Chaitenya Razdan and Susan Jones co-founded Care + Wear in 2014 after witnessing friends and family undergoing chemotherapy who had resorted to using tube socks as makeshift covers for their PICC lines. “We felt that this was quite honestly not an acceptable or dignifying solution and wanted to do our part to help our loved ones,” Razdan says, explaining the motivation behind their line of “healthwear,” which merges fashion with function and includes everything from specially designed shirts for chest ports to a more comfortable, dare I even say, fashionable, hospital gown. Read our conversation below to learn more:
Katie Couric: Tell us what gave you the idea for Care+Wear. When did it become clear to you that there was a real need for this sort of clothing?
Chaitenya Razdan: My co-founder, Susan Jones, and I created Care+Wear after having friends and family diagnosed with cancer and told to wear tube socks over their PICC lines for the entire duration of their treatments. We felt that this was quite honestly not an acceptable or dignifying solution and wanted to do our part to help our loved ones. When we founded the company, Susan, who had lost her father to cancer, was working in the fashion industry and saw firsthand the lack of solutions available to patients undergoing cancer treatment. Together, we felt there was an incredible need to build a brand focused on enabling people to live their lives – regardless of whether you’re facing cancer, diabetes, a broken bone, tennis elbow, living with cerebral palsy or experiencing an unexpected ailment.
We soon realized there were no existing products that married the needs of patients, clinicians and designers, and created Care+Wear to help address the growing need to bring innovation and design to the healthcare industry.
Today, as the leading provider of innovative healthwear, we create fashionable, functional, and medically compliant products.
Why do you think something as simple as a hospital gown hasn’t been adapted over the years to be more appealing or at least more functional?
In a world where new drugs and technologies to improve healthcare are launched every day, there is a surprising lack of innovative clothing solutions. Current products provided in hospitals are focused on function only and not on how they make patients feel. The current focus of gowns is predominantly on whether or not they can withstand the commercial laundry process as well as cost, which unfortunately, is also part of the overall equation.
We are, however, starting to see a substantial shift with more focus on the overall patient experience and are thrilled to be an integral part of this exciting evolution. Today, patient satisfaction scores directly impact hospital reimbursement which has led to an increased interest in utilizing our patient gowns which do not expose one’s backside.
Created in conjunction with Parsons School of Design, we developed a comfortable all-in-one solution that provides dignity and comfort to the patient while also meeting the required clinical needs. Our intention is to help enable patients to feel more comfortable and help hospitals improve the overall patient experience.
What specifically is your company working on to help cancer patients?
Directly influenced by what our loved ones were experiencing from diagnosis through treatment made a significant impact on why we started Care+Wear. For this reason, each of our products goes through a comprehensive design thinking process to collaborate with patients, clinicians and designers to ensure leading edge products that both patients and clinicians actually want to use.
Some of the products we have developed include an ultra-soft, antimicrobial PICC line cover, chest access shirts, a port-access hoodie in collaboration with Oscar de la Renta and most recently, a new recovery bra designed for those who have undergone mastectomies and reconstructive surgeries.
We soon realized through our continued engagement and connection with the cancer community that we could make an even bigger impact, which has led to partnering with foundations such as Stand Up 2 Cancer and the American Cancer Society. Today, a significant portion of our profit goes back to our foundation partners. We have also been fortunate to partner with sports leagues including Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Association.
What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced in the healthcare world in terms of their willingness to accept new ideas like yours?
Historically, any changes that take place within the healthcare industry tend to happen slowly with many steps required to get products into the hospital. What can be challenging is that each facility has its own way of doing things – ranging from protocol to the amount of people that need to sign off on any product changes and those who ultimately determine what kind of impact those changes will make overall. Taking a step back, the time it takes to break in absolutely makes sense. That being said, over the last five years, we have been very fortunate to work with some of the world’s leading hospital systems including the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, Hospital Corporation of America, University of Virginia, Mayo Clinic, NYU Langone and more. By following our comprehensive design thinking approach and bringing clinicians and patients into the room from the start (and thus having the hospitals helping design our innovation), we are able to get the required buy-in and excitement to expedite getting our products into the hospital. And since we also sell our products direct to consumer, we have seen hospitals more willing to move quickly as so many of their patients are already buying our products directly from us.
Have you had very much interaction with your customers? What has surprised or touched you the most about their reaction and experience with your clothing?
Absolutely. We see our customers as an extension of the Care+Wear family. To that end, each member of our team is both trained and well-versed in customer care. Similar to how Google still claims that Gmail is a Beta version 15 years in, we are constantly utilizing and incorporating customer feedback to help continually iterate our products. This, along with connecting with our consumers is fundamental to our company’s DNA. In fact, every member of our team does customer service shifts and we see this as a privilege and honor rather than part of a job.
In addition to our ongoing engagement with customers, specific experiences that stand out include a young woman being able to match the color of her PICC Line cover to the color of her prom dress (she even sent us a photo!) and shared how important that detail was to her. Another example is how a collegiate runner—who was initially told that her running career was over as she would not be able to race with a PICC line—was then able to do so after using one of our PICC Line covers, holding the PICC line in place without disruption. As we have grown (both products and scale), we continue to be both touched and blown away by the personal impact our products have made and continue to make on our customers all over the globe. We want to continue to make more products that enable us to help even more people!
People with disabilities and visible signs of illness are so often marginalized…how do you think your products are helping to make people feel less stigmatized?
Our overall goal is to create positive and effective healing experiences for people everywhere regardless of what they may be going through. Our unique comprehensive approach of marrying clinicians, patients and design into an all-encompassing set of products that bring fashion and function together is key to making our customers feel comfortable.
The apparel and accessories we create are designed to look like any other standard piece of clothing in your closet. They are not meant to stand out in any way other than their functionality and to help provide both dignity and comfort in a time of need. Oftentimes when people see the products they do not even realize that a person is wearing a “special” article of clothing as we continue to make products that help people feel more like themselves without drawing special attention to it.
What’s next for you and for Care+Wear?
Over the past five years, Care+Wear has launched a number of innovative products designed to help people feel like themselves. We have made an initial impact on the healthcare fashion industry (what we call “healthwear”) with our antimicrobial PICC line covers, chest access shirts, patient gowns in collaboration with Parsons School of Design, hoodies in collaboration with Oscar de la Renta, mobility gloves with Lucy Jones, NICU one-pieces with March of Dimes, and a Recovery Bra for post-reconstructive surgery. At this stage, we are focused on bringing awareness to our existing products to both consumers and hospitals as well as continuing to work on developing other game-changing products that allow us to combine fashion and function into an innovative healthwear offering.
The overarching goal of Care+Wear is to continue to provide solutions to those in need and help people everywhere and we’re excited to continue to expand our breadth and scope to be able to help even more people around the world get back to feeling like themselves.
Katie: Thanks so much, Chaitenya!