Local Clothing Line Powered by NASA
by victoria veilleux
Gihan Amarasiriwardena and Kit Hickey throw a little fun into smart businesswear.
Fashion lines rarely launch from the graduates of engineering schools— those grads are too busy developing nanotechnology and studying outer space. Aeronautics were an inspiration, however, in a new line of high-tech men’s office wear that debuted in Boston this year. Last month the company, Ministry of Supply, added a line of suit pants to its collection of business shirts. Both the pants and shirts use the same technology as NASA space suits to regulate body temperature during even the toughest of shareholder meetings.
For Waltham native Kit Hickey, one of Ministry of Supply’s three principals, the flash of inspiration came while she was hiking in the Rocky Mountains. An investment banker at the time, Hickey noted the comfort of the athletic apparel she wore for the trek. “It’s just magnitudes of difference in terms of both how you feel and how you perform.” She recalls thinking, “This is so obvious. Why is this technology not in business clothing?” The following year at MIT Sloan School of Management, she would address this very topic.
Meanwhile Gihan Amarasiriwardena arrived at the same conclusion, noting the lack of innovation in business apparel while doing his undergraduate studies in biological and chemical engineering at MIT. Raised by two chemists in Amherst and having a grandmother in the textile industry in Sri Lanka might have given Amarasiriwardena the inclination to infuse fabrics with technology. Yet he gives much credit to his MIT studies and summers spent at the Sports Technology Institute in the UK, a research institute that houses Sports Technology Research Group, which works with companies such as Nike and Spalding.
Amarasiriwardena had been working on a product when he met Hickey and the third future Ministry of Supply partner, Aman Advani, also a student at MIT Sloan. Hickey and Advani’s business savvy paired with Amarasiriwardena’s lab acumen was a formula for instant success. They surpassed their goal of raising $30,000 through the online social funding platform Kickstarter by nearly $400,000 in one month—the most funds ever raised within the site’s fashion category. “It proved the concept is right,” says Amarasiriwardena.
The company’s record-breaking reception on Kickstarter gave the collection of shirts and base layers a turbo boost, enabling the production of various fits, collar sizes, sleeve lengths, colors, and prints, as well as pant styles and a Boston showroom to accommodate by-appointment fittings in addition to online sales.
Comfort is king with this trio of brainy jocks. “Kit and Aman went skiing in Utah in their MoS shirts, and I went for a 100-mile bike ride in my MoS dress shirt,” says Amarasiriwardena, “so we’re really trying to prove that you can push the limits of your garments.” Now you can push the limits of your business, without breaking a sweat. Ministry of Supply, 105 South St., 617-651- 2340; ministryofsupply.com
photography by eric levin