Ministry of Supply doesn’t so much make clothes—it launches them. Since the performance clothing company’s debuted in 2012 with a sweat- and odor-resistant dress shirt, founder Gihan Amarasiriwardena has been focused on making items that look good while solving everyday problems for the wearer. The result has been years of wrinkle-free, moisture-wicking technical apparel that looks like . . . fashion. And while Amarasiriwardena and Ministry of Supply’s mission is still the same, the brand’s latest innovation aims to address a problem much bigger than pit stains: climate change. That’s why the company’s new Aero Zero Dress shirt ($125) is carbon-neutral.
With the footwear and apparel industries accounting for 8% of global carbon emissions, according to a 2018 report from Quantis, Amarasiriwardena says he was increasingly aware of clothing manufacturing’s impact on the environment—and the opportunity for Ministry of Supply to reduce emissions. “That was enough to make me create a low-footprint dress shirt,” he says. And he’s only getting started.
“This shirt is the first step to improving our entire product line,” Amarasiriwardena explains. “This is the beginning of how we, as a company, make everything. So we wanted to focus on our number one product and use it as a way to rethink our whole supply chain, remake our footprint, remake all of our products.”
To create carbon-neutral clothing that works well (and looks good) at the office, out at dinner, and on the street, Amarasiriwardena started by figuring out what Ministry of Supply’s footprint was throughout its supply chain. Because milling and raw materials are a big part of that footprint, Amarasiriwardena focused first on fabric. His challenge to the team: keep the technical capability (wrinkle-free, breathable, moisture-wicking) of the original Ministry of Supply Aero dress shirt, while making it out of a new kind of recycled polyester material.
The team located a Japanese company that separates clear, high-density plastics from colored, low-density ones, creating higher-quality recycled material than what you normally see on the market. Ministry of Supply then collaborated with a solar-powered manufacturer in Taiwan to take these high-density recycled plastic pellets, melt them down, and spin them into rigatoni pasta-shaped threads that reflect light in myriad different directions—giving fabric woven from it a matte look, much like cotton.
“One of the things that we’ve learned while integrating new materials and creating a clean aesthetic is to engineer performance to look familiar: to give it a soft hand feel, don’t allow any wrinkles, and look and feel much like no-stretch cotton—just with added attributes that no-stretch cotton could ever have,” says Amarasiriwardena.
Changing the fabric allowed Ministry of Supply to decrease the shirt’s carbon footprint by 59 percent. But the brand did more than just switch up material: it also rethought how it gets shirts to customers and switched out its traditional method of shipping things via air to shipping them by sea instead. That requires more advance planning by the company, but the benefits were too great to ignore. Ministry of Supply then makes up for the Aero Zero dress shirt’s remaining carbon footprint by purchasing offsets.
Amarasiriwardena says he’s planning carbon-neutral makeovers for more of Ministry of Supply’s core products (including the Apollo dress shirt) in the coming months. Once there are other items in the company’s collection that have made the switch to recycled, low-carbon fabrics, the brand will be able to use clothing scraps from the manufacturing process to create new garments—thanks to the recycled polyester’s ability to be remelted and re-spun into new fabric.
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