What is Ministry of Supply? How have they been able to successfully crowdfund several apparel projects? What lessons can you learn from their challenges and breakthroughs? On this episode, you’ll hear from Ministry of Supply’s President and Co-Founder, Gihan Amarasiriwardena. In our conversation, Gihan describes Ministry of Supply’s current project, why they decided to work with textiles, challenges faced along the way, how they’ve incorporated customer feedback, advice for innovators and so much more! Discover the lessons and insights that you can come away with on this exciting episode featuring Gihan!

Feeding the desire to innovate.

How does an innovative idea like a heated jacket get to the marketplace? What sort of company takes that experimental and out-of-the-box approach? On this episode, you’ll hear about Ministry of Supply from their President and Co-Founder, Gihan Amarasiriwardena. Gihan has a personal thread of innovation that runs all the way back to his childhood experience as a Boy Scout. This desire to take risks and innovate shows up in his work with Ministry of Supply and their boldness to create products like the first intelligent heated jacket. Learn more about Gihan’s story and what Ministry of Supply is up to on this episode!

Valuing feedback from backers.

What can an organization do to build trust with their consumers? How can they signal to their fans that they want to adapt their products due to the feedback they receive? At Ministry of Supply, it comes down to looking back at past campaigns and products to learn from customer feedback on what worked and what needed to be improved upon. They’ve clearly resonated with their supporters to the point where 3/4ths of their current backers are repeat backers from previous projects they’ve launched. Learn more about Ministry of Supply and how they are making an impact on the crowdfunding scene by listening to this episode!

Advice for innovators who want to work on apparel projects.

While the apparel industry is difficult enough, why would someone want to combine the at times temperamental industry, with the challenges and pressures of crowdfunding? On this episode, Gihan Amarasiriwardena shares his advice for innovators and entrepreneurs who are looking to shake things up with an apparel project. While it wasn’t easy, Gihan points to the ability to interface with consumers and adapt their supply accordingly as a top advantage to crowdfunding an apparel project. Getting a strong sense of consumer demand can make or break a startup’s chances for success. What additional advice does Gihan have for startups? Find out on this engaging episode!  

How to garner good media coverage.

What does it take to garner positive media coverage for crowdfunding projects? Is there a script to follow or does it all come down to blind luck? On this episode, you’ll hear from Ministry of Supply’s Gihan Amarasiriwardena as he goes over how they’ve been able to attract good media coverage on their crowdfunding campaign. Part of the reason why Ministry of Supply has been able to court positive media coverage is due to the fact that they are hitting on a trending topic – wearable technology. As much as an advantage that has been, Gihan stresses the importance of having several “Storylines” for your product or brand that you can lean on or highlight at any given time. Learn more about Ministry of Supply’s approach to media coverage on this informative episode!

Key Takeaways

  • [1:30] Gihan Amarasiriwardena joins the podcast to discuss Ministry of Supply’s heated jacket, Mercury.
  • [3:20] Gihan talks about his first crowdfunding campaign.
  • [4:40] How did Gihan get into textiles? What challenges has he run into?
  • [6:50] Lesson learned from several crowdfunding campaigns.
  • [8:30] Incorporating feedback from customers.
  • [10:20] Tips for creators looking for good media coverage.
  • [12:00] Advice for innovators interested in crowdfunding an apparel project.
  • [13:30] Gihan enters the Launch Round.
  • [15:20] How to connect with Gihan and Ministry of Supply.


Connect With Ministry of Supply



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View this episode's transcript

Roy Morejon:        Welcome to Art of the Kickstart your source for crowdfunding campaign success. I’m your host Roy Morejon president of Enventys Partners. The top full-service turnkey product development in crowdfunding marketing agency in the world.

Roy Morejon:        We’ve helped startups raise over $100 million dollars for our clients since 2010. Each week I’ll interview a crowdfunding success story and inspirational entrepreneur, or business expert in order to help you take your startup to the next level of crowdfunding. Art of the Kickstart is honored to be sponsored by BackerKit and The Gadget Flow.

Roy Morejon:        BackerKit makes software that crowdfunding project creators use to survey backers, organize data, and manage orders for fulfillment by automating your operations and helping you print and ship faster. The Gadget Flow is a product discovery platform that helps you discover, save, and buy awesome products. It is the ultimate buyers guide for luxury gadgets and creative gifts.

Roy Morejon:        Now let’s get on with the show.

Roy Morejon:        Welcome to another edition of Art of the Kickstart, today I’m joined with Gihan from the Ministry of Supply.

Roy Morejon:        Gihan thank you so much for joining us today.

