Road Test: Ministry of Supply’s High-Tech Shirts Hold Up In the Heat

Xconomy Boston — 

Summer in the Northeast leaves its mark everywhere you look. For men, that means plenty of glistening forearms, grubby necks, and painterly splotches on the backs of shirts.

We’re talking about sweat here. And if you’re walking more than a couple of blocks in any city with a hot, humid climate, you’re going to have to deal with it one way or the other.

You could go with the Don Draper method of keeping extra shirts in a drawer for quick-change operations. Depending on the office dress code you’ll see plenty of linens and, yes, even well-tailored shorts are being worn on the hottest days.

There are some more high-tech options available, too. And while the liquid-cooled undershirts worn by Nascar drivers are probably overkill, Boston-based clothing startup Ministry of Supply is tackling the hot-and-sticky days of summer by rethinking how clothes are constructed.

The company, founded by former MIT students, combines advanced textiles and unusual manufacturing processes to produce its men’s dress clothes. The idea is to move synthetics and blends way past their slick ‘70s beginnings and create a sharp-looking, cool, durable collection of duds that won’t falter after a long, hot day.

We’ve written about Ministry of Supply’s business and its clothes before, but hadn’t really tried them out. In the past few weeks, I decided to put the company’s shirts to the test with a real-world road trial that coincided with the start of the hot, humid, borderline blast-furnace that is a New England summer.

The company had no idea I was doing this—I just bought the clothes like any other consumer would, on the Ministry of Supply website and at one of the young company’s pop-up physical retail stores. Afterward, I called up co-founder Aman Advani to chat about my experience, get a little better sense of how Ministry of Supply chooses its designs, and find out what it’s working on next.

The bottom line: If you’re in a sweltering environment—and especially if you commute to work by foot and public transit, like me—Ministry of Supply’s gear is definitely worth a try. But don’t get too cute about just using their high-tech undershirt with a plain old sweat-retaining cotton button-up. Personally, I plan to buy some more stuff from this company.

Temperature: 80 degrees
Humidity: 60 percent
Skies: Partly cloudy
Wind: 17 mph

After a few days of increasingly hot weather signaling the start of the Ugh, Really? season, I’d resolved to jump into this experiment and ordered one Ministry of Supply undershirt online. It cost $38, with free shipping, and arrived a few days later. I put it to use right away.

The company’s “Atmos” shirt is constructed like an undershirt you might find at relatively upscale men’s clothing stores—it has a slightly tailored fit, with sleeves short enough to not stick out from under any short-sleeved top layer.

It’s made of a combination of fabric, 80 percent cotton and 20 percent nylon. That blend is supposed to work as a better moisture-wicking combination than other fabrics, with the cotton drawing sweat away from the body and the nylon causing it to spread out for faster drying.

The other high-tech part of the Atmos shirt is how it’s put together: this shirt is knitted in one single piece by a robot. The process has been described as a rough equivalent of 3D printing for fabric. I don’t know exactly how it works, but the result is that the fabric is more closely knit on the front and more porous on the back and under the arms.

So I threw it on, added a short-sleeved cotton button-up, and headed to work. My usual commute has three elements that make it, shall we say, an ideal proving ground for sweat-combating clothes in the warmer months. I walk a little over a mile to the subway, head underground to wait for the train, and ride for about 10 to 15 minutes before emerging from the tunnel to walk another four blocks to my office. I’m also carrying my laptop and other assorted work things in a backpack, which during this test weighed about 12.5 pounds.

This test worked as an odd kind of enticement to buy more Ministry of Supply gear: the perforated, moisture-wicking back of the T-shirt worked so well that it had passed all of the sweat generated by this overheated walk onto the cotton overshirt. Sadly, the second shirt—the one visible to the world—wasn’t quite as quick-drying as its more advanced cousin, and it showed in the form of a “ghost backpack” on the rear of the shirt.

“We’ve heard that a couple of times,” Advani says when I give him the play-by-play. “It’s not to say that the pieces don’t work independently. It’s just that there’s kind of a multiplier effect when you get the pieces together.”

The underlying T-shirt worked so well—felt cool, shed moisture, dried quickly—that I had to see how its dress-shirt companion would perform.

Temperature: 81 degrees
Humidity: 62 percent
Skies: Mostly Cloudy
Wind: 14 mph

Buying a T-shirt online is one thing, but I wanted to try the dress shirt on in person before buying to avoid any back-and-forth size change hassles. This is part of the reason Ministry of Supply has been pushing ahead with a retail-store presence in a few markets, starting with temporary “pop-up” stores. Although the company was born as an online retailer, and has even used Kickstarter to test and crowdfund new products, physical stores still play a big role in clothing.

Luckily, since I’m in Ministry of Supply’s home territory, I had good odds of seeing the stuff in person. I headed down to the company’s experimental retail store in Boston, among the high-end shops on Newbury Street.

After figuring out the right size (I was happy to learn Ministry of Supply would reimburse for tailoring, since the sleeves of their XL standard shirt were a little too long for my arms), I paid $98 for the Apollo shirt in white.

This was the first of two button-down shirts produced by Ministry of Supply, and the less expensive of the two. It’s slightly more business-casual in appearance because of its knitted construction, which gives the shirt a nice texture and all-over ventilation. Other than needing to adjust the sleeve length at some point, I liked the fit—it wasn’t too tight or too loose, and the knitted build actually gave it some stretchiness.

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2 responses to “Road Test: Ministry of Supply’s High-Tech Shirts Hold Up In the Heat”

  1. Bobbie Lefeuvre says:

    I really enjoyed this article. I am happy you are keeping cool. I thought you were super cool even before this shirt experiment.

  2. Bobbie Lefeuvre says:

    ? Women’s clothing? Maternity?