A doc with a flair for design launches a line of sophisticated scrubs.
A few years out of residency, Olga Lemberg MD’08 was working an overnight shift. She entered a patient’s room, introduced herself as the supervising physician, and went through her regular patient care routine. When she finished, a family member asked, “So do you know when the doctor will be stopping by? We have some questions for them.”
This is not a unique scenario. A study published in the Journal of Women’s Health found that women physicians are less likely to be addressed using their professional titles than their male colleagues, which may “amplify isolation, marginalization, and professional discomfiture expressed by women” in medicine.
More than that, for patients, “staff often blurs together from the patient’s point of view—it can be tough to tell who does what just by looking at how a person is dressed,” Lemberg says. Not to mention she just didn’t like the pajama style of scrubs.
And so Fabled was born. In July, Lemberg launched her line of fashionable scrubs that allow women physicians to not only express their personal style, but also confer an appearance of authority.
Hailed as the “Everlane of scrubs” by Racked, Vox Media’s style and shopping site, Fabled’s togs are slim-fitting and chic, not baggy and shapeless. They’re functional, too: Lemberg made sure physicians can carry everything they need, with loops and deep pockets for easy storage of keys, badges, pens, and notepads.
The two-year design process was challenging, she says. She went through dozens of prototypes before landing on a design that was just right. Sourcing fabric took over a year, because it “had to launder easily and be resistant to wrinkling, while at the same time being soft and drape well,” she says.
Trying to build a business while working as both a hospitalist and urgent care pediatrician in the Bay Area was no easy feat. A lot of late nights went into Fabled: she’d come home after a day shift and spend all night working on her designs. She says her husband joked, “You wake up thinking about scrubs and go to bed thinking about scrubs!” (Since she’s something of an expert at juggling multiple interests, Lemberg also writes a blog about work-life balance for health professionals.)
While Lemberg doesn’t have a background in business, her parents were both entrepreneurs and she credits her resourcefulness and work ethic to them. As for design, it wasn’t as much of a leap as it seems; design and medicine both require a unique and creative approach to problem solving, she says.
“A physician often faces missing information, equivocal results, or frankly the unpredictability of the human body due to its complex, dynamic nature,” she says. Design also requires this nonlinear thinking. It can involve “understanding a problem from various perspectives in order to gain new insights, testing multiple possible solutions at once, or even just allowing yourself to see a solution you weren’t expecting to see.”
Fabled is quickly gaining traction. After some prominent features in magazines like Elle Australia, demand for the designer scrubs is growing, Lemberg says. She hopes to offer more colors this spring, and add new styles by next year.
“Some of the most memorable feedback I receive revolves around customers telling me how often their patients and their patients’ families compliment them on their scrubs,” Lemberg says. “The scrubs bring my customers joy, boost morale, and give them confidence. There’s not much more rewarding than that as a designer.”