June 19, 2012
Ministry of Supply started in 2010 with MIT chemical engineering student Gihan Amarasiriwardena, a sewing machine, and a vision for men’s dress shirts that don’t induce claustrophobia in the heat.
Soon, Amarasiriwardena was working with tailors, and then a manufacturing firm. By that time, he had recruited Kevin Rustagi, a former intern at Apple, as well as Aman Advani and Kit Hickey from MIT Sloan.
They started with only 50 shirts per batch, sold mostly to MIT students. Afterward, they would email customers and ask for feedback. They tried testing 3 fabrics – blue and very breathable, white and traditional, or a black fabric somewhere in the middle. (Black won out.)
The team also used their engineering chops to do a strain analysis in the lab: mapping out how the body moves when you get up, sit down, and even ride a bicycle. That led to adding a stretch panel in the back of the shirt, to prevent it from coming untucked.
Based on these tests, Ministry of Supply has developed a men’s dress shirt that wicks away moisture, prevents wrinkles, and stretches as you move. It also minimizes odor with bacteria-killing silver threads and an anti-microbial coating. Now, the startup is working on a temperature-regulating fabric using NASA technology that can store and release heat. (To fund the production of that technology, check out their Kickstarter campaign.)
Although the team has used Ministry of Supply as a project for some MIT classes, being a student entrepreneur is still a challenge. “Always having to juggle everything – I feel like my work never ends,” says Hickey.
The new “Apollo Shirt” (below) will sell for around $130, while the Agent Shirt (above) is priced around $100.
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