EASTSIDE — Kathy Peterson recently returned from a quick tour of European fashion houses and cultural destinations, searching for design and color inspiration for her 2012 spring product line.

“Butterflies are going to be huge,” Peterson said, standing in a design space at the offices of koi, a clothing design company located on Stanford Street on Santa Monica’s eastside.

Although koi uses the best practices of high couture, its designs serve a more practical purpose.

The company proclaims itself “the home of designer scrubs,” making functional, but attractive, clothing for medical professionals looking to put a bit more flair into their day-to-day uniforms.

As such, koi debuted the black lab coat, elastic scrub waists and a simple stitch to keep the pant ties from falling out in the wash as well as more glamorous designs to appeal to the men and women who wear them.

The fabrics are engineered for durability and color-fastness and come in a variety of weights and feels.

Just hitting the stores now is a new venture with designer Marc Ecko, who’s producing a line of scrubs under the Ecko UNLTD. brand for men and Ecko Red for women.

Peterson didn’t think the company would be open to a scrubs line, but happily accepted the opportunity to work with the Ecko brands. The deal was signed and announced in July 2010, with product officially shipped just in recent weeks.

“They revolutionized mens wear,” Peterson said. “They pay attention to details, and are always looking for innovative ways to do something.”

The two lines are simple, with a mostly solid-color fabric with a bold Ecko logo splashed across the upper chest. Peterson designed each to be reversible, so that employees at hospitals with more stringent dress codes could still purchase the product worry-free.

If designer scrubs seem like a silly vanity, think again.

Peterson’s fledgling company began shipping product in 2007, just before one of the most vicious economic downturns rocked the nation.

It’s been profitable since its inception, shipping almost $25 million in just one calendar year.

As in many businesses, the trick was finding a niche and filling it.

Market research showed a shortage of nurses. The majority of nurses in the profession were in their mid-50s, which Peterson took to mean that many would be retiring soon, making way for a new wave in the profession.

“There’s a huge demand for younger nurses, and it’s going to be growing,” Peterson said. “Nobody was addressing younger nurses.”

koi sought to meet that need. Peterson designed the first line in 2006 after leaving her job at another design firm to start the company.

While some told her it was dangerous to jump in with a brand new firm, Peterson wasn’t listening.

“I think it’s risky when someone else controls your fate,” she said.

Since, the company has moved from small offices to a large warehouse that used to belong to DHL. In the past year alone, the staff doubled to 75 employees.

After initial success with both the retailers and the end buyers, the question changed from “Will it work?” to “How far can we push it?”

Peterson and the design team work almost a year in advance of when their product debuts in stores. Right now, koi is creating its spring 2012 line, shipping its spring 2011 line and marketing the fall 2011 line.

“We’re always working on three seasons at any given time,” Peterson said.

It takes one to three months to complete the designs for any given line. Employees do all the design work in-house, and the actual manufacturing work is done overseas.

koi now ships internationally to 10 countries. It recently signed a deal to design and sell workplace-friendly mules through the Danish company Sanita.

The growth of the company has been fast, and to a degree unexpected, but the company will continue to ride the tide with confidence.

“I’m creating a product I’m proud of,” Peterson said simply.

ashley@smdp.com

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