During the summer in New York, I pity my friends who work at jobs with strict office dress codes. When temperatures tease the three-digit Fahrenheit mark (just under 38 degrees Celcius), I relish not having to walk outside with long pants or a long-sleeved collared shirt. At the same time, I look at awe at professionals who walk in and out of office buildings throughout the city wearing a full suit and tie. Granted, their cubicles are heavily air-conditioned but they seldom have the same cool relief walking outdoors. When I was young, I wondered: How do they do it? As an adult, I’ve realized the secret for some is seeksucker. For others it’s linen. But for the majority of office workers, there is no secret; they are forced to tolerate the heat while wearing wool, and all with a smile.
So, when Ministry of Supply (MoS) first launched on Kickstarter in 2012 with the promise to deliver business clothing that adapts to changing environments, I was intrigued.
Talent from MIT, technology from space
Aman Advani, Gihan Amarasiriwardena and Kit Hickey, co-founders of MoS, all met during their MBA studies at the MIT Sloan School of Management. Hickey recalls, “My co-founder Aman and I were in the same ‘core group’ at MIT Sloan, which is a small group of around six people who you do all your group projects and homework with. Because of this, we really knew each other’s working styles early on and could tell that we’d be compatible working together. When we met Gihan, it was like everything clicked. The three of us had different backgrounds and different skills but had shared values and really had a similar vision of what we wanted the company to become.” For founding teams, that can be pretty rare as many aspiring entrepreneurs regularly make the mistake of working with a partner who has the right credentials but the wrong personality and vision.
What brought the three MoS founders closer together was their active lifestyles, which strengthened their collective resolve to create a company and design a product that could help — not hinder — everyday performance. Advani played ultimate frisbee. Growing up, Amarasiriwardena was a boy scout. At MIT, he was captain of the cross-country varsity team. Hickey played ice hockey and enjoys trail running and skiing. And all three of them knew what the current workwear market lacked, which was clothing that worked just as well in boardrooms as it would at the gym or great outdoors, and they sought to provide just that.
In an interview with Racked, Aman Advani recounts an average day when he worked as a consultant for Deloitte. “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.” So, when he co-founded Ministry of Supply, Advani and his team wanted to figure out a smarter solution to the traditional dress shirt. Their answer was the Apollo dress shirt, which would make its first public appearance as a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter. The top of the campaign’s description reads:
During the day, your body temperature fluctuates, moisture accumulates, odors develop, and you go through a wide range of motions — nothing is constant. Currently, business clothing is unresponsive to a changing environment. We believe it needs to be.
2,798 backers agreed. And by the end of their campaign, the team had raised a whopping $429,276. What made the product, which was woven with technology used by NASA in its space suits, especially attractive to backers were five features:
- Heat management to help you regulate your body temperature in both hot and cold environments.
- Moisture management to wick sweat away.
- Odor control to eliminate bacteria which causes uncomfortable odors.
- Accommodating design and materials which gave MoS shirts the perfect amount of stretch in key areas that complement an average wearer’s movements.
- Wrinkle-free without the use of toxic chemical coatings like Formaldehyde.
At the time, the Apollo dress shirt had become the number one funded fashion project of all time on Kickstarter. Hickey explains that the three main ingredients for success were:
- “[We] really paid attention to the story. We focused on why our product was a step change difference and could therefore improve your life.”
- “Lots of prep work. Before the launch, we developed a list of 150 bloggers and writers to reach out to. We then reached out to all of them within the first 24 hours of launch and reached out to another 150 in the first week. We spent a lot of time pre-launch understanding how we could get the word out.”
- “Engaged backers. Kickstarter backers are the most loyal and outspoken early customers you could ask for. We were transparent with them, established relationships with them (we replied to all messages within 12 hours) and let them know how much we appreciated them.”
After the breakout success of the Apollo dress shirt, MoS went on to raise several rounds of funding from investors. To-date, the company has gathered nearly $6 million to fuel further growth.
Recognizing the power of multi-touch marketing and an offline presence
What helped validate MoS as a business was all the media attention it received, which made its Kickstarter campaign a smash-hit. And if there is one thing that MoS knows well it is that earned media begets more earned media because bloggers and journalists love to follow up on an exciting or trending story. Of course, to keep things fresh, every once in awhile the MoS team may pull a quirky PR stunt. For instance, this past winter, MoS co-founder Gihan Amarasiriwardena ran a half-marathon wearing a product his company had recently released — a suit. The most exciting part of this story: Amarasiriwardena set a Guinness world record when he crossed the finish line at 1:24:41.
But when asked about the company’s secret to success, Hickey explains that while PR and word-of-mouth (WOM) have been exceptionally powerful drivers of customer acquisition, Hickey credits the company’s multi-touch approach to marketing. Hickey knows that MoS’s marketing strategy is dependent on a variety of marketing channels working together in an integrated fashion. The performance workwear shop sponsors popular tech podcasts, buys ads that blanket Boston subway stations and uses search engine optimization to drive targeted traffic to its website. Unlike most Ecommerce brands though, MoS also uses retail storefronts to acquire and engage customers. And it is access to the brand through those different avenues that ultimately secures the sales. This multi-channel — or omni-channel — approach allows MoS to strategically educate its customers about the new category of apparel it has pioneered, and helps shoppers discover more about the product at different stages of the customer journey. Hickey shares, “Our customers tend to be pretty intentional, meaning that once they hear about us in some way (whether through a friend or PR or an ad) they’ll then do their homework before buying. So, they may read [online] reviews, or read additional stories about us [around the web] before visiting our website or store.”
As the company grows, Hickey and her team are convinced that more storefronts will be key to the business’s long-term success. “We see physical stores as a large area of growth for us, and, therefore something we’re committed to investing in.” Currently, MoS boasts locations in Boston, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. but plans to expand to more markets over the coming years. Increasingly, digital-first brands are breaking into brick-and-mortar. Warby Parker, the $1.2 billion eyewear company, has 34 stores across the U.S. and one in Canada. Bonobos, which generates over $100 million in annual revenue, has 23 guideshops. Of course, one thing they all have in common is they know that shifting their strategy to focus exclusively on retail growth is a risky endeavor. So, they all consistently invest in multiple marketing channels (email, social, retargeting, and more) because they know that in marketing there are rarely any silver bullets for success. To build a business that withstands the test of time, you need to employ a variety of marketing initiatives that complement each other to improve the impact of your overall marketing strategy.
Image credits: Ministry of Supply’s Kickstarter page and Instagram