Meaningful Business (MB:) Please tell us a bit about your background.
Gihan Amarasiriwardena (GA): I’ve always been a tinkerer. Before designing clothes at Ministry of Supply, I was a chemical engineer at MIT. And before that, I was a Boy Scout crafting my own sleeping bags and rain jackets. Nowadays, outside of Ministry of Supply, I’m still a tinkerer. I restore vintage BMWs and make my own mid-century-inspired furniture.
I am an avid runner and cyclist (1:14 Half-Marathon). I was on the Cross Country team at MIT, and run marathons. Most recently, I ran the 2016 Boston Marathon. And, about a year ago, I ran a half-marathon fully dressed in a Ministry of Supply suit to test its performance qualities. The suit passed the test, and I set a Guinness world record. Recently I did a 3-day, 350-mile solo bike ride from Boston to Montreal – time on my bike or running are some of my most creative moments.
MB: Please introduce your business and the problems you’re trying to solve.
GA: Ministry of Supply is an MIT-founded clothing company that leverages advanced manufacturing techniques, innovative materials, and human-centered design to make clothing scientifically better.
MB: What is your biggest challenge right now and what support do you need?
GA: Well, it’s not lost on us that we started a company to make suits more comfortable… and people have largely stopped wearing suits on a daily basis. We’re in growth mode. How do we grow past a pandemic, and evolve our company mission to suit the needs of today’s consumer.
But, we’re lucky to be well-suited for the task. We have always operated our company more like a lab than a traditional fashion brand. Scientists abide by the scientific method: identify a problem, research it, form a hypothesis, test, analyse, conclude, repeat. We take that method in designing dress shirts and joggers, and we apply that same “Design, Build, Test” mindset to our company.
Gihan and Aman Advani, Co-Founder & CEO, Ministry of Supply, in their studio.
MB: What is your ambition for the future of your business?
GA: We started Ministry of Supply ten years ago and are living our dream through the company. In those ten years, we’ve been on the cutting edge of technology and still treat everyday like an ever-evolving experiment. The value of science in our lives is more important than ever, and we’re looking forward to continuing our work to make clothing scientifically better and adaptable.
MB: What is your advice to other leaders who want to combine profit and purpose?
GA: “Determine your company’s through line”.
For us it was combination of science + clothing for better careers, and any where that we found that we could combine the two would leverage our core competencies that was a way to contribute beyond simply monetary donations. This resulted in our Starter Kits for Kids (STEM ed through clothing) and Adults (career-readiness outfits).
MB – Tell us a mistake you’ve learned from:
GA: When my Co-Founder and I first started this company, we really didn’t take the time to understand the conditions under which we each thrive. My cCo-Founder does best working in shorter increments, meeting with people and networking, and moving through important tasks throughout the day. I am different: I thrive in long, deep independent work sessions. Once we realised that split, we became much more productive partners.
MB – How do you spend your time away from work?
GA: I have a young son, so my time away from work is family-focused. We all enjoy the outdoors and being active, so we have traditions like family runs on Saturday morning, followed by brunch, and are big into cycling and travel. I like to really optimise my time off for fun and to refuel and find inspiration for my work.
MB – What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
GA: My college advisor said who started and directed many companies in tech and biosciences said:, Companies Design, Make and Sell product – you need to decide which ones your company does, and build a working proficiency in the part you don’t know yet. I was a fresh-out of college graduate at the time and helped give a framework.
MB – What is the one book everyone should read?
GA: ‘The Innovator’s Dilemma’ – as an engineer, this in particular helped me reposition market viability of products not from a novelty and performance perspective but rather triangulating cost and job to be done.
MB – What is something you wish you were better at?
GA: Email. It may seem simple – but something I’m striving to improve responsiveness and clarity on.
MB – What’s one thing you want to achieve in 2022?
GA: Share our playbook that we’ve discovered on how to make low-carbon clothing. I just gave a TEDx talk on it, but I think as a designer and engineer, I had no idea of the gravity of the decisions I was making and want to help others make impactful low-carbon decisions at the design stage of products.
Discover the other leaders recognised on the 2021 MB100, for their work combining profit and purpose to help achieve the United Nations Global Goals, here.