Gihan:              Thanks for having me here Roy.

Roy Morejon:        I’m always happy and fortunate to interview people that have done more than one crowdfunding campaign and your most recent campaign, The Mercury the first intelligent heated jacket is your third project on Kickstarter. Let’s take a time, or travel back.

Roy Morejon:        Where does this idea come from for this particular product.

Gihan:              This product we’ve been working on for a while, we’ve been making rain jackets for quite a while. Insulated jackets for about four or five years now, but we’ve always wondered how could we actually elevate the comfort of these jackets

Gihan:              One of the big things we’ve learned is that heat is something that we actually need to modulate, and we had this inspiration, which, was the next thermostat in our office made such a big difference in our comfort. We started thinking what if we put a next in our jacket and so that was kind of the point of inspiration. We found out there were several technologies that kind of exist out there right now that haven’t been put together yet.

Gihan:              Carbon fiber heating elements, for example, looking at the new battery technologies that have come out. That is now available at scale, that’s great for this type of operation. There’s a lot of things came together and we said let’s actually bring it together and make this intelligent, heated jacket.

Roy Morejon:        That’s incredible. We’ve definitely seen a change obviously in the comfort level in people. With the technology that’s coming out. I know there have been a couple other crowdfunding campaigns in this arena in terms of gloves, and jackets.

Roy Morejon:        I’m reading through my notes that you got this idea from being a young boy scout, but not being able to find a jacket that could protect you from the wind. Obviously up in Boston as a former Bostonian I know just how bitter cold it can be up there. I’m sure you guys are dealing with another snow storm right now aren’t you?

Gihan:              Yeah, that’s right. I’m looking out the window, the snow’s coming down that’s right.

Roy Morejon:        I don’t miss those days.

Gihan:              I’m sure.

Roy Morejon:        So you were able to find some classmates at M.I.T. who obviously had, or similar predicaments and created this clothing company around it. You guys did a couple other projects on Kickstarter, I believe a sock campaign, and then a shirt, and now you guys have evolved into a jacket.

Roy Morejon:        Let’s jump back in time when you ran the first crowdfunding campaign. What did that look like?

Gihan:              It’s really interesting my co-founders, and I were all kind of solving the same problem. Which was really kind of interesting, our professional clothes weren’t comfortable, and we wanted to solve that. We attempted to do that by cutting up running shirts, selling them and making dress shirts or cutting off running socks, and selling them to dress socks.

Gihan:              All of these hacks were things we had done to solve the problems we had witnessed every day in our commute to work. What we decided to do was validate that the product actually was something that people wanted and that’s when we launched our first Kickstarter. That was back in 2012 with our Apollo dress shirt. The Apollo dress shirts are a really interesting one. It features a material that we came across in the labs called a faze change material.

Gihan:              Faze change material is kind of like a thermal battery, NASA used it as a lining of space suits to keep astronauts comfortable. Basically, it absorbs extra heat when you’re too hot and stores it in the fabric and releases it back to you when you are cold.

Gihan:              It’s a really kind of intelligent way of modulating heat, but in an embedded into the fabric so, it was only natural that it would bring us to our new project, where we are looking at heating elements in this garment. Using machine learning to take it to the next level.

Roy Morejon:        So how’d you guys get into textiles anyway?

Gihan:              For us, it really came to us in those moments of hacking. For myself I was a Boy Scout growing up, I went camping nearly every month and fell in love with outdoor gear. Just being a tinkerer I just wanted to kind of make my own materials and outdoor gear.

Gihan:              The passion started a long time ago, we’ve been all kind of approaching it from a different perspective. Whether that’s selling dress shirts out of running shirt material, or socks out of running socks. The idea has always been rooted in, we’ve grown up with performance materials. Whether that’s Dry Fit or Under Armor etc. All these materials made such a big difference while we were athletes growing up.

Gihan:              It’s only a natural question to say, when are these going to come into the clothes we wear, not just in the hour at the gym, but the other 12 hours of the day that we have to perform at the office.

Roy Morejon:        So you guys have been doing textiles, or products for the last six years it sounds like. What have been some of the challenges you guys have encountered when designing product?

Gihan:              One of the interesting challenges for this product, in particular, is we are at the intersection of performance and professional. It became a question of, who do you go to, to manufacture your product?

Gihan:              Do you go to a centuries-old dress shirt maker who’s got really good craftsmanship or we’ve tailoring, but they haven’t worked with performance materials before and may not want to. Or do you go with a sportswear manufacturer who’s done outdoor gear, a lot of innovative materials, but isn’t as strong at the tailoring.

