By April Miller
Photo by Thomas Skernivitz
“Everyone wore scrubs: housekeeping, dietary, doctors, clerical, and nursing,” DeAngelis says of her mother’s many hospital stays.
“If I had my glasses on, I might be able to read ‘RN.’ My mom never knew who was allowed to touch her or her IV. The lack of a professional image had somehow succumbed to everyone wearing scrubs.”
DeAngelis formed a company, Brenda June, with the goal of providing professional uniforms — with the ease of scrubs but with a polished image — that would empower nurses and thereby empower patients.
“A professional should be easily recognizable and distinguished from other disciplines,” DeAngelis says. “Families are confused, the public is confused, and hospitals should want their professionals to be ambassadors for their institutions. Each employee represents the healthcare institution, on or off the job. A nurse has earned the credentials to be readily identified for patient reassurance.”
The initial plan for the company was to create professional uniforms with “low-key, feel-good artwork,” DeAngelis says. She had created the artwork during a week’s stay in Florida following her mother’s death.
“When she died I had a tremendous void to fill,” she says. “I knew I needed to confront my grief alone. I went to Florida for a week, planning to sob and wallow in my grief. That didn’t happen. I felt light, alive, and driven to paint. All of the 68 pieces of artwork completed were colorful and uplifting. I called my sister, Apryl Gleespen, in Akron and told her we needed to do something good with the artwork.”
The sisters spent two years working on designs, finding manufacturers, and learning the textile industry. When Apryl was treated for a kidney stone and then acquired C. diff (Clostridium difficile) during her hospital stay, the focus for Brenda June changed direction.
“Apryl almost lost her life because the strain she had was resistant to all antibiotics,” DeAngelis says. “Upon her discharge, a doctor told her to bleach everything possible in her home to kill the spores. During her five-day hospital stay, bleach was never used once.
Our business took a new direction. We not only wanted to change the image to a more professional one, now we needed all white so that pathogens could be killed by bleach. Scrubs with characters, color, and designs are not bleachable.”
DeAngelis dove into researching healthcare-associated infections and discovered that more than 100,000 lives a year are lost in the United States due to such infections.
“HAI patients are 600 percent more likely to die in the hospital than those without. It is estimated that 70 percent of HAI-causing bacteria are drug-resistant,” DeAngelis says. “And this is just the tip of the iceberg. Since the change in focus of our company, we have sourced all of our content from fabric to zippers in the USA to assure quality. We have our fabric made exclusively for Brenda
June that withstands bleaching and retains its quality. We have put approximately 20-25 people back to work since manufacturing has begun.”
Educating medical professionals that an image change is needed is her biggest challenge, yet she notes that strides are being made, such as when Toby Cosgrove, MD and CEO of the Cleveland Clinic, brought back white for the nursing staff.
“This was a huge change,” DeAngelis says, noting that many institutions allow nurses to wear whatever scrubs they want. She feels most rewarded when a healthcare provider asks why no one has thought of this sooner —“the moment,” DeAngelis says, “when they get it.”
Belief in yourself and your product, she says, is key for female entrepreneurs. Surrounding herself with positive people and connecting with groups such as The Summit, Medina Business Association and the Akron Global Business Accelerator helps DeAngelis as she builds the business.
Today the artwork DeAngelis created can be found on Brenda June’s line of accessories: key fobs, tote bags, greeting cards, and T-shirts. In all she does, DeAngelis says she honors the values of hard work, common sense, and kindness that her mother instilled in all of her children.
“For me personally there is a deep, burning desire to make life better in some way,” she says, “For someone, big or small, just do it.”
For more information: brendajune.com
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