Ministry of Supply Puts MIT Engineering Cred Into Dress Shirts

6/8/12Follow @xconomy

There’s a startup in town that’s turning to Kickstarter—the crowdsourced funding platform—to support its newest product. The team is made up of MIT product designers, engineers, and MBAs, and has tested its technology in MIT labs, even incorporating a coating developed by NASA into its newest product

So what is that product, you ask? Men’s dress shirts.

Or in the words of co-founder and “logistics minister” (more on the titles and company name later) Aman Advani, “it’s the confidence to get through the day that’s completely driven by design.”

Yes, Boston-based Ministry of Supply is taking a product design approach to create more comfortable shirts for men to wear to work. It started in 2010 when MIT alum Eric Khatchadourian had experienced too many sweaty work shirts while commuting on the T, and asked a former fellow MIT runner Gihan Amarasiriwardena to design work apparel that would solve the problem (Amarasiriwardena had made athletic performance clothing in his earlier years.)

Amarasiriwardena (now the company’s “design minister”) and Kevin Rustagi, who had met in an MIT engineering innovation and design class, began plugging away. They turned down full time jobs when they graduated in 2011 to work on Ministry of Supply and in October sold their first dress shirts, made of existing performance apparel. Through the MIT Venture Mentoring Service, they learned about a pair of Sloan MBAs who were working on a similar project: Advani (who had his own frustrating dealings with uncomfortable work wear while traveling as a consultant) and classmate Kit Hickey. That duo joined the Ministry of Supply team earlier this year as co-founders.

The MBA half of the founding team was focused on repurposing existing fabrics for professional apparel. “Kit and I came at it from business perspective, to take what’s amazing and transfer it to a new arena,” says Advani.

But Amarasiriwardena and Rustagi, wanted to “perfect the model,” with a completely new material built specifically for businessmen’s needs, says Rustagi, that startup’s “business development minister.”

So the team has been testing synthetic fabric blends in labs and conducting analysis on the strain of a shirt on the human back, by taking two really high speed cameras, stretching the shirt, and seeing how the skin of the body moves against it. “It’s a hardcore engineering thing,” says Rustagi (There’s also less techie processes like wearing a dress shirt for a week straight to see how it holds up).

What’s the result? A fabric that’s moisture-wicking, anti-odor, and wrinkle free. It will be available later this month in a so-called premium agent shirt (I promise I’ll explain the James Bond vernacular soon enough). The shirts include a … Next Page »

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