Startup with Style: A Look at Downtown Crossing Business Ministry of Supply

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Posted May 24, 2013 by Scott Kearnan in Business
Ministry Supply Team

Boston businesses have plenty of neighborhoods to choose from when it comes to setting up shop. But for Kit Hickey, running a business in downtown Boston isn’t just about the convenient location or access to after-work bars and restaurants. (Though, ahem, that certainly doesn’t hurt.)

Being downtown, with its constant buzz of professionals on the streets, is actually perfect research for Hickey and her cutting-edge clothing brand Ministry of Supply. As office workers stream to and fro, the sidewalks become sort of like a live focus group with the company’s main customers: fashionable young professionals who are always on the go.

“It’s a great way to see people in the wild!” laughs Hickey. “Walking around here, you can see the choices in fashion—from the colors of ties to how people wear their pants. And we especially love to watch people in the summer to gauge how their choices change.”

Why is that important? Well, because Ministry of Supply doesn’t exactly produce your standard dress shirts and slacks. The company, which was founded by Hickey and three fellow MIT students, uses advanced engineering concepts to create clothing that more comfortably adapts to the demands of the body—and the environment.

Ministry's Apollo Shirt

Doesn’t look like a space suit. But Ministry’s Apollo shirts are made with the same material used by NASA for astronauts. Photo Curtesy of Ministry of Supply

For example, take Ministry of Supply’s crisp Apollo dress shirt. It’s not just named for the sunlight god because the sleek, modern fit shows off your Sports Club/LA-chiseled chest—though, once again, that doesn’t hurt. To develop its apparel, Ministry of Supply used thermal analysis technology that maps how and where human body heat is formed. It’s the same kind of technology that’s used in high-tech security. (You know in movies, when the S.W.A.T. team finds the bad guy hiding in the woods using a thermal imaging camera? It’s that kind of wizardry.) The Apollo shirt is made of the same material developed by NASA for space suits. On moonwalks, this material regulates body temperature in extreme, possibly life-threatening conditions. When you’re walking down Washington Street in mid-August, the material will regulate body temperature so that you can avoid overheating while waiting for the T.

The high-tech couture goes on: Hickey says the ventilation qualities of Ministry’s Aero Slacks were inspired by jet airflow. The garments have silver yarns threaded throughout the collars and cuffs that are naturally antimicrobial—hence, no smelliness. Ideas like these are innovative, but in a way, Ministry of Supply’s concept is remarkably simple. “It’s really about understanding how the body works,” says Hickey. “It’s really about, how can we bring what we learn in the lab to the best clothing manufacturers in the world?”

And when it came time to find a new home for its office, Ministry of Supply decided to bring its innovative team to downtown Boston. “We looked at buildings in Cambridge early on, but the rent prices were astronomical,” says Hickey. For a company that had big ideas but was still building its business, downtown Boston proved a more economical choice.

Plus, Hickey likes the mixed vibe. You might have a suite of more traditional, “conservative” offices on one side of the street (you know who you are, finance types!) and a block full of startup ninjas on the other. “It’s great to see the spectrum of businesses that are here,” says Hickey. “It really helps us create our business, being able to interact with different kinds of people.” And the local startup culture is really supportive, says Hickey, who points to the proximity of MassChallenge. The world’s largest accelerator program is located on the Fan Pier waterfront, not far from Ministry’s office at 105 South Street. Mark that address, because in late June Ministry will reopen its boutique-style showroom so that customers—or curious fashion fans—can swing by to try, buy, and learn more about their state-of-the-art clothing.

Meanwhile, Hickey says that the company is enjoying its digs among other startup Boston businesses. “That culture has really brought a breath of fresh air to the community,” says Hickey. And no silver yarn was required.

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