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Boston is putting itself on the map as fashion-meets-tech innovation hub. From Kendall to Fort Point Channel, here are the start ups that caught our attention.
The latest iteration of Apollo
It was just a year ago that the MIT-rooted "performance professional"-wear company Ministry of Supply officially broke onto the scene and into the closets of guys nationwide. With a growing staff and open showroom space in the Leather District, the founders are finding that their dream of a versatile, easy work shirt is one shared by legions of customers, Kickstarter supporters, and MassChallenge mentors. The high-tech apparel borrows advanced fabrics from NASA, robotically-knit textiles, and base layers that travel seamlessly from the office to the gym, even around the world in a suitcase. All to satisfy the demanding needs of the human male wearing it.
While the line has expanded beyond a constantly-evolving buttondown shirt (Apollo, now with a crisp collar made from a thermal laminate process) to two base layers (Atmos and Core) and a pair of trousers (Aero), its origins are traced back to 2010 at MIT, where two separate groups of entrepreneurs sought to disrupt the traditional men's wardrobe. Undergrads specializing in engineering applications meshed with Sloan MBA students who believed in the future of clothing manufacturing and voila—years of research and development produce a bachelor-friendly line that boasts heat regulation, odor managing, and wrinkle-free properties.
We chatted with co-founder Kit Hickey about the MoS Kickstarter campaign and the future of the line:
A lot of fashion-oriented projects are coming out of MIT's Sloan School. You say it's a mix of people bringing that sensibility to MIT and people at MIT who are seeing opportunities in fashion but don't come from that world. Where does the MoS team fall on that spectrum?
Aman and I came to MIT with this idea in mind. I wrote my business school essays about it and he had a business plan before he came to MIT, so both of us had a very similar idea and ended up on the same core team. It was that we were passionate about our idea and we came to MIT to start it. We actually both dropped out after our first year! Sloan gives you time off to intern or travel so we had worked on it and realized it was actually viable and we should pursue it.
MoS was somewhat of a Kickstarter darling in its early stages. Tell us about that.
At one time we were the largest fundraiser. The people who have beat us are also menswear companies. It's great that there is innovative there.
Why do you think it's in menswear and there isn't much in womenswear? My guess is that men's is more simple. They have less types of clothing.
Maybe also because in women's there have always been new businesses. The other companies include our friend who does The 10-year Hoodie. A lot of clothing companies purposely want their product to only last a few years, and he thought "This doesn't make sense." So they have hoodies that are guranteed to last ten years. Another one we recently saw was a shirt that you can wear for one hundred days and it is fine. A lot of function meets fashion.
How did Kickstarter align with your bigger mission? And the incubator program at MassChallenge? What were the differences between the two?
We went on Kickstarter not to raise money, but to test the market and see if this people actually want to buy this. For us it was amazing to see people emailing us saying "I've been waiting all my life for this," "I can't wait to buy these in every color." This idea actually does resonate with people. And it was also to have these advocates involved in helping us launch. They are part of the family and our growth.
For MassChallenge the best thing was our mentors. One of them was Brian Kalma, the tenth employee at Zappos, former head of user experience at Gilt. He has been involved with Gemvara and is on the Bow and Drape board of advisors. He was such an awesome mentor and actually joined us full time a couple months ago.
What was the takeoff point in the company becoming viable?
We had an investment round from Boston investor before Kickstarter. It's really expensive because you have to manufacture everything up front and then get revenue.
Obviously you're surrounded by guys working in a menswear line. How do you personally relate to the product? Are there challenges to working in a male-dominated environment?
I think it's been good! I've grown up a tomboy. Played ice hockey from two through college. Wearing the product myself and having the shirts tailored helps me appreciate it. In my job I do a lot of the retail; I'm the one helping customers when they come in. I think they value my opinion more than if it were coming from a guy.
Shopping is a daunting task for a lot of men. It's stressful and many of them just haven't had a good experience.
That's what were trying to do at the showroom—they can get educated, get help. We're really honest with them, I think that goes miles. I actually had a great experience like that at The Blues Jeans Bar and I felt like I had a friend in them.
It seems like your current product has addressed many of the issues with the dress shirt. How far away do you feel you are from building the "perfect" shirt? What's the future of fabric? What's next?
We definitely always want to be on the forefront of fabric and technology. We've come a long way now with our shirts. Two weeks after a customer orders we follow up with them and feed it back to the design team. We want to iterate the product quickly. Long term what do we want to come up with? Find customer pain points in items like boxers and socks. How can we apply tech to solve those problems? We always find a problem and then the technology.
Is there the goal of expanding into womenswear?
We get a lot of requests, a lot more than I exected actually. We really want to but probably not for a long time; there's so much R&D. We want to perfect the men's first. Also the branding.
Finally, where did you think up the name Ministry of Supply?
You know Q, the guy who gets James Bond his gear? Q based on real person, Charles Fraser-Smith, who was supplied by the British Ministry of Supply. We're outfitting guys, watching out for the them as an advisor.
The showroom opens this summer, so stay tuned on when to try a shirt yourself. They've been tested in 90-degrees on the T, on a Mount Washington hike, and are Red Sox pitcher approved, so you know you're in good hands.
· Ministry of Supply [Official Site]
· Office Memo: Wear Ministry of Supply, Avoid Sweaty Pits [Racked Boston]