STORIES
November 18, 2021

Scrubs, But Make it Fashion - Meet Dr. Neela, Jaanuu’s Founder

Scrubs, But Make it Fashion - Meet Dr. Neela, Jaanuu’s Founder

In a recent Nurse Alice podcast interview, Nurse Alice sat down to speak with Neela Sethi Young, M.D, 44, a wife, mother of two, and pediatrician and co-founder of Jaanuu Scrubs, which is the only physician-founded and led scrub brand in the healthcare apparel industry. (They’re also incredibly comfortable and functional for nurses of all sizes, as tested by real nurses for Nurse.org!)

The name, Jaanuu, is the Hindu word for “life” and pays homage to Dr. Neela’s family as a first-generation Indian family with immigrant parents. (My parents used to call us “my jaanuus,” Dr. Neela said, in a heart-melting moment.)

And just like that inspirational message, the rest of Nurse Alice’s conversation with Dr. Neela was inspiring, fashionable (obviously), and one that shed an empowering light on the future of women in all faces of healthcare, from medical professionals providing care to clothing. Here’s what the two chatted about.

Listen to Dr. Neela on The Ask Nurse Alice Podcast! Listen now on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or your favorite podcast platforms.

Watch the interview with Dr. Neela and Nurse Alice on YouTube!

YouTube Video

“I Saw a Need for More”

Dr. Neela told Nurse Alice that she first decided to found her company, Jaanuu Scrubs, because she saw a gap in how women were included in the healthcare sphere.

“I started the company because there was a space for it,” she said. “I was a young female, feeling underrepresented in the medical community and I thought there was a need for more.”

Dr. Neela actually founded the company with her brother, Sean Sethi (a fact Nurse Alice especially found amusing, as those of us with brothers can attest!) and she explained that much of the inspiration for the company came for their mother, who moved to the U.S. from India.

“My biggest role model and idol for all things fashion is my mother,” Dr. Neela explained. “She came from a place where women didn't really have the ability to express themselves.” However, when she moved to the U.S. in the 70s, Dr. Neela said her mom “just jumped right in” to the fashion culture at the time, with everything from platform heels and leopard print dresses. Her mom encouraged her children to experiment with fashion as well, allowing them to express themselves with the clothes they wore and letting them have fun by shopping at vintage stores for unique clothing.

“Fashion was a really big part of my life ever since I was a child,” Dr. Neela added. “And that was just sort of the start of me, at a very young age, seeing how fashion can be so empowering to people and can really bring people together.”

Sex and the City, Scrub-Style

Dr. Neela took that love of fashion to the hospital floors. Telling Nurse Alice that she always harbored a love of Carrie Bradshaw’s fashion sense in “Sex and the City,” a show that got her through her undergrad and med school, getting her first pair of scrubs handed to her—completely unisex and straight from a vending machine—was “extremely offending.”

“That was just so demeaning to me,” Dr. Neela added. “To think that I was here to sort of provide joy and give care to people and it was then yet to me made to feel so small and so weak...I didn't think that was right.”

The doctor immediately began brainstorming ways to make her own scrubs and luckily for her, had a best friend who also happened to be a seamstress. Her friend created her a custom pair of scrubs—complete with a giant ‘N’ monogrammed on the chest, ala Carrie Bradshaw with the giant flower--and before she knew it, Dr. Neela was the talk of the hospital halls.

“I immediately knew there was something there because I would get stopped in the halls you know, once or twice a day and people would ask, ‘Where do you get those?’’ she remembered. “And I thought, ‘Okay, this is something.’”

Better Scrubs = Better Care

Both Nurse Alice and Dr. Neela touched on how, even though it might seem like a “small” thing, having well-made scrubs that both look and feel good makes a difference, especially for healthcare providers who are constantly told not to worry about themselves. But the truth is, caring about others begins with caring for yourself.

“It's actually proven over and over again,” Dr. Neela said. “If you feel empowered, and you are confident in the way you look, you are actually going to have a better day; you are going to give better care and that energy.”

“Give me a nice set of scrubs and a cute pair of tennies and a great-fitting white coat and I am ready to conquer the world,” she added.

