Co-Founders Of Scrubs Maker, FIGS Sued For False Advertising, Unfair Business Practices


By Josh Boswell

A $1.4billion scrubs company is in a civil trial over claims it lied about its antibacterial properties, stole ideas from another firm, and faked charity donations in Africa.

FIGS, a Santa Monica-based trendy medical apparel company was sued by competitor Strategic Partners Inc. (SPI) in 2019 over the shocking claims.

Founders Heather Hasson, 39, and Trina Spear, 37, have been defending themselves in a California federal court trial this week.

In an interview, an attorney for SPI compared the women to notorious fraudster Elizabeth Holmes, who duped investors in her biotech firm Theranos.

FIGS's chief legal officer called the claims 'baseless' and the lawsuit 'a last-ditch, desperate attempt by SPI to stifle a company that has revolutionized the industry.'

FIGS was founded in 2013 and quickly became known for its form-fitting, fashionable scrubs.

Founders Hasson and Spear were media darlings, with their company described as the 'Warby Parker of scrubs' by the Wall Street Journal and given a glowing write-up in Forbes.

Their marketing materials claimed their medical clothes contained 'Silvadur microbial technology' and that their 'antimicrobial fabric reduces hospital acquired infection rates by 66%.'

FIGS said that for every pair of scrubs sold, they donated one to poverty-stricken countries.

Hasson and Spear took their company public in an IPO last year, cashing out this success to give themselves a combined net worth of $700million and allowing them to buy multi-million-dollar mansions in Los Angeles.

But SPI, also a medical apparel retailer, claims that it was all based on lies and theft.

In a federal lawsuit, SPI claims that Spear was working at a financial firm reviewing their business proposal, stole the confidential information and used it to start her own company in 2013.

FIGS 'began as a necktie company' but 'changed its business model into a scrubs company after Defendant Trina Spear accessed confidential information and data regarding the medical apparel industry from her then-employer Blackstone,' the 2020 legal complaint claims.

In court documents SPI highlighted an interview Spear gave at an event in Miami in 2018, where she appeared to admit sharing 'super confidential' documents from Blackstone outside the firm.

'I'm in New York, was working at Blackstone,' Spear said in the interview.

'I did a private equity deal in the medical apparel space. Random. Sent her [Hasson] all the materials I'd worked on.

'That can't leave this room... They are super confidential. I will end up somewhere, so, everyone do not Tweet about that.

SPI claims those materials was its 'confidential information' for a medical clothing deal it was planning with Blackstone at the time.

FIGS stated it has 'never modeled itself after SPI', adding: 'This claim was always baseless.

SPI had multiple years of a scorched earth discovery process to find evidence for their accusation, but they could not produce a single piece of "stolen confidential information." That is because there isn't any.'

In August 2021 the court dismissed this part of SPI's claim.

The company also alleges FIGS made 'false and misleading claims' by 'creating an unsafe belief that FIGS's Products can protect the wearer from infectious diseases or bacteria, when they cannot.'

From May 2018 through February 2019, FIGS's website claimed that its 'antimicrobial fabric reduces hospital acquired infection rates by 66%'.

In its August 2020 complaint, SPI said FIGS 'does not have a study' that supports the claim and 'knew, or should have known, that the statement regarding this health statement concerning the FIGS Products was false and/or misleading.'

The complaint includes photos of FIGS clothing tags which claims it 'kills bacteria and infection immediately on contact' – and says that the company 'knowingly violated EPA regulations regarding this health claim.'

FIGS says its scrubs are made with Silvadur technology, and claimed that silver woven in the material prevented the spread of pathogens.

But SPI said in its complaint that when it hired chemist Skip Palenik of Microtrace LLC to test the scrubs in 2019, his x-ray showed 'no detectable levels of silver'.

Palenik found that over 24 hours, bacteria grew rather than died on the tested scrubs' fabric.

FIGS has also claimed its scrubs are moisture-wicking, but the material allegedly 'scored a 0' on Palenik's standardized water repellency test, showing their material had 'minimal to no effect on water repellency', the complaint alleged.

