A federal judge in Los Angeles is set to decide whether medical apparel maker Figs must stop using several key marketing claims – the second time in two months the company has run into trouble for its marketing efforts.
Rival scrubs maker Strategic Partners is asking the judge to stop Figs from making marketing claims that its scrubs are antimicrobial and that they kill 66% of hospital-acquired infections, according to a report.
Strategic, doing business as Careismatic Brands, claims in court papers that the marketing claims are false, according to the report in Women’s Wear Daily.
Strategic also claimed a third marketing effort by Figs, that it donates a pair of scrubs to health-care providers in need for every pair sold, was not true, according to WWD. Figs “does not and never did” donate a pair of scrubs for every set sold to health-care providers in need, although it claims on its web site to do so through a number of organizations, according to WWD.
“None of these claims are true or approved,” Strategic wrote in its motion, WWD reported. “Worse, Figs knows that it has no scientific testing to support its false claims, and that, therefore, these statements violate regulatory guidelines that other industry participants follow.”
“Figs has profited off of unsuspecting consumers who have been and continue to be deceived into believing that Figs scrubs possess special qualities,” the company went on, according to the report. “This court must put an end to Figs’ false health claims that have been repeated in advertisements, hang tags, press releases, interviews, blogs, social media posts, e-mails, web sites, in broadcasts and more, and Figs’ ongoing efforts to conceal the truth about its scrubs from its consumers.”
The company further claims that, despite an expectation that cofounders and co-chief executive officers Trina Spear and Heather Hasson are set to be replaced in their leadership roles, “that does nothing to remedy the harm already caused by its false claims,” WWD reported, citing court papers.
Strategic, WWD reported, is asking that Figs be required to make “corrective disclosures” around all of its allegedly false and misleading marketing by way of statements to its web site, press releases and direct e-mails.
A representative of Figs called the allegations “outrageous falsehoods” and dubbed the idea that the CEOs were set to be replaced a “fabricated claim,” according to the report. “We will be asking the court to impose sanctions against SPI and its counsel for this frivolous filing,” the spokesperson said. “[Strategic] has a history of engaging in such improper tactics against competitors to compensate for its own operational shortcomings.”
The spokesperson told WWD that the allegations in the court filing are “absurd” and “part of a malicious campaign by a competitor to harm Figs by misleading the public.” “We will prove in court that this was done for the improper purpose of both harming and harassing FIGS.”
Strategic’s push to end and correct FIGS’s purportedly problematic marketing comes not long after the fast-growing company faced an onslaught of social media backlash over short marketing videos it made and put online to show off some new styles. A model was shown reading “Medical Terminology for Dummies” with the book upside down, WWD reported. Hundreds of doctors and nurses, hailed as heroes during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, expressed their outrage online at the video using a negative stereotype of female doctors and medical professionals being less educated or incompetent.
Various other videos and advertising images were subsequently criticized, according to the report. The company admitted the book reading video was “disparaging” and vowed a number of changes.
Strategic and Figs are direct rivals in the medical apparel space, worth an estimated $10 billion, and the basis of the lawsuit is that Figs positioning its products and scrubs as scientifically superior, allegedly without scientific testing to back up those claims, has unfairly hurt Strategic’s business, WWD reported, citing the court filing. The company also claims that Figs cofounder and co-CEO Spear took confidential information about Strategic’s business while she was working on a financing deal for the company during her time at Blackstone Group, a private equity firm, and used it to launch Figs with Hasson.
As for the marketing claims, Strategic argued, according to WWD, that “Figs has no medical research studies, independent lab studies, or scientific data to support its claims regarding the health and safety of its scrubs.” Figs allegedly has not gotten clearance from the Food and Drug Administration for its marketing of its scrubs’ effectiveness, nor from the Environmental Protection Agency, which purportedly requires anything dubbed “antimicrobial” to be registered with the agency.
FIGS’s scrubs include a chemical called Silvadur, which maker DuPont says offers “antimicrobial technology” for apparel and textiles, according to the report. But Strategic said it put Figs scrubs through tests at a materials analysis lab, Microtrace, and found that the “antimicrobial coating on rayon fibers made up only 21 percent of the fabric composition of Figs scrubs, insufficient to offer any effective antimicrobial protection.”
It tested for other claims as well, like the scrubs’ ability to kill bacteria or repel liquids, which Strategic alleged were false, according to the report. Strategic said Figs has so far produced no documents during discovery, when parties in a lawsuit exchange requested information, to combat any of its findings or support its marketing claims.
As for Figs’ public claims that it donates a pair of scrubs for every set sold, Strategic said the company “produced no documents in discovery accounting for donations made through its [Threads for Threads] program.” All of these claims, according to Strategic, have given Figs “undeserved momentum and favorable press” since its founding in 2013, WWD reported. Indeed, the brand has been widely dubbed a “disruptor” in the medical apparel space, due in large part to its direct-to-consumer model, but also its focus on better-quality scrubs that cost more. And it’s grown fast.
The company said in 2018 it had 500,000 customers buying up to a dozen pairs of scrubs a year and it has raised $75 million in funding, $65 million of that coming in 2018 in a Series B round. Now, according to a story last month in The New York Post, it’s gearing up for an initial public offering in early 2021 with an estimated valuation of up to $4 billion.
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