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When Aman Advani, an unlikely menswear mogul, worked as a consultant after graduating from Georgia Tech, his days were rather grueling. "I was getting up at 5 AM, catching a flight wearing a Brooks Brothers dress shirt, and working till 2 AM that night. By the end, your shirt’s half-untucked, you’ve got pit stains, you’re nervous to see anyone you’ve known at all. You certainly don’t want to get in front of the client." The experience made him want more from his work outfits. Not better style, per se, but more efficiency: armor worthy of an airplane warrior who has to be at his desk for days on end.
The result of that quest is Ministry of Supply, a four-year-old holistic men’s clothing brand (everything from socks to winter jackets) that uses technical fabrics and innovative manufacturing techniques to make clothes that work as hard as the people wearing them, while still blending in at the office. "We call it performance menswear," Advani says, standing in the brand’s newly opened Soho storefront, which is nestled amidst competing outlets like REI and Under Armour (the brand also has stores in Boston and San Francisco). "A guy doesn’t want just a pair of pants, he wants pants he can throw in the wash, wear them a couple days in a row."
Ministry of Supply, named for the British army equipment bureau, presents an uncommonly logical approach to fashion that may serve well for men overwhelmed by choice. Why not simply wear the same thing all the time, adding and subtracting layers as needed? Work, life, office, bar, why make a distinction? "The millennial mindset is trading work-life balance for work-life integration. If you like what you do, you’re much happier integrating it. You’re not trying to think, ‘I gotta get out of here and start my life.’ It all kind of bleeds together," Advani says.
Given this rhetoric, it may not be surprising to hear that Ministry of Supply’s four co-founders met as students at MIT. Advani started as an industrial systems engineer and then went to Massachusetts for business school, where he met Kit Hickey. Kevin Rustagi worked at Apple while attending the school. Gihan Amarasiriwardena was a chemical engineer in MIT’s sports engineering department, where Lululemon, Adidas, and New Balance do research. "We see how these engineering principles are applied to sports apparel, but what about the other 12 hours of the day?" says Amarasiriwardena, attending the store opening in a Ministry shirt and experimental tapered pants.
In 2012, Ministry of Supply’s founders launched their jersey-like Atmos dress shirt on Kickstarter, creating the "future of businesswear" with phase-change materials (PCM) normally used in astronaut suits. The PCM used in Atmos absorb heat when they’re hot and release it when cold. The shirt also came with anti-bacterial coating and space age stretchiness. The project earned $429,276 on a goal of $30,000, put the group in national headlines, and attracted investors including Red Sox players and the owner of an NBA team. Using an MIT contact, they began working with the same factories as REI to produce the shirt and start remaking the rest of the worker’s wardrobe.
"Clothing was designed not to work with your body but to cover your body," he says. "Now we can have it perform with your body."
At the store opening, Advani wears a seamless Ministry of Supply blue gingham Archive dress shirt and Aviator chinos that share a certain uncanny glossiness. They look as suitable for a martial arts session as a walk across the Harvard quad or a day at Goldman Sachs. The style might be described as techno-WASP, but not in a bad way. That’s thanks to Ministry’s Irish designer Jarlath Mellett, the former director of design at both Brooks Brothers and Theory (Mellett amplified his Ministry outfit by layering a navy Atmos shirt under a lighter blue blazer). "Clothing was designed not to work with your body but to cover your body," he says. "Now we can have it perform with your body."
This means function is at least equal to form. It sounds like athleisure, but Ministry is even less about traditional ideas of fashion. "You will never hear us say, ‘Here’s our Spring/Summer.’ I could care less. It’s more like a Tesla car," Mellett says. In other words, the clothes work, and come with just enough design flourishes to be both comprehensible and compelling to an upscale market. Take the Gemini, for example, which Advani calls the "16-hour dress shirt," because that’s how long you can wear it for straight. It has laser-cut button holes and perforations under the arms for ventilation. The collar leaves and cuffs aren’t stitched but thermolaminated from two pieces of fabric so they become crisp two-dimensional planes.
From a PCM cardigan to no-show athletic ankle socks, all of Ministry of Supply’s offerings fit well within the Silicon Valley obsession of optimization. Now that we have Soylent, the "four-hour workweek," and Bulletproof coffee, we can now disrupt our fashion as well. This hyperlogical mindset is also reflected in the store’s decoration scheme, modeled after a high-school science lab with tall metal benches, Rubik's cubes, and a rubberized coin floor.
In The Awl, Matt Buchanan recently described trendy veggie bowls as "the perfect meal for more perfectly optimized knowledge workers." Likewise, these are perfectly optimized clothes you don’t have to think about or even take off, suitable for sleeping underneath your start-up desk and then coding again the next morning. Suits and ties once created an air of hierarchical formality in the workplace; Ministry of Supply instead gives off vibes of the cheerful, slightly nerdy capability the tech industry lusts after. But unlike some of tech’s most utilitarian accouterments (hoodies), the brand’s clothes are pleasant to wear, and look good. It’s possible to take some pleasure in their poetry of efficiency.
In the large, all-white dressing room at the back of the store, I try on a navy Atmos shirt, the jersey-like product that launched Ministry’s success. It feels cool, a sharp contrast to the stuffiness of a cotton shirt after a heat-wave humid day in Manhattan. It’s clear that the fabric simply will never wrinkle; instead, it rustles invitingly, a bit more robotic than madras, perhaps, but a fair tradeoff for the convenience of never ironing. It’s not easy to roll up the stiff laminated cuffs, however, and the shirttails don’t look great untucked. But that presumes your office allows such sloppiness in the first place.