Founded by a couple of MIT grads in 2010, Ministry of Supply set out on a mission to breathe a little fresh air into the starchy world of business attire. Using some of the same technology found in NASA’s space suits, the Boston-based startup developed a line of more “technologically-savvy,” adaptive dress shirts that help control perspiration, reduce odor and wrinkling but don’t make you look like a goon.
Knowing they’d need capital to scale, Ministry of Supply went to venture capitalists, but were rebuffed by investors that wanted to see more proof of concept. So they went to Kickstarter instead, where the shirts took off, bringing in almost $400K more than they set out to raise. The team has since gone back to Kickstarter, raising another $200K for their new, hi-tech sock line. But today, having proven the concept and demand, Ministry of Supply is coming full circle on the financing front, announcing that it has raised an additional $1.1 million in seed financing from a handful of venture capitalists and angels.
The round was led by Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh’s Vegas Tech Fund, with participation from SK Ventures and angels like Boston Red Sox pitcher Craig Breslow and Kevin Henrikson. Of course, few campaigns are lucky enough to raise a collective $600K and have two of the most successful campaigns in a particular category, so why is Ministry of Supply raising the additional money? As one might expect, it’s because the team of eight want to turn this into a real business, a viable men’s eCommerce and fashion brand and secure those retail partnerships that can help take the company to the next level.
Ministry of Supply co-founder Gihan Amarasiriwardena tells us that the company wants to build a new category of men’s clothing — products that, like workout gear, are actually functional and comfortable but can be worn in the boardroom. In other words, combine Under Armour with a tech-savvier Brooks Brothers. To get the ball moving in that direction, the startup hired eCommerce and UX design veteran, Brian Kalma, an early Zappos employee and former UX Director at both Zappos, Gilt Groupe and Gemvara.
Kalma is helping the startup to define Ministry of Supply’s brand as one that has a foot in eCommerce as well as the brick-and-mortar world. The startups has a showroom in Boston and has done a few pop-up shops on the East Coast, with others in the works. In turn, it’s also started to develop partnerships with eCommerce brands to increase its distribution in reach, including an upcoming deal with Birchbox that will put its “Atmos” baselayer shirts in the company’s subscription boxes for men.
The company now has four main lines, including its original “Apollo” dress shirts, a line of performance boss pants, base layer shirts (mentioned above) and core performance t-shirts, but is in the process of expanding with new products, like its Atlas sock brand, which isn’t available yet but is coming soon.
As to what makes its socks, for example, different than your run-of-the-mill, average dress sock? Amarasiriwardena tells us that the socks’ fabrics are “infused with coffee beans” to help control odor and features “robotically knit, pressure-mapped” design to ensure fit.
A lot of it sounds more like branding and PR than reality, and the company has to be careful to be transparent about how it’s measuring results. It’s one thing to promise a space-aged dress shirt that works the same on the field as it does in the boardroom, performance-wise, and another to deliver that. Though I can say from my test-driving the company’s Atlas socks for a few months, they work as advertised so far, but how much further can it go in delivering performance than your average Walmart socks? That remains to be seen. But as long as they don’t retail for $50, I can see there being a big market for these, take it from me, Stink Foot.
Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly referred to Tony Hsieh as the former CEO of Zappos.