Gihan Amarasiriwardena ’11 is known for cofounding Ministry of Supply, an apparel brand that uses NASA technology in its fabrics. However, fewer people know that in 2015 he set a Guinness World Record for running a half-marathon in a business suit.
“I ran it in one of our Ministry of Supply suits,” says Amarasiriwardena. “They are made out of a special material that has a great mechanical stretch to it. I almost ran a personal best!”
Ministry of Supply began in 2010, when he and classmate Kevin Rustagi realized that the microfiber and polyester materials used to make athletic gear could make business attire much more comfortable. “So we ended up cutting up some running gear and hacking a dress shirt. It looked like a ‘Franken-shirt’ but it worked,” says Amarasiriwardena, who ran track and cross-country at MIT.
After selling a few of the shirts around campus, Amarasiriwardena and Rustagi joined the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship. There they connected with Kit Hickey, MBA ’13, and Aman Advani, then a Sloan graduate student, who were simultaneously working to develop a moisture-wicking dress sock.
The company, named after the World War II government agency responsible for supplying the British armed forces, was launched in 2012 and achieved quick success with crowdfunding. The two hot items—a shirt that uses NASA-developed phase-change technology to store and release heat based on the wearer’s surroundings, and dress socks infused with carbonized coffee to combat odor—raised more than $600,000.
“We’re hacking clothing instead of hacking code,” Amarasiriwardena says. His knack for hacking clothes began as a Boy Scout. He combined fleece with heavy-duty trash bags to make a warmer rain jacket and added shredded Mylar to his sleeping bags to absorb heat.
“The idea of making clothing better was always something that fascinated me,” he says. “And being a chemical engineering major, I was always interested in the materials side as well.”
Today the company sells about 100,000 items annually, both online and in retail locations nationwide. A new item is a winter jacket with an embedded microcontroller system that combines real-time information about temperature and the wearer’s activity level to adjust the jacket’s warmth.
“The jacket uses artificial intelligence and voice control to keep you warm and maintain a healthy temperature,” he says. “It’s about using wearable technology to keep you comfortable and create a better experience.”