Gihan:              What we found was you can actually train and teach both ends of the spectrum. That was one of the biggest challenges was finding the right partners to help us manufacture the product. Make sure it truly was that integration of form and function.

Roy Morejon:        Now that you guys are on your third campaign obviously, you’ve learned a lot along the way on what it takes to run a crowdfunding campaign. What are some of the things you’ve done differently for this third campaign in terms of the preparation for it?

Gihan:              Being this was our third campaign we had a much stronger sense of what fulfillment looks like after the campaign is over. We were able to kind of think through what are all the backer levels that we want to do? Make sure they made sense from a margin perspective.

Gihan:              We were really able to think through the supply change because at this point we’ve built up all of our partners, both in terms of the heating element, in terms of making the jackets themselves, so we really made sure that we had our supply chain in place first, before we launched the campaign.

Gihan:              In previous instances, we were still prototyping, we were still doing small runs. We had to figure out how do we scale the production? A lot of that was because our dress shirt campaign, for example, was set to raise $30,000 and we end up raising $430,000.00 on that first campaign. It was a big difference and we had to kind of rethink our supply chain.

Gihan:              So that’s one of the big differences, the other part is we thought a lot about how do we test our products with customers before we launch on Kickstarter? So that we can get feedback on what features are resonating, which ones should we double down on and also make sure that we know how to communicate machine learning for your thermal profile.

Gihan:              That’s a heady concept, but how do you translate that into something that’s very visual and easy to understand? Those are things we were able to do because we learned what type of communication worked on Kickstarter and also testing it with people before we launched the campaign.

Roy Morejon:        I’m really happy you brought up your constant communication with the community that you guys have built. Has that really evolved in terms of asking them what products should we make next, now that you’re three products in.

Gihan:              Yeah Kickstarter, even though we’ve only done three projects on Kickstarter so far. It’s really made us kind of think how do we want to design our products. At Ministry of Supply, we make wear to work clothing, which, is a little bit different than fast fashion.

Gihan:              We’re really trying to focus on products that get better with time in each iteration. A lot of this was driven by the kind of early adopter feedback that we got from our initial Kickstarter community. They wanted to be involved in the product development process, and also help us kind of guide, where were the sources of problems in their wardrobe, their apparel, which was really lead us this human design process.

Gihan:              Which is such a key part of our design process for all of our products now.

Roy Morejon:        It’s obviously great to see. I mean it looks like three-quarters of the backers into the campaign are repeat backers and I’m assuming most of those have bought your previous products. Is that kind of the mix?

Gihan:              Yeah, yeah. We had really strong activation from our existing customer base, and previous bakers, and what we tried to focus on was really working on next generations of our core product. To make sure it got better and that we fulfilled that promise for our initial Kickstarter backers and our dress shirt, for example, we had some production challenges.

Gihan:              What we did was we said, we want you to be partners with us in this kind of journey building a brand. We created a second generation of the product, allowed them to participate in that product as well. We found that our customers and backers were such a key part of building our brand.

Roy Morejon:        So you guys have obviously gotten some great press coverage, it’s in Digital Trends, Burge Fast Co. What tips would you have for other creators looking to get good coverage?

Gihan:              I think it’s thinking through the couple storylines that your product may have. For us it, there are a couple different angles, there’s the fact that this product uses machine learning and AI basically to learn your thermal preference and adjust the temperature accordingly.

Gihan:              There’s one angle there, there’s also the fact we enable voice control for example to activate the heating on the garment. In another sense this one of the first kind of wearable products in terms of wearable technology that uses that data to improve your experience.

Gihan:              It’s got excel runners, it’s got temper sensors, heating elements all built into the garment. That’s another angle so what we try to do is actually kind of build out three or four storylines and see, which ones, media channels are going to resonate with different messages.

Gihan:              The same can be said with the promotion of our product as well. It depends, which community we’re speaking too.

Roy Morejon:        This being your third campaign what’s the biggest surprise of this current Kickstarter campaign so far?

Gihan:              We’re just kind of blowing by the initial interest in the product. We had a really strong start to the campaign and then were at a point where it definitely surpassed our expectations and what’s been great it’s allowed people to kind of see this new vision, of what wearable technology can look like.

Gihan:              The press response has been really exciting for that. We’re quite surprised by the coverage we got.

Roy Morejon:        What advice would you give someone else looking to crowdfund their apparel product.

Gihan:              Apparel is a challenging product in general. The beauty of crowdfunding is you get a couple things. One is you vet your cash conversion cycle. You’re able to fund your inventory in advance, but a bigger one we actually found is the ability to plan your inventory and demand so reduce obsoleteness.

