An Interview With Gihan Amarasiriwardena

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An Interview With Gihan Amarasiriwardena

Gihan Amarasiriwardena Ministry of Supply I felt bad for the customer behind me. I have memories of lugging sacks of dress shirts over my shou

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I felt bad for the customer behind me. I have memories of lugging sacks of dress shirts over my shoulder to the dry cleaner. Having to wait and witness the person count to the 45th shirt. I’m still not sure what dry cleaning is. I felt like they took my clothes in the back, ironed them, placed them in Saran Wrap, then proceeded to charge my credit card $175 — every month.

I discovered an apparel brand, Ministry of Supply, who changed that paradigm. I was skeptical of the cleaning instructions because they recommended to wash the dress shirt in the machine. I took precaution as if I were washing a mink coat that I was convinced would come out unrecognizable. How foolish of me to think I can turn the knob to delicate, I thought.

I’ve washed this shirt in multiple scenarios (water and heat temperatures) a dozen times over and it looks like the first time I’ve worn it. MOS came through on their promise.

Whose invention was this? How was this even possible? It was a privilege to speak with the co-founder and president, Gihan Amarasiriwardena, to help answer those questions.

The apparel brand nailed designing work clothes that are both comfortable and presentable.

“There’s soft and stretchy sweatpants and there’s crisp wool. How you allow those things to co-exist is at the base of every product we create, rooted in science,” he explained.

Gihan speaks about MOS like a technology product. Through hacking and building clothing as a teenager, he fell in love with materials and product design. He recalled frequently camping in the elements of New England as a boy scout. He’d spend hours at REI studying fabrics like Gore-Tex, which led him to source local material to prototype a windproof vest at 13.

His curiosity about science led him to earn his chemical engineering degree from MIT. 

Part of his curiosity was nurtured. He attended an alternative pre-school which was immersive and hands-on. On weekends, he’d take trips to the recycling center with his father, admittedly where he’d often retrieve more items than he dropped off from the “take it or leave it” section to tinker with. He even created a device that allowed him to mow lawns and wack weeds simultaneously to help grow his lawn mowing business as a kid.

He had an explanation for solving my dry cleaning dilemma.

“Many brands optimize for first wear. We think about how it feels on you, but also what happens after first week of washing and wearing. That’s where we feel our products really shine. All of our products go through five washes for a quality check so we can determine any shrinkage or puckering of the seams. If it doesn’t get through the first five washes we go back to the drawing board.”

Gihan has ambitious goals. He was previously named Forbes 30 Under 30. He has several patents under his belt. He even set the Guinness World Record for running the fastest half marathon in a suit. I was interested to learn how he he prepares himself to be the best version of himself both at home and at work; through the lens of science of course.

“I try to stack things. You’d think if you took 50 ml of water and 50 ml of ethanol they’d equal 100 ml. It’s actually about 85-90 ml. The reason is the alcohol and water molecules mesh together, so you can pack more things in. We don’t have to look at things always as zero sum, sometimes they can layer together really well.”

Gihan is an avid runner and cyclist. He’ll often run with his son in a stroller or cycle into the office as his workout, while sometimes listening to an audio book during his commute. He also dedicates the first hour of his morning (before his son awakes) to an important task, while also playing with his son later in the morning. So by the time he’s at work, he’s accomplished a number of things which create momentum for his day.

One of the import lessons he shared with me was on the subject of time off. Vacation is often thought of as a time to decompress. Gihan views it as a time to refuel — which is why he decided to spend 38 days cycling across the country in lieu of his vacation. For him, it was an opportunity to recalibrate perspective and to be re-inspired. It was one of the most important trips he also blogged about.

As Gihan was explaining his process for preparing for his previous TED Talk, it was a great analogy for a life lesson. 

He said to be comfortable ripping apart your presentation. Be sure the content is authentic to you so it’s an experience you can speak to, which will in turn lower the pressure. Do the presentation multiple times and get feedback. 

I think what he meant is that by doing these hard things and putting your ego aside, it will give you the space and awareness to accept feedback and adjust. All while being true to who you are.

“I feel like I need to be in control to have my voice come through,” he said.

Listen to the full interview with Gihan, here.

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