FIGS pointed out in its legal response that SPI has used the same material in its own scrubs and had previously argued the opposite – that Silvadur does neutralize bacteria on contact – in a different lawsuit against Vestagen Protective Technologies.

FIGS said its own experts found the product claims were supported by tests.

The scrubs company has touted its donation of a pair of scrubs to countries in need for every set sold, and said on its blog it has donated 'over 90,000 sets of scrubs in 26 countries'.

SPI claims this charity scheme was also 'false and misleading'.

'FIGS has not donated one set of the same scrubs for every set of scrubs sold,' its complaint said.

'Rather, FIGS has donated, if at all, lower cost scrubs that are different than the scrubs consumers are purchasing in the United States.'

One former FIGS staffer clai ro med a private investigator for SPI that a photoshoot of the founders delivering scrubs to Africa was faked.

The ex-employee said the company had planned 'a FIGS mission trip to donate scrubs to Africa and turn it into a big photo-op', but said it was 'tough getting everyone to synchronize their schedules.'

'So eventually they said "let's shoot it in LA and make it look like Africa",' the former staffer claimed.

'There were eventually photos on the website that were shots of the two of them sitting in a dead tall grass field in LA that made it look like [it was] in Africa.

'There was also another photo with a small plane on an airport tarmac with the two of them loading scrubs into the plane that was also highlighted as being in Africa though it was shot right here in Southern California.'

FIGS's May 2021 registration filing with the SEC includes a brochure for the company's Threads for Threads program, showing Spear and Hasson placing large FIGS-branded duffle bags on a patch of red dirt in front of a small plane with what appears to be African savannah in the background.

A caption with the photo describes 'Heather Hasson & Trina Spear, FIGS co-founders & co-CEOs, delivering FIGS in Kenya, Africa.'

It is unclear whether this is the photo which the employee claimed was faked – but the same aircraft has been pictured by plane spotters in Kenya in 2013 and 2014, and flies for the East Africa Air Charters service.

Videos posted on YouTube show FIGS has done real trips to Africa.

FIGS said it only ran its 'one-for-one giving model' through 2017, but has done other charity work including 'Donating and delivering hundreds of thousands of masks and other PPE to healthcare providers on the frontlines of COVID' and building an operating theater in rural Kenya.

FIGS also says it has been doing some investigating of its own.

In the discovery process, they found emails between SPI executives saying 'we are getting our asses kicked' by FIGS and vowing to 'attack' the company and 'drive it out of the market'.

In one 2019 email, SPI's executive vice president of sales Michael Alexander even admitted: 'I have a pair of FIGS men's joggers which I happen to like a lot. They are definitely more fitted and tighter than our other joggers'.

'This lawsuit is a last-ditch, desperate attempt by SPI to stifle a company that has revolutionized the industry,' said a FIGS spokeswoman.

'For years, SPI and its now terminated CEO Mike Singer were asleep at the wheel… Their bullying, and this absurd litigation, will not work.'

Arguments in front of the Los Angeles jury began on Tuesday – after one juror was dismissed for telling the judge they already decided that they would find in favor of FIGS before even hearing their attorney's opening argument.

Sanford Michelman, an attorney for SPI, compared the FIGS founders to notorious fraudster Elizabeth Holmes, who duped investors in her blood testing company Theranos.

'I would say it's strikingly similar to the Theranos case, that the founders of FIGS defrauded not only people in health care, but the frontline health care workers themselves, through false claims and false publicity,' said Michelman in an interview.

'They gambled with people's lives to make money.'

Michelman described Hasson & Spear's business as 'deception from inception'.

'They made false claims in the middle of a pandemic no less, and they enriched themselves,' he said.

'They made everything up. It makes Theranos look like nothing.'

FIGS general counsel Danielle Warner said the comparison was 'utterly ridiculous' and 'untethered from reality'.

'The accusation that [FIGS] has anything in common with a company that never produced anything and physically harmed people is libelous.

'The only thing these two companies have in common is that they were both founded by women.

'SPI's decision to make up facts and resort to sexist comparisons further demonstrates its desperation.'


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