Doctor launches own line of designer medical scrub hats
Dr. Shelby Marquardt, an anesthesiology resident at Memorial Hermann Hospital in Houston, has been sewing since she was a child. But the young physician never thought her hobby would turn into a business.
However, with the help of husband David Marquardt, owner of Austin cleaning company The Steam Team Inc., Shelby Marquardt recently launched Blue Sky Scrubs, a clothing company specializing in scrub hats for men and women who work in health care settings.
Marquardt’s creations — which include women’s mini-hats and ponytail hats, as well as men’s executive, sports and urban designs — were an immediate hit with her hospital colleagues. Before she knew it, Marquardt was fielding orders from fellow doctors and nurses.
“The response at the hospital was overwhelming,” Marquardt says, adding that she and her husband invested tens of thousands of dollars of their own money to start Blue Sky. “It took off so quickly that it’s been able to become self-sustainable.”
The Marquardts have filed a patent application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and hope to have a patent on the unique ponytail hat by year’s end.
Blue Sky sells 300 to 500 hats a month. So far, the company has sold about 5,000 hats in 26 states, Canada and France. About 50 percent of the company’s business comes from its Web site, (www.blueskyscrubs.com). The other sales are generated by word of mouth; the Marquardts haven’t done any advertising.
The hats retail for about $20 to $24, and the profit on each item varies.
Shelby Marquardt is working with the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston to make scrub hats with an embroidered hospital logo, and the couple hopes to get their products on the hit television show “Grey’s Anatomy.”
Together, the Marquardts spend about 70 hours a week on Blue Sky, a hefty investment of time on top of Shelby’s medical residency and David’s Steam Team duties.
Austin-based Amplifier has made life a little easier for the Marquardts, handling the company’s inventory storage, online sales and distribution.
“This allows them to focus on product development and growth of the company,” says Joel Bush, co-founder and CEO of Amplifier. “And if they do really take off, we can handle it.”
Quality Sewing Manufacturing in Houston makes the hats for Blue Sky, with Shelby Marquardt visiting national fabric shows to choose the material.
The difference between Shelby Marquardt’s business and any other medical scrubs company is quality, she says. Marquardt’s love of lush fabrics prompted her to collect various textiles as she traveled around the world, and many of those fabric scraps were sewn into her first scrub hats.
“Initially, I created them out of necessity because other scrub hats look like bouffant shower caps,” she says. “I wanted something that was stylish with fun colors that I could put on at home and feel conformable in the rest of the day.”
Marquardt says she also has ideas for scrubs pants and jackets, but for the moment is satisfied in keeping those designs under her hat.
Because of the manufacturing challenges the Marquardts have faced with Blue Sky, David Marquardt says the couple’s business goals might change.
“There have been times when we’ve thought that we want to keep it a private business and in the family,” he says. “But we’re thinking about a five-year plan in which we sell the business to a bigger company.
“I think we’re leaning toward the selling option right now because the challenge is manufacturing. Other companies have so many more resources, so that’s an option we’ll keep open.”