Additionally, of course, Jaanuu’s scrubs are not just fashionable and designed to fit well, but they’re also functional for the actual healthcare professionals wearing them. For instance, Dr. Neela explained how she made sure all of the line’s scrubs are moisture-wicking, anti-microbial, and wrinkle-resistant. “Because nobody has time to iron their scrubs in the morning, let's be honest,” she laughed.

The fact that Dr. Neela still actively works as a physician also helps ensure the scrubs are designed for actual working healthcare professionals. She knows the key details, like where stethoscopes are actually held, which pocket the penlight goes in, and the fact that pockets need to be iPhone-sized.

Empowering Entrepreneur

Dr. Neela and Nurse Alice also discussed some of the challenges Dr. Neela faced adding business owner and entrepreneur to her resume.

“I always joke with my daughter, who’s 12, and say, ‘Haters gonna hate,” Dr. Neela laughed. “And they are...but I really try to put negative thoughts and negative people on mute.”

She also noted how she uses her family history of her parents  immigrating to America as a prime example of the power of what hard work and a belief in yourself can do. Her mother barely spoke the language and went on to become a kindergarten teacher for almost 30 years while her father came to the country with $10 and a greyhound bus ticket and put himself through college.

“They never questioned themselves,” she pointed out. “And I use that as a stepping stone to empower myself. I've spent the last two decades surrounding myself with people who are like me—who dream big and who are empowered and who want more.”

Dr. Neela also gave praise and recognized her brother, the company’s co-founder, noting that “none of this would be possible without him.” He graduated with an MBA and was well-versed in the finance world, while looking for a job that would give back more to the world. “He was the catalyst that made it happen,” she said. “I couldn’t be here without him.”

Giving Life

As we mentioned, the name for Dr. Neela’s company, Jaanuu, comes from the Hindu name for “life,” and she explained how she has chosen to not only structure her company in a way to give life to nurses and healthcare professionals in a practical way, but in literal ways as well. It’s meant to honor and celebrate those that put everyone else before themselves.

“We are on a mission to help healthcare professionals live their best life, and also breathe life into the ill and into the underserved and to try to make life to maximize life, because we all know and I think, especially in the medical community, we don't have that much time on this planet. And how many bad diagnoses have we seen? And how many early deaths have we seen and how much trauma have we been through where we realize how precious life is? So this was sort of our way to say, ‘let's try and live our best life and help each other to live our best life.’ And that's really where it comes back to empowering the healthcare professional.”

Because of this, and having suffered her own mental health struggles as a healthcare professional, Jaanuu is incorporating more self-care and frank talk about mental health as well. From conversations on their social media (night shift who never gets the party food, she sees you) to sharing mental health care tips to an upcoming loungewear line (more rest!), Jaanuu is dedicated to becoming an advocate for healthcare professionals to care for their mental health.

“I feel like I'm on a personal mission to use my voice, not just to make people feel good, but to care for them from the inside out and really show the world that we have been kind of not taken care of. And people have taken healthcare professionals for granted—nurses especially.”

Do Good—And Look Good Doing It

In the end, with their line and their mental health advocacy, the purpose of Jaanuu is to both empower and equip healthcare professionals both in and out of the hospital. Nurses can provide so much good to the world, and thanks to Jaanuu’s scrubs, they can also look good while doing it--and feel good by learning how to care for themselves just as well as they care for their patients.

And Dr. Neela encouraged nurses and future nurses everywhere to use her message as inspiration to follow their own dreams.

“Whether you’re a nursing student or a nurse or dreaming of becoming a healthcare professional, your dreams are yours,” she said. “If you have that negative voice, push through it. Believe in and empower yourself because if someone had told the young me when I got those scrubs out of a vending machine that I would have an entire line of scrubs with men's and plus sizes and that we would be all about representation and be tackling mental health issues and get through a global pandemic I would never have believed it.”

“But here I am.” 

If you have any idea for Jaanuu, whether it’s a way to help nurses better through the scrubs of mental health initiatives, Dr. Neela also made a special note to encourage nurses to reach out to the company on social media or send her a DM on Instagram. All messages are read and she says they value all input.

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