serious sales potential in the Philadelphia region for his health-care clothing company, Care+Wear. It is just one player in a growing sector of patient-centered designers such as Inga Wellbeing who are tapping into the medical community for guidance on wearer- and treatment-friendly apparel inspired, in part, by the demands of aging baby boomers who aren’t going to settle for hospital wear that compromises dignity and isn’t comfortable.
“It’s a growing industry for sure in terms of competitors,” Razdan said. “In my mind, it means more people focused on the patients. I not only welcome it, I want it. ... We do think it’s very important to have the fashion and function tie together to ensure a more humanizing experience.”
Philadelphia is a font of valuable input, he said, noting that nurses at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia informed the design of one of Care+Wear’s newest products, a onesie for babies in neonatal intensive-care units.
“Some of the world’s leading hospitals are in your backyard. They’re now focused on innovation and doing really cool things. We’re in open talks with a bunch of them,” said Razdan, who met with officials at Cancer Treatment Centers of America and Einstein Medical Center while in Philadelphia last week.
The city lies between where his company is based, New York, and where Razdan, 35, grew up, Baltimore, the son of an anesthesiologist mother who introduced him to the first nurses and doctors who helped him with research and development.
From parking to patient care
He left online parking reservation start-up Parking Panda to cofound Care+Wear in 2014 with Susan Jones, who brought two especially relevant experiences to their new venture: having worked in the fashion industry and losing a parent to cancer.
Together, they decided to first tackle creating a PICC line cover more dignified than a sock. One year and 12 iterations later, they had a product that pleased medical practitioners and patients alike: an antimicrobial sleeve with a mesh window that provided easy access to the intravenous site. Jones, a native of Florida, moved to China to set up manufacturing relationships, a process aided, Razdan said, by “having senior leaders in pretty big brand-name hospitals” interested in the covers.
It helped that they had $250,000 in capital raised from friends and family, and $25,000 in winnings from a business competition.
Production began in March 2015 with covers now selling at www.careandwear.com for $30 and $35, depending on size, with design options that include logos of professional baseball and basketball teams. The University of Virginia Health System -- Razdan went to UVA as an undergraduate -- was Care+Wear’s first paying customer, since joined by Massachusetts General, Cleveland Clinic, and the Mayo Clinic, among other hospitals.
Feedback from PICC line research led to polo shirts, blouses, hoodies (in partnership with design house Oscar de la Renta, whose namesake died of cancer complications in 2014) and kids’ T-shirts with slanted zippers on each side of the chest for access to ports, small medical devices installed just beneath the skin to enable blood draws and intravenous treatments. Part of the inspiration was Razdan’s former boss at Goldman Sachs whose wife had cut holes in a polo shirt so he wouldn’t have to undress for nurses and doctors to gain access to his port.
“He said dignity is so important, and being able to maintain some sense of normalcy,” Razdan said. The port-access clothing sells for $30 to $85.
“We see everyday patients that are looking to find the new normal. This was one piece of that puzzle,” Kathryn Cantera, chief of rehabilitation services at Cancer Treatment Centers of America and director of integrative services for the Philadelphia location, said of the Care+Wear PICC line covers and port-access clothing on sale at its facilities in Philadelphia and Tulsa, Okla. The covers, she said, not only provide comfort and protection, but also are “less of a medical flag calling out they have a PICC line and are receiving chemotherapy.”
Selling to patients
Selling clothing to patients takes a different touch than what’s typical in the fashion industry, where the emphasis is on promoting excitement and being trendy, said Subodha Kumar, the Paul R. Anderson Distinguished Professor of Marketing at Temple University’s Fox School of Business.
“You have to be very sensitive about how you market your product,” he said. “Here, the key goal in the marketing is people find it useful ... without being insensitive about that.”
Another path to success for companies such as Care+Wear, Kumar said, is collaborating with medical institutions, even if not selling product directly to them. Such associations cause consumers to trust products more, Kumar said.
What was still a tiny company with just two employees and two small-scale niche products would get its first major exposure in January a year ago, when Care+Wear launched its wrap-style hospital gowns with full backside coverage and openings for IV, telemetry and stethoscope access, for $45 each. While an estimated six million new PICC lines and at least 12 million ports are placed in patients each year, nearly 590 million patients are admitted to hospitals each year -- each needing a gown.
“It’s the first thing everyone gets and the first thing everyone complains about,” Razdan said, hoping to capitalize on both. Locally, the gowns are being used at the Philadelphia VA Medical Center.
Care+Wear now has nine employees and has raised $2.7 million in capital. Razdan would not disclose revenues, but said a portion of gross profit goes to charities, including the American Cancer Society, March of Dimes, and Stand Up 2 Cancer.
Learning from hospitals
The company debuted its NICU onesies in November. Maryann Malloy, nurse manager of the NICU at Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia for 15 years, said they are unique with front ties and snaps that provide many access points for the “lots of wires and leads” that are part of sustaining prematurely born babies. The outfits are designed so they can be taken off and put on without requiring that newborns be unplugged from medical devices or excessively handled.
“Wrestling them into an outfit is almost as traumatic as not dressing them,” Malloy said.
The hospital received them as part of a Christmas package of donations through Philadelphia-based Today Is a Good Day, which helps families through the NICU experience. Others were donated to Einstein in Norristown, CHOP, Jefferson Health’s Abington Hospital, Crozer-Chester Medical Center and Delaware County Memorial Hospital.
“Most of the moms took them home because they liked them so much,” Malloy said.
She’s "hoping for more” — with improvements she suggested to Razdan last week. She told him the fold-over foot coverings have to be modified because “your feet and your hands are not shaped the same.”
Temple’s Kumar contends that long-term success for health-care clothing companies will require incorporating wearable technology that, for instance, tracks and reports in real time heart rate. Care+Wear has no immediate plans for that.
“Currently, the reaction from hospitals is that they don’t know what to do with the IT, and that they wouldn’t be able to buy if we had it in there,” Razdan said. “It appears right now they don’t have that urgent need.”