June 1, 2021
Healthcare providers are tasked with taking care of everyone else. But who takes care of the healthcare providers? Barco Uniforms. Throughout its 94-year history, Barco Uniforms has been a leading innovator in healthcare apparel, designing and manufacturing products that set the bar on quality, comfort and performance.
The company’s three global brands – Barco, Grey’s Anatomy and SKECHERS™ – are known throughout the industry for their fabrics, fit and innovation. From the healthcare providers on the front lines wearing Barco’s scrubs while caring for patients, to TV and film actors donning these same products while portraying doctors and nurses, Barco is recognized by many for having the “best scrubs in the business.”
With COVID-19 shining the spotlight on the vital role on healthcare professionals, we asked Barco’s Global Vice President Design and Merchandising Caroline Amrikhas to tell us how the company has served its customers and end users during the pandemic. While many apparel companies dialed back innovation over the past year, Barco has gone full-force into the marketplace, delivering more product than ever before in its history.
Ensuring their products “honor healthcare providers” is a filter that the Barco team uses when designing its apparel, which means only producing items that meet rigorous standards. While this has always been the case, the value of healthcare providers has been heightened by their relentless work to care for patients during the pandemic.
“We are honoring them when we put something out there that we love and think they will love,” said Amrikhas.
“You will never see scratchy or stiff scrubs with the Barco name on them. These individuals have done so much for our communities and society. We approach innovation through the lens of what is right for the healthcare providers, including what works for them when they are now working 14+ hour days.”
Barco leverages a panel of nurses to solicit feedback on its products, and in turn, uses these insights to drive further innovation. Recognizing how more males have been entering the previously female dominated healthcare profession, the company designs scrubs specifically for the sexes, working with male and female models to produce customized fits.
“We are the first company to address the specific needs of men in the healthcare field by hiring male designers and male models so that our fits are male focused,” said Amrikhas. “Other scrub companies just size female designed scrubs to fit the male body or produce unisex designs. This is another one of those special things about Barco that differentiates us from the competition and I’m really proud of that.”
Another way that Barco has addressed the needs of healthcare providers is to incorporate antimicrobial technology into its apparel as a way to provide superior, long-lasting and sustainable protection of garments against microbes. As Amrikhas explains, antimicrobial technology has been “on everybody’s radar” as the world has been forced to address the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic.
To date, Barco has applied antimicrobials to its Barco One and Barco Wellness apparel lines. It will soon be further expanding this feature into its Grey’s Anatomy brand products.
“We are really excited about this offering,” said Amrikhas. “I definitely think there is a future for more types of protection, and we are looking forward to that.”
As a result of the pandemic and healthcare providers having to change their scrubs multiple times per day (e.g., before and after each patient), Barco developed a new Basics line for frontline workers. While the apparel in this line is constructed of high quality, poly-cotton fabric with a mechanical stretch and sateen finish, it is offered at a lower price point than Barco’s other product lines to accommodate the high volume of scrubs required on a daily basis.
Amrikhas says this is yet another example of the drive for innovation that Barco has maintained throughout the pandemic. The shift to working from home, while initially seen as a drawback, has turned out to be a positive for the company.
“When COVID became a global phenomenon Barco, like most companies, had to figure out how to operate outside of the office,” she said. “We pivoted from a technology standpoint to working on laptops from home and connecting via Zoom. Surprisingly this has strengthened our culture because it has made it easier for our employees to attend meetings. Where other apparel companies paused and stopped developing newness, we went full force ahead.”
Barco has been an innovator in sustainable apparel solutions as well, taking steps to minimize its impact on the environment through the use of pre-and-post-consumer based materials. Every top and bottom in the company’s SKECHERS™ brand was produced with the equivalent of 10 recycled plastic water bottles, another industry first according to Amrikhas.
Barco has engaged with a company in Japan that collects bottles washed up on shore, which are processed by a mill into a “confetti” that goes into the pulp of a filament. The filament is spun into thread that is woven into fabric. The fabric is then cut into garments.
“In our SKECHERS™ line we have reused over 500,000 plastic water bottles to date,” said Amrikhas. “We are also working on another product that is a closed loop process made with both pre-and-post-consumer waste. There are many different ways to address recycling and sustainability. There is no single way that will solve all of our problems so we must take multiple avenues.”
Amrikhas is also working on a sustainable path for Barco as a company, starting from product concept and out through the supply chain.
When envisioning scrubs, the first thing that comes to mind is unlikely fashion, but Barco has prioritized design innovation from the very beginning. According to Amrikhas, the company’s founder, Kenneth Donnor, was the first to bring fashion to healthcare apparel, hiring fashion icons such as Cheryl Tiegs to model its products. This approach continues today under Donnor’s son Michael with Barco’s team of apparel designers who have all worked in the fashion industry.
“We make everything in our Gardena, Calif. headquarters where our designers work with pattern makers, drape the apparel and fit it multiple times on live models until we absolutely love the product,” said Amrikhas. “This is quite different from how most other healthcare apparel companies work where they use a paper packet they send overseas, fit the garment a couple of times then sign off on it.”
In fact, Barco’s apparel is so well designed that the company is often approached by the entertainment industry for scrubs to costume actors and actresses who play healthcare workers on TV and in film. Barco’s Grey’s Anatomy apparel line was a result of a branding partnership with ABC/Disney.
“We haven’t actively sought out TV shows and films, rather they come to us because of our reputation,” noted Amrikhas. “Our fabrics are unique. For example, our Grey’s Anatomy line is constructed of a first-of-its-kind poly-rayon blend. Most of what you see on the market is a result of other companies adopting product that we have innovated. People expect us to be the leader.”
Barco has primarily been a word of mouth company over the past 90+ years, growing its business through its reputation and referrals. With the recent hiring of a new chief marketing officer, Barco is embarking on a new chapter in its history, one where it will proactively promote its products to retailers and end users.
A major shift in the company’s strategy is the planned launch of a direct to consumer website that will enable healthcare providers to purchase scrubs online directly from Barco.
“There are still a lot of people who haven’t heard about Barco. Even though it has been around 90+ years, it is very much a bespoke company,” Amrikhas commented.
“I am excited that we have a new chief marketing officer who will help us tell our story so that all of the healthcare providers out there know who we are and can access our products. Direct to consumer will be game changing because we will be getting real time feedback from the people who are wearing our apparel.”
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