Earlier this month, KNYA Med, a Mumbai-based medical apparel venture, launched their line of EcoFlex scrub suits. These are suits made of recycled polyester for medical professionals.
Speaking to The Better India, Vanshika Kaji (27), a fourth generation textile entrepreneur and co-founder of KNYA Med, says, “Our EcoFlex Technology uses 100% recycled polyester made from PET bottles found in ocean waste. It has one of the lowest carbon footprints, and is made from a traceable manufacturing process that can be validated with a Global Recycling Standard (GRS) certification. With the launch of EcoFlex scrubs, the aim is to join the movement for a better tomorrow. I feel you have to start somewhere, because every act has an impact on the environment and every choice has a consequence.”
In the last year and a half since the advent of the pandemic, KNYA Med emerged as one of the foremost suppliers of medical scrub suits, lab coats, face masks, compression socks and scrub caps to more than 500 medical institutions across 650 cities from around the country, the founders say.
“We are aiming to be the Nike of medical apparel in India. When Phil Knight started Nike in the 1970s, it was a community to celebrate runners, giving them comfortable shoes to wear. In some sense, this is what we are starting out to do for medical professionals. There are 8 million medical professionals in India who buy several scrubs a year. Currently, medical apparel is deeply fragmented and there has been no product/distribution innovation for over 50 years. We feel there is an opportunity to supply fashionable, comfortable, and scientifically backed apparel to these superheroes through D2C and direct to hospitals/clinics channels,” Abhijeet Kaji (30), co-founder of KNYA Med, and husband to Vanshika, tells The Better India.
(Image above of Abhijeet and Vanshika Kaji on the left and a doctor wearing KNYA Med scrub suits on the right.)
To support medical professionals
Going by their respective career trajectories and landmark global events, it seemed inevitable that Abhijeet and Vanshika would one day venture into making apparel wear.
Born and raised in Delhi, Vanshika studied fashion technology from LaSalle College of The Arts, Singapore before working as a merchandiser at Biba, an Indian fashion brand for women. Meanwhile, Abhijeet is Mumbai born and bred, who obtained an engineering degree from the University of Pennsylvania and worked as chief of staff at Reliance Industries before completing his MBA from Stanford Graduate School of Business.
Following his stint at Stanford, he would go on to work as an investor at global venture capital giant Warburg Pincus and become a founding member of Mumbai-based Filter Capital. Meanwhile, Vanshika was already running her first startup KNYA, a venture making workwear for women.
“Supporting women in the workplace was an exciting endeavour, but Vanshika needed a change in mission. Following our marriage in 2019, she moved from Delhi to Mumbai to live with me, and was running her startup when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. That inspired a change in mission. The natural step early on was to make personal protective equipment (PPE) kits for medical professionals, which completely changed the path of the startup. In March 2020, she even changed the name of the venture to KNYA Med. We were among the first on the scene to take up the task of manufacturing PPE kits, working in close quarters with Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC)-run hospitals,” recalls Abhijeet.
The directive from the Maharashtra government was clear to ventures like KNYA Med. They could only engage in business with private hospitals once they had supplied enough PPE kits to government-run hospitals. Within the next four or five months, as they began reaching their targets, they also began developing relationships with large private hospitals like Narayana Health, HN Reliance Foundation Hospital, Jaslok Hospital, SevenHills Hospital, Fortis, etc, he notes.
“Early on, making PPE kits was really challenging because there were curbs on the number of workers present during the manufacturing process, logistical issues surrounding lockdowns, figuring out how to make this new product, and obtaining the raw materials for it, etc. Vanshika, however, quickly understood this product, the fabrics required to make it and the process of approval from the government, etc. About 5-6 months down the line, I was supporting her in an advisory position while also working at Filter Capital,” he says.
Abhijeet decided to leave the venture capital firm and join KNYA Med full time in September 2020. He says his vision went beyond making PPE kits to changing the medical apparel wear industry in India, which he believes has stagnated.
