Trina Spear co-founded FIGS to reinvent scrubs for medical professionals. Here’s how she did it.
7 min read
One Monday morning in June 2012, Trina Spear booked a transnational flight with four days’ notice and no regrets.
Hours earlier, she’d spoken to Heather Hasson for the first time over the phone about Hasson’s business idea, born from her quest to help a friend find more flattering work clothes.
Companies like Lululemon, Under Armour and Nike were focused on athletes, argued Hasson, but no one was catering to medical professionals. That’s why Hasson created FIGS, a direct-to-consumer line of fitted, flattering and comfortable scrubs.
A mutual friend had tipped off Spear, who worked on Wall Street at the time, about Hasson’s vision for FIGS. The Los Angeles-based company was still in its early stages, and Spears wanted to have a hand in its growth. After coordinating on Spear’s flight to Los Angeles, the two women played tennis (Hasson was impressed that Spears won), discussed what Hasson had created and made a game plan.
Over the following months, Spears flew out to L.A. every few weekends, and the co-founders regularly drove to hospital parking lots and sold scrubs out of Hasson’s car. They targeted times like 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., when doctors and nurses changed shifts.
“It was really early stages, but we were swiping credit cards on the side of a road outside of an emergency room,” Spears said in an interview with Entrepreneur. “That was really what gave me the confidence to leave Blackstone, to leave Wall Street, and take a rest.”
In January 2013, about seven months after her first phone call with Hasson, Spears took the leap — leaving her Wall Street job and New York to commit to FIGS full-time in L.A. Since then, the company has grown by leaps and bounds — snagging the fourth-largest funding round for a female-founded company in 2017. According to a FIGS representative, the company brought in $100 million in revenue last year.
Related: 98 Percent of VC Funding Goes to Men. Can Women Entrepreneurs Change a Sexist System?
In the interview, Spear offered advice for breaking into a stubborn industry and her story of the worst obstacle FIGS has overcome to date.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What’s your advice for breaking into a traditionally non-wavering industry?
It’s important to be curious. Look around and ask, “Why?” When we started out, it was this obvious thing: Medical professionals wear scrubs, and this is the way scrubs are. It was a given that everyone took at face value. But why were they wearing such horrible scrubs? Why were they made of cotton? Why were they going into these stores and strip malls where there would be a rack of black, a rack of navy and a rack of white? Why did they have to have a V-neck?
It was that curiosity that enabled us to say, “Wait a second — this doesn’t make sense, and these people deserve something better.” You see that around the world with disruptive companies: It’s about looking around at something and saying, “This doesn’t make sense to me, and it probably doesn’t make sense to somebody else, so why not come up with a better solution?”
Creating and manufacturing a better product was also key: a product that’s antimicrobial, wrinkle-resistant and stain-repellent, with a four-way stretch-and-yoga waistband that looks good, that’s designed well. You can’t be an apparel company in the 21st century if you don’t have a product that people love and feel good in, and … helps them perform in their jobs.
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Tell us what you wish you’d known starting out.
At the heart of fund-raising is this ability to present an opportunity and tell a story — why something should exist but does not exist. People get caught up in this intimidating world of investors and fundraising and series A, B, C, D, and it is intimidating, but if you just boil it down to sitting across the table from somebody and telling a story about why something should exist, it does get a lot easier. That’s number one.
Number two is being resilient and persistent. We got hundreds of nos before we got that first yes. It’s about being able to push forward and not look back — I always say “Take the rearview mirror off your car” in terms of building a company, bringing on investors and raising money. Move forward until you get that yes, until you cross that milestone.
What’s the worst moment that stands out to you from building your business, and how did you turn it around?
Early on, we had a huge issue with our production, where we swapped the inseams of our pants, so our men’s pant had a women’s inseam. And that’s the distance between the top of the pant and… well, you get it.
We only realized it after getting a number of emails from our male customers with “My Package” as the subject line. It’s funny now, but at the time, it was devastating. It was our first production run. We’d put all of our money into this company. I had liquidated my 401(k). So, to have this happen during our first production run was demoralizing. The total loss to the company was $100,000, which, at the time, was so much money.
We didn’t know if we would recover. We ended up donating a bunch of units that were on the smaller end from an in-seam perspective, but it really taught us a lot about production, about quality control and about ensuring that you know there’re multiple stages of quality control. At this point, we have quality control at our fabrication stage, at our cut-and-sew, before it leaves the port, at our warehouse — every T is crossed, every I is dotted. I’m almost happy in a way that it happened so early on because it ensured that nothing like that will ever happen again. Plus, it’s a great story to tell.
Do you have any words of wisdom for women entrepreneurs specifically, based on your own experience?
Given my conversations with male founders, I do believe it’s easier as a man. But as a female entrepreneur, you can’t think about that. You can’t use that in any way as a reason for why you may or may not be successful — at fund-raising or at anything in life. So my advice is to put that aside because you can always learn something from a meeting, whether someone is biased against you or not.
I learned to use specific nuggets and negative comments from a conversation as fuel to improve — to become more familiar with my numbers, to hone a pitch, to redo a deck. I told myself I had to be that much better so I could win and accomplish all the things I want to accomplish. That’s what enables you to be successful — not to come out of a meeting and say, “Well, he was sexist, and he doesn’t believe in me because I’m a woman.” The more you do that, I promise you, the less successful you’ll be.
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Over the next five years, where do you see the company headed?
We’re very focused on the medical community, and we’ve been able to move beyond only scrubs into what we call lifestyle products: compression socks, vests, fleeces, jogger pants and more. We thought about outfitting medical professionals head to toe and thought: What are they wearing to work, at work and from work?
It’s opened up this whole new world for us. We’re expanding into Canada later this year, and within the next five years, we plan to be in every country around the world.