Menswear Startup Uses Old School Business Tactics to Yield Rapid Growth
In today’s technology-driven world, and even more so for those of us engrained in the tech ecosystem, it’s easy to forget about the tried and true tactics that have helped grow businesses and brands for decades. Young tech companies are all about “growth hacking.” The paradigm is starting to see a bit of a shift, however, as recently we’ve seen many tech startups here in Boston embrace older, more traditional ways of marketing.
Take DraftKings, for example, who has not only dumped a ton of money into television ads, but also put dollars behind Out Of Home advertising such as a buyout of South Station. And, the current South Station advertiser is NEST, the tech-enabled thermostat. Walk through the streets of Boston and you’ll see the Drizly brand plastered on recycling bins, trash containers and bus stops. Another example? CoachUp, the online coaching platform, has recently delved into radio with spots on 98.5 The Sports Hub.
Taking things a step further is Boston-based Ministry Of Supply, who has brought technology to men’s clothing.
Like any tech startup, every product from Ministry Of Supply goes through research, testing and iteration before hitting the marketplace. Utilizing technology the company strives to maintain their mission to create garments that revolve around the needs of the human body.
Ministry Of Supply was founded four years ago by Kit Hickey, Aman Advani and Gihan Amarasiriwardena, who came together while attending MIT. Their first product, the Apollo Dress Shirt, launched through a Kickstarter campaign in 2012, which at the time set a record as the most funded fashion project. Today, the company has a full clothing line; shirts, socks, blazers, t-shirts, pants, and newly released jackets.
How they get these products into the hands of consumers today is where the old fashion techniques come into play – good ole Brick & Mortar (the polar opposite of Kickstarter).
I recently caught up with Hickey at the Newbury Street location.
“Our differentiator is in the performance attributes, better fit and ease of care of our garments. The best way for consumers to realize these benefits is to actually touch and try on the products themselves.”
I myself am a good case study for Hickey and MOS as I walked away from the store, which started as a pop-up, but is now a permanent location, impressed and wanting more after feeling and actually putting the products on.
ORIGIN + GROWTH
Hickey grew up outside of Boston in Waltham, MA, went to undergrad at Colby College and is self-described as outdoorsy. Post Colby she spent several years in investment banking and founded a company in the Netherlands, which connected entrepreneurs in emerging markets with investors. She then spent some time in Boulder, where she realized that her athletic clothing enabled her to do anything but her professional clothing did not give her that same level of confidence. Ready for her next move, and a return home, Hickey was off to MIT Sloan in 2011.
“I had this idea in my head going into Sloan. I certainly knew I would be venturing down the entrepreneurial path again and was passionate about creating clothing that enabled people to feel and look their best.”
MIT, Hickey said, excels at connecting the right people, and in this case, the school was spot on.
“Me, Aman and Gihan all had very different backgrounds, but similar thoughts running through our heads. Once we were connected it all came together.”
Utilizing a sample shop in New York, the trio began conceptualizing, prototyping and testing dress shirts in small batches (ten at a time) then sold those shirts to family, friends and classmates. By 2012 they had what they needed to launch their crowdfunding campaign and eventually entered MassChallenge.
Ministry Of Supply would do a follow on Kickstarter Campaign for their line of socks, dubbed, Atlas, which brought in $200,000.
With their early traction, they needed an injection of capital to ramp up the business. In September of 2013 the startup closed a $1.1 million seed round led by VegasTech Fund. Also in that round was former Red Sox pitcher, Craig Breslow (a biochemistry major at Yale), who Hickey told me approached the company after his wife bought him some shirts for his birthday.
To date, the menswear startup has raised a total of six million dollars with the latest $1.5 million injection coming this past June.
That capital has been put to great use. Ministry of Supply now employs roughly 25 people, including retail team members. In addition to their Newbury Street shop they have brick and mortar locations in San Francisco and New York. More on the way? I asked Hickey:
“While we definitely plan to add stores, we take an online mentality with our retail locations. We use data from our online sales and start with pop-ups to test different locations and design concepts. We really want to understand what works and how our stores can be most effective in reaching our customers and telling our story.”
To further expand Ministry of Supply, Hickey talked about new geographies, distribution channels and products, most notably breaking into the Athleisure category that is a hot trend in fashion today.
Of course, there is one category clearly missing from Ministry of Supply’s product line – women’s clothing. With a female co-founder, one would assume it’s only a matter of time before we see that on the shelves of MoS store fronts.
Hickey, who would obviously enjoy being able to wear the products she’s helped create, didn’t get too much into the topic, but said it is, of course, on their radar.
Whether here in Boston or in NYC or San Francisco, if you’re interested in seeing a young, innovative company in action, drop by one of the Ministry of Supply retail stores. You’ll not only find yourself impressed with their full line of products (and upgrading your wardrobe), but you’ll get to experience a young tech-focused company utilizing old school techniques to drive growth and build a reputable brand.