Gihan:              That’s something in apparel that’s not uncommon for companies to basically have to mark down 25-30% of their product because either the distribution was wrong, they got the wrong colors, et cetera.

Gihan:              That with Kickstarter rating crowdfunding platform you’re able to get a strong sense of what the demand is before you make the product. What I would suggest is just kind of really think through your entire value chain and supply chain.

Gihan:              To think through how can you preempt the questions and decisions you’re going to have to make. Ask those during the campaign rasses of your backers, because that will lead to a product with much less waste, much less markdown on products, fewer exchanges, et cetera.

Roy Morejon:        Where are you guys headed next after the Kickstarter campaign ends?

Gihan:              We’re going to be pretty heads down for the next couple months. We’ve got basically 24 hours left in the campaign. Brian our operations manager is heading on a flight to our factory on Saturday morning. It’s something we’re going to be focusing on bringing that product to life.

Gihan:              With any product, it’s one thing to develop the prototypes and it’s another one to make sure you deliver on time. That’s going to be kind of our main focus.

Roy Morejon:        Good to hear. Alright, Gihan this gets us into our launch round where I’m going to rapid fire a handful of questions at you. You good to go?

Gihan:              Yep.

Roy Morejon:        So what inspired you to be an entrepreneur?

Gihan:              What inspired me to be an entrepreneur was being an inventor and want to basically bring my concepts basically to market. It was just hacking clothing as a Boy Scout and wanting to sell those pieces.

Roy Morejon:        If you could grab a beer with any entrepreneur throughout history who would it be?

Gihan:              Probably James Dyson, big fan of kind of the intersection of design and engineering, and the way he’s built a profitable business around really great engineered products.

Roy Morejon:        What would be your first question for James?

Gihan:              How do you continue to tell the same core story for three decades? Building this bagless vacuum, they keep innovating on that and it gets better every decade. That’s something has been really interesting.

Roy Morejon:        Favorite Boston sports team?

Gihan:              I have to say the Red Socks.

Roy Morejon:        Favorite book?

Gihan:              Favorite book? I would probably say, it’s actually one of my children’s books, but it’s The Way Things Work. It is the book that kind of inspired me to be an engineer and designer, and it kind of figured a way of explaining complex technology in a simple way.

Roy Morejon:        Last question Gihan, what does the future of crowdfunding look like?

Gihan:              I think the future of crowdfunding is going to be a participatory way of developing products. You’re starting to see that, it’s starting to build its way into the business models of companies. When you’re developing a new product in a range, you can either go to a crowdfunding platform or do it on your own channels.

Gihan:              I think the best part is, it really helps you understand whether there is product-market fit before you produce a product. Which just leads to a better product at the end.

Roy Morejon:        Absolutely, Gihan this has been awesome. Please give our audience your pitch, tell them what you’re all about, where people should go, and the why they should check you out.

Gihan:              We’re Ministry of Supply, we’re from Boston and we make performance professional clothing, it’s all the comfort from your favorite athletic gear, but styled for the office and the work week.

Gihan:              We’re launching our intelligent heated jacket right now on Kickstarter, it’s a jacket basically adapts to your body temperature, and you can see our products anywhere across the country in the U.S. We’ve got around seven stores here on both coasts and in Chicago, and Atlanta as well.

Gihan:              You can shop there or online at MinistryofSupply.com.

Roy Morejon:        Awesome, audience thanks again for tuning in, make sure to visit artofthekickstart.com for the notes, transcript, links to everything we talked about today. Of course, thank you to our crowdfunding podcast sponsors. The Gadget Flow and BackerKit, and if you loved this episode as much as I did make sure you leave us a review on Itunes.

Roy Morejon:        Gihan thank you so much for joining us today on Art of the Kickstart.

Gihan:              Thanks so much, Roy.

Roy Morejon:        Thanks for tuning into another episode of Art of the Kickstart. The show about building a business, world, and life, with crowdfunding. If you’ve enjoyed today’s episode awesome. Make sure to visit artofthekickstart.com and tell us all about it.

Roy Morejon:        There you’ll find additional information about past episodes, our Kickstarter guide to crushing it, and of course if you loved this episode a lot. Leave us a review at artofthekickstart.com/Itunes. It helps more inventors and startups find this show and helps us get better guests to help you build a better business.

Roy Morejon:        If you need more hands-on crowdfunding strategy advice please feel free to request a quote on Enventyspartners.com, thanks again for tuning in and we’ll see you again next week.