As a consultant who spent most of his time on the road, Aman Advani wondered why clothes for work hadn't evolved as clothes for working out had. If fabric and designs could be engineered to be better for athletes, why couldn't they be redesigned to perform better for professionals who need to start their day at 6 a.m. and still look crisp for a 4 p.m. client meeting? Fellow MIT student Gihan Amarasiriwardena was having the same experience, and the two teamed up to found Ministry of Supply. The company re-engineers business apparel, using high-tech performance materials to develop a new category of clothing called "performance professional."
Advani met up with the Retail Gets Real podcast team in Boston to talk about what happens when engineering meets fashion and what the future of retail looks like.
Ministry of Supply is known for using high-tech materials in its products. The Apollo shirt, for example, was created with the same NASA-developed material used for astronauts to regulate temperature. But it's not just about the cool materials, it's in the approach itself.
"Everything starts with a problem statement. So, what is wrong with a shirt today?" Advani says. "The real magic in the process is the scientific method's first step of identifying the problem statement." Extensive interviews and rigorous testing play a large role in the development process.
While the majority of the company's sales occur online, Advani says physical stores are important to its growth — Ministry of Supply operates six bricks-and-mortar locations in addition to its ecommerce presence. "We love physical retail. We love the kind of humanity and one-on-one touchpoints we get from it," Advani says. The company's thinking on "experiential" retail has shifted in the last few years; a 3D printer was installed to make on-demand clothing in the brand's Newbury Street location in Boston. But while the company uses 3D printing to produce some items, it now emphasizes the benefits rather than the details of its production.
"The novelty of it being 3D printed wears off quickly," Advani says. "The actual production process, people generally don't care about. But the upsides that come of it do matter — the idea of a zero percent obsolescence rate for something that's built to order, that's built for you, the idea that you may bond more with the garment that was made specifically for you or with you in mind, the idea of zero wastage in a process where you go straight from yarn to final garment, a process that allows for articulation of shoulders or elbows in a way that cut-and-sew manufacturing can't. These things will continue to pervade over time."
Listen to the full podcast to hear more, including Advani's perspective on why the "death of retail" narrative is flawed, how the company approaches staffing and what the future holds for Ministry of Supply.