It may not have been the biggest project in Kickstarter history – that distinction goes to the Pebble E-Paper Watch , a smart watch that raised more than $10 million from backers on the crowd-funding website. But when Boston-based Ministry of Supply earned more than 12 times its $30,000 goal to launch a futuristic shirt called the Apollo, it signaled that the followers and backers of Kickstarter, which has funded start-up ventures and creative endeavors ranging from film to video games, were ready to back fashion as well.
Ministry of Supply broke records to become the most successful fashion project to date on Kickstarter, but there are other Boston-based fashion businesses that have found success on the site, too. Here’s an introduction to these stylish local entrepreneurs.
Bow & Drape
Location: Fan Pier
Founder: Aubrie Pagano, 26
Amount raised on Kickstarter: $32,243 ($2,243 over goal)
This is not the first time that Jamaica Plain resident Aubrie Pagano has started a website based on creating custom dresses. Her last venture, called Zoora, made dresses for women based on their measurements. But what Pagano quickly learned is that women aren’t necessarily keen on sending their measurements to complete strangers.
“I think there may have been some degree of denial with those measurements,” Pagano says.
Her new company, Bow & Drape, tries to simplify the process of sizing by eliminating the measuring tape. Women can try on three sizes, and ship back the two that don’t fit.
But the most innovative part of Bow & Drape’s approach is that it gives women the technology to design their own made-to-order dresses. The company’s website features six silhouettes, inspired by classic dresses. From those styles, women can choose sleeve length, hem length, color, and embellishments. Or, as the website touts, “Six Foundational Silhouettes, Over 30,000 Possibilities.”
The silhouettes, which feature everything from maxi-dresses to scarves, were designed by Sarah Parrott, who appeared on the reality show “Fashion Star.”
“She’s a really cool, authentic voice for the brand,” Pagano says. “She’s a 32-year-old mom with two kids, so I think she gets it. I think she knows what women go through and she gets real women’s bodies. She’s not just designing contemporary clothes, she’s designing for real women.”
The website takes women through a series of questions to help them determine their correct size. Currently, sizing is available in double zero through 14, but by the end of the year, Pagano says sizes will be extended up to 20. The company launched last week, and Pagano says of the 90 orders she’s received so far, no two dresses have been the same.
“I think that helps me validate what we’re doing in the sense that people really do have individual preferences,” she says.
Founders: Nathan Rothstein, 28, Ross Lohr, 27
Amount raised on Kickstarter: $7,875 ($2,875 over goal)
There are few start-ups that can point to a two-hour traffic jam caused by a rickshaw in Kenya as the basis of their business. But the idea for Project Repat came to Ross Lohr, CEO and founder, when he approached the vegetable-carrying rickshaw that tipped over and caused the traffic snarl.
“I saw the driver, and he was wearing a T-shirt that said ‘I Danced My Ass Off at Josh’s Bar Mitzvah.’ I just shook my head and laughed,” Lohr says. “When you’re in a place like Kenya, you see all of these second-hand American T-shirts that get dumped. They’re just all over the place.”
To keep the onslaught of T-shirts out of the landfills of developing nations, Lohr and business partner Nathan Rothstein first envisioned launching a company where the tees in Kenya would be sewn together into blankets in Africa, and then shipped and sold in the US.
It was only after they hit their Kickstarter goal that they came up with a more practical solution: Keep those T-shirts in the US, make the blankets here, and in the process, employ Massachusetts residents to do the sewing.
“We thought ‘Why not stop it in its tracks, and give people a meaningful way to preserve their T-shirt memories in the US.’ Now people send us their shirts, and we send them back a blanket.”
The resulting blanket is made entirely of old T-shirts. Concert tees, cheeky novelty shirts, or shirts commemorating high school graduations get a new life in blanket form. When an order is placed, Repat sends out what it calls a blanket box. Customers fill the box with the shirts that they’d like to have turned into their T-shirt quilt.
“People are excited about this because in the United States we’re basically printing T-shirts for everything — sororities, fraternities, family reunions. Pretty much anything.” Rothstein says. “People collect them, and then they just sit in closets.”
The fronts and backs of the shirts are cut, stitched together, and then sewn together into a T-shirt quilt. Prices range from $75 to $150. They also make tote bags, ties, and scarves out of the shirts. So far their idea seems to be working. Since they began their business at the end of 2011, they’ve pulled in revenues of $140,000.
“It’s something that people are interested in because it lets them preserve their memories,” Lohr says. “It’s a cool way to recycle.”
Ministry of Supply
Location: Leather District
Partners: Kit Hickey, 28, Aman Advani, 28, Gihan Amarasiriwardena, 24
Amount raised on Kickstarter: $429, 276 ($399,276 over goal)
‘The last innovation in men’s dress shirts was 30 years ago,” explains Kit Hickey, one of the founders of Ministry of Supply. “I think the last was the Brooks Brothers no-iron shirt. But in general it’s an area where no innovation exists.”
The three MIT graduate students involved in Ministry of Supply also found that gents wearing dress shirts were none-too-pleased with this lack of evolution. Before heading into the process of designing their Apollo shirt, which begins shipping this week, the entrepreneurs talked to nearly 200 men about dress shirts — and these men did not give the wardrobe staple high marks for comfort.
Which could explain why the Kickstarter campaign for Ministry of Supply raised more than 12 times its goal of $30,000. In the process, Ministry of Supply broke the record for most money raised by a fashion-start-up on Kickstarter.
MIT may not be regarded as a hotbed of fashion design, but it’s the combination of technology and design that sets these shirts apart from the standard dress shirt. Selling for $105, the shirts are designed from a proprietary fabric — the same that NASA uses in space suits — to control heat absorption and heat loss to make the wearer more comfortable. Hickey says the technology acts a bit like a battery, storing and releasing heat as the body needs it.
“On a hot day it will take the heat away from you,” she says. “And on a cool day it will release the heat back to you. We really thought it would be great to have a shirt that changes with you.”
Hickey says the high-tech fabric also has an anti-microbial coating that diminishes odor and sweat stains.
The additional money raised through Kickstarter will help the company accelerate research and development and add new color selections to the current lineup of white and blue.
“It’s something that really resonates with people,” Hickey says. “So they started sharing it with friends. And then we were hearing from people who were saying ‘I’ve been waiting for something like this.’ ”
On top of regulating temperature, the fabric (which currently has six patents pending) is designed to fit better. It has stretch so it can fit closer to the body. Or, as Hickey says, it helps eliminate fabric muffin tops.
The shirts have earned a significant amount of national and international press. But for all the high-tech advancements of the shirt, Hickey says there’s one reason why the shirt is getting so much buzz.
“A lot of guys say they can’t wait to get out of their work shirt by 6 p.m.,” she says. “But we hear that this is a shirt they don’t mind wearing the rest of the day.”Christopher Muther can be reached at
firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Chris_Muther