June 1, 2016
Alumni Spotlight: Q&A with Ministry of Supply
Have you ever asked yourself, “why can’t I be as comfortable at work as I am at the gym”? You know, the effortless comfort of your sweatpants, gym shorts, and t-shirts that were created to cool your body and support a range of activity — why can’t workplace attire be similar?
Well, not too long ago, three MIT students asked those questions and now Aman Advani, Gihan Amarasiriwardena, and Kit Hickey are the co-founders of Ministry of Supply, a brand pioneering performance professional apparel.
We just had to learn more about professional clothing made with active lifestyles in mind, so we caught up with the MIT Alumni for some insight:
Who is the ideal Ministry of Supply (MoS) customer, and how did you recognize the need for “performance professional” clothing?
Kit: Ministry of Supply’s performance professional apparel is designed and engineered for the active, youthful professional. Each item brings the flexibility and performance of athletic clothing to the office — without sacrificing polished, professional style.
All three of us experienced firsthand a void in the market for professional clothes that were comfortable and could keep up with our on-the-go lifestyles in the same way as our athletic gear. Personally, when I was working in finance, I didn’t feel as comfortable or as confident in my work clothes as I did in my hiking gear. Gihan and Aman had similar experiences, so we decided to set out to merge the performance of athletic clothing and the aesthetic of professional attire.
What role did fitness and recreation play in your lifestyle as grad students at MIT?
Kit: A lot! Starting a company while in grad school can be stressful, and I’ve always used fitness as a way to clear my head. Some of my best conversations with friends happened while running along the Charles River. I also played on the MIT Sloan ice hockey team.
Aman: Fitness has always been a priority in my life. Knowing that a few health problems are common in my family, I know that it’s important to exercise regularly. In addition to being motivated by the health benefits, I really enjoy playing frisbee, tennis, basketball — pretty much any team sport. While at MIT, recreation was such a great time for thinking, relaxing and decompressing. That’s something I value in fitness to this day.
Gihan: Fitness was a core part of my experience at MIT. I ran varsity Cross Country for both the Indoor and Outdoor Track teams as an undergrad. Being a part of a team was as much a form of physical health as it was of mental and social health. It provided me with a community of friends who shared similar values to mine. And the meditative effects of exercise provided a clear mental state that made the learning process more effective.
Can you further explain your idea of the blurred lines between work, play and downtime?
Aman: Twenty years ago, lives were much more regimented. The work day was an 8-hour day, typically from 9 to 5. People would delineate the different aspects of their lives–work, home and family, friends, etcetera — very clearly. But millennials are different. Having grown up in an era of constant connection on mobile phones, social media and the Internet, they crave an integrated lifestyle that’s as flexible as they are. Now our days consist of closer to 16 hours of activity, from the break-of-dawn workout, to the commute to work, to a high-power day of meetings and to dinner or drinks afterwards. Our clothing needs to be able to flex with these changing activities. It’s our philosophy at Ministry of Supply that the clothes you wear to work in the morning should be able to transition to after work drinks or a trip on an airplane — whatever comes your way.
We think it’s pretty cool that Gihan was able to run a half marathon in a MoS suit, what was that experience like?
Gihan: We often talk about the performance technology found in the Aviator 2 suit — the 4-way stretch fabric, wrinkle-resistant material and breathability — but we wanted to put our design to the test. While we don’t necessarily design the suit to be worn running (though it performs well!), as engineers, we wanted to test the extreme use case. The suit performed very well, and helped me break a Guinness World Record, which gives us confidence that it can help our customers through a marathon workday.
What’s your favorite way to stay in shape these days?
Kit: I love to do anything that gets me outdoors: running, hiking, skiing and biking are some of my favorites.
Aman: These days, I prioritize a healthy diet combined with regular exercise. I have enjoyed taking a closer look at my diet and finding a balance between hearty and healthy. My workout routine now largely focuses on exercise in the gym, but I do like to mix it up with the occasional weekend hike or tennis match.
Gihan: I am still an avid runner, even after graduating from MIT. I love my morning runs. They’re a great way to kickstart the day, both mentally and physically — the ritual keeps me active but also gives me time to reflect.
How do you find time to balance recreation among your other priorities?
Kit: By making it a priority. I know that if I work out, I’ll feel better, think better and be a better leader and teammate. When I think about how much exercise benefits every aspect of my life, it’s easy to make it a priority.
Aman: Honestly, making regular exercise a priority can be challenging. With other hobbies and a busy work schedule competing for my time, it can be difficult to keep workouts on the calendar. I aim to make fitness a ritual, and am constantly seeking new and creative ways to incorporate exercise into my schedule. Thankfully, at Ministry of Supply, we all are yearning to stay active and fit. That culture encourages me to make the effort.
Gihan: At Ministry of Supply, work-life integration is one of our core ideologies. We try to encourage ourselves and our team to make it a priority. We even go so far as to schedule calendar time for workouts.
Last question, does MoS have any interesting business practices inspired by fitness or recreation?
Kit: In terms of policy, we reimburse the cost of gym membership for all employees. And, informally, the culture at Ministry of Supply also inspires fitness. In the spirit of work-life integration, often times team members will go for runs together during lunch.
Aman: We also find it beneficial to be outdoors and encourage recreation on team outings and retreats to places like Cape Cod and Castle Island. More organically, at Ministry of Supply we like to get out of the office and keep moving, whether that’s a walking meeting or a trip to a coffee shop for a change of scenery and some fresh air.
It’s clear that the Ministry of Supply founders know a thing or two about shifting gears throughout a busy workday, and what to wear while doing so. But don’t just take their advice on suits that compliment your lifestyle — you can also learn a thing or too about balancing success and recreation, during and after MIT.
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