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MIT Grads Merge Athletic Comfort With Professional Wear

Business wear has a bad reputation for being sweat-inducing, impractical, and generally uncomfortable. So after a long day at work, most people in the professional world look forward to changing out of these stiff articles of clothing into something cozy and comfortable. The suit and tie come off, and the sheath dress and high-heels are tossed aside in favor of sweatpants and an oversized hoodie—options that, despite their negative sartorial reputation, are undeniably comfortable. But wouldn’t it be nice if that barrier between work clothes and comfortable active wear was something more fluid?

This is the question that faced three Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduates— Aman Advani, Gihan Amarasiriwardena, and Kit Hickey—in 2012 after they had spent time the professional world. With all three boasting a past in some form of athletics—Amarasiriwardena having been a world-class distance runner—they were suddenly confronted with the fact that features available in high-performance athletic clothing were not available in business wear. With the long hours they work, people in the professional world were doomed to hours of discomfort, until Advani, Amarasiriwardena, and Hickey had an idea: business wear that felt as comfortable as a second skin.

So even before the trio developed their first line of clothing, they set up a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign that raised over $6,000 dollars in the first day, and over $400,000 by the end of the campaign. What became Ministry of Supply was Kickstarter’s most successful fashion startup by a longshot.

Mike Farber, MCAS ’89 and Ministry of Supply advisor, revealed that this wave of public enthusiasm acted as validation for the burgeoning company, and served as the launch point for the creation of their fabrics and designs. The founders then pulled inspiration from the fabrics and materials used not only by successful brands of athletic clothing, but also by NASA, creating a product that featured a unique blend of science and fashion.

“I often joke that [the fabric is] like a true wearable,” Farber said. “It’s not like the Apple watch, it’s something that you wear on your body, and it makes your body perform better, and feel better.”

With his background in chemical engineering, Amarasiriwardena worked to hack the world of fabric as the team began designing their products. Alongside his team, Amarasiriwardena created fabrics that included key comfortable features.

One of these is omni-stretch, which allows for wrinkle-free movement, a treatment that keeps fabric dry by preventing the absorption of moisture, and heat regulation that allows someone to sweat without obvious sweat stains. Soon the startup was ready to send off their first line of men’s “Apollo” dress shirts, and not long after, they released the odor-mitigating “Atlas” dress socks, which were made from a coffee grind-infused fabric.

The Ministry of Supply founders continued expanding their first articles of menswear, eventually developing a line (and inventory) strong enough to launch an online store. By 2015, the founders opened the company’s first brick-and-mortar location on Newbury Street. By 2016, they had expanded into their first womenswear line.

Though it was fairly smooth, Farber explained that this expansion was not without challenges. The founders faced the fashion-specific problem of forecasting the correct amount of clothing to produce.

Unlike software, which innovators can abandon if it fails, fashion requires an active consumer demand. If no one buys the product, the company is left with thousands of shirts lying around. But the Ministry of Supply seems to have predicted that with accuracy, as they now have physical locations in major cities across the country including Washington D.C., San Francisco, Chicago, and Atlanta.

And although Ministry of Supply’s start-up has spread across the country at the rapid pace, the founders have kept their business based in Boston. Farber explained that this is not only because the trio has a deep love for the area, but also because of the area’s unusual mix of fashion technology. Boston might not have the same reputation for fashion innovation as somewhere like New York City, but Farber says that Boston contains a community of talented and innovative individuals from the fashion industry—a statement that finds basis not only in fact that major brands like New Balance and Converse headquarter their companies in Boston, but from the culture in the city that has resulted in events like the Museum of Fine Arts #techstyle exhibit.

Even with the support and vibrancy that an innovative city like Boston provides for its startup, Ministry of Supply is still a part of the fashion world—a cutthroat industry where many brands struggle for years, not months, before launching their first line. Farber attributed this unique success to the quality of the product that “is tuned in to how more and more people are living their lives.

Farber explained that in recent years, consumers pay more attention to quality over quantity. Instead of filling their closet to the brim with items that will be out of style and fall apart within months, today’s shoppers look for items that they could comfortably wear for years. Ministry of Supply’s founders kept these demands in mind when developing their company ethos.

“They’re good people,” Farber said. “It’s not some big soulless cooperating here, it a scrappy fast-growing company doing something really cool, and people see that and want to be a piece of that.”

Ministry of Supply clothing is not “fast fashion”, Farber emphasized. Drawing inspiration from companies like Patagonia that provide customers with performance clothing that lasts a lifetime, Ministry of Supply hopes to provide customers with a unique item that will quickly become a staple in their closet, even if the price is higher initially. Farber himself can no longer imagine a life without Ministry of Supply clothing in his closet.  

The company’s timeless aesthetic also indicates the founders’ hope that Ministry of Supply will become even more of a staple item. With Jarlath Mellet, who has worked at brands such as Theory and Brooks Brothers, as Ministry of Supply’s design director, clean lines and a classic color pallet make Ministry of Supply’s clothing something that customers could incorporate into their work lives and their lives beyond the office.

When considering Ministry of Supply’s continued expansion, both in terms of products and of locations in the coming years, Farber honed in on what will continue setting the startup apart: the passionate belief each employee holds in their product, and its ability to improve the lives of their customers.

“This is not a job for [the employees and founders of Ministry of Supply],” Farber said. “It’s more than that.”

Featured Image by Madeleine D’Angelo / Heights Editor

February 15, 2017

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