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Gemvara's chief experience officer, Brian Kalma, jumps to fashion startup Ministry of Supply

Posted by Scott Kirsner  February 14, 2013 07:45 AM

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Brian Kalma's commute won't change much as of Monday: instead of heading to Gemvara, the online jewelry merchant headquartered across from South Station, he'll be reporting to Ministry of Supply, a men's apparel startup less than two blocks away in the Leather District.

Kalma, a well-known user experience (UX) guru, joined Gemvara only in October 2011, moving to Boston to help the customization-oriented site streamline the configuration and purchase process. He'd previously worked in New York for Gilt Groupe, the "flash sale" site, and for Zappos.com in Las Vegas. At Zappos, he spent seven years overseeing user experience, up to and just beyond the point the footwear purveyor was acquired by Amazon.

"I made a big move to come to Gemvara, and I'm very fond of what's going on here. The decision wasn't easy," Kalma told me earlier this week. Kalma had served as a mentor to the MIT-educated Ministry of Supply team last year, when the startup participated in the MassChallenge entrepreneurship competition. "I wanted to get back to the roots. I just had the burning desire to roll up my sleeves with something small and unproven. Hacking the apparel industry was appealing to me."

Kalma will be the sixth employee at Ministry, which raised more than $400,000 last year on Kickstarter for its Apollo dress shirt. The startup has been working to create a new men's apparel brand, based on a James Bond-like image and advanced materials that dissipate heat, resist odor, and don't wrinkle. I wrote about the company last July.

Kalma says that there aren't formal titles at Ministry, but that he will "spend the first phase of my time there tightening up the web experience and marketing." While he isn't a big wearer of dress shirts, Kalma says he is a fan of the company's Atmos v-necked t-shirt, which sells for $38.

I last covered Gemvara in November 2012, when co-founder Matt Lauzon stepped away from the CEO's role and became chairman; the company is still on the hunt for its next chief executive officer... and perhaps also a new chief experience officer, too.

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Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched Boston.com in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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