“COVID has really made us realise the important work our frontline medical professionals do. Our objective at KNYA Med has been very clear from the beginning. We will build a business to support medical professionals above and beyond the current pandemic. It was sometime around September 2020 when the real KNYA Med was born. Until the first half of 2021, we dedicated ourselves to making PPE kits for medical professionals, worked on a lot of B2B medical uniforms like scrub suits, lab coats, linens for hospitals, etc. Somewhere along the line, however, we realised that we needed to build a brand around it. People working in this industry really can aspire to wear cool and comfortable apparel as well,” says Vanshika.
That’s when knyamed.com came into existence, making products for D2C. They want medical professionals to look and feel their best, Abhijeet says.
“It’s our duty to provide products that are backed by real science and technology. We need consistency, laboratory-tested fabric and products that fit the body and help them perform at an optimal level,” he notes. “When it comes to performing life and death surgeries, it’s all about small margins. If in our own way, we can help doctors feel comfortable in their uniforms, then why not? Our products are lab tested by the Bombay Textile Research Association (BTRA).”
Fast forward to today, and KNYA Med has impacted lakhs of medical professionals, supplying medical uniforms to 650 cities through their website and Amazon alone, claims Abhijeet.
“Today, we design and develop medical scrub suits, lab coats, masks, compression socks and scrub caps, but have about 160 SKUs(stock-keeping units) live on our website. Although we make five kinds of products, there are a lot of variations for nurses, brothers, radiology technicians, home care specialists, surgeons, etc. Within surgery, you have different kinds of surgeons as well, and we are making products specific to their requirements too,” she says.
For example, KNYA Med has three types of men’s scrub suits across 7-8 colours and seven different sizes. Depending on the kind of specialisation or whether it’s for an experienced surgeon or a medical school student, the venture employs design and fabric nuances to fit their respective requirements in apparel wear. For example, an experienced surgeon may need nine pockets in their scrub suits for their instruments, but a medical school student does not.
“We designed and developed the EcoFlex taking into consideration that all businesses in the 21st century have to take ownership of the environment today. We are creating a product which is good for the environment, although our first priority here is the medical professionals we serve. We are working in very close partnership with mills across India, primarily in Gujarat, to manufacture these scrubs. It’s our proprietary design,” says Abhijeet.
And why is it environmentally friendly? Vanshika says that recycled polyester requires significantly less energy than virgin polyester, while emitting fewer greenhouse gases per square metre of fabric. Alongside, the material is also free from harmful chemicals like alkylphenol ethoxylates (APEO), which are non-ionic surfactants used as detergents in the textile industry. These APEOs are toxic to aquatic life, she says.
She adds, “EcoFlex has been launched after six months of intensive research about fabric technology and functional design. Key attributes include four-way stretch of ease of movement; in both directions, crosswise and lengthwise. Let’s not forget that doctors work for 16-18 hours every day. It’s also anti-wrinkle for durability. It’s also autoclavable in hospitals – it supports the harsh laundry process that hospitals follow to sterilise scrubs before entering the OT. Lastly, it has a functional design to support the doctor’s needs. We’ve added small features like a hidden phone pocket inside a pocket, so that they have a secure place to hold their belongings,” she explains.
Humanising doctors, and a sense of kinship
Besides large hospital chains, KNYA Med also supplies their products to large standalone hospitals, smaller nursing homes, and more. A lot of their rapid expansion, Abhijeet argues, is thanks to the magic of last mile logistics in India today and the quality of their products.
“Thanks to the platforms and deep logistics networks that have been created, I can sit in Mumbai, have warehouses in Bengaluru, Delhi, Kolkata and Chennai and supply to millions of pincodes across the country without issue. Also, when we deal with hospitals, clinics or medical institutions there isn’t much haggling for cheaper prices. We stand by the high quality of our products made by professionals that are both comfortable and lab-tested, and thus a lot of the demand comes from doctors themselves,” says Abhijeet.
“We also started a blog called Capes of India (A Humans of New York for medical professionals). It’s a way for us to humanise medical professionals. Listening to their stories has helped us understand what medical professionals go through. I have done almost 100 interviews with them and in fact, a lot of them even write to us about their stories. It’s a truly inspiring space, and allows us to feel genuinely invested in their lives and struggles. In many ways, this sense of kinship spills over into how we design our products as well,” he adds.
For more information, you can visit KNYA Med’s website.
(Edited by Divya Sethu)