Clothing brand Ministry of Supply is welcoming refugees to the U.S. with letters and products from its line.
In a full-page ad in The New York Times on Nov. 7, the company’s three founders, Gihan Amarasiriwardena, Aman Advani and Geraldo Aldarondo, signed a brief letter saying, “We’re honored to welcome the 31,000-plus of you arriving here from Afghanistan and beyond. As founders and children of immigrants, we know that more minds — unique perspectives — mean more innovation.”
In an interview Monday, Advani, who serves as chief executive officer, spoke of the brand’s commitment to helping newcomers. Although he wasn’t sure offhand where the 31,000-plus figure cited in the ad was from, a company spokeswoman later sent a link to an early September U.S. State Department press briefing that noted 31,000 individuals had arrived from Afghanistan at that point. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection reported in late October that Border Patrol agents detained approximately 1.66 million illegal immigrants at the southern border for the fiscal year that ended in September. That was the largest number on record with the second-highest being in 2000.
The national print ad featured a self-addressed detachable postcard to the company’s Newbury Street store and informed readers their greetings (whether mailed or emailed) would be sent to newly arrived refugees in need.
Ministry of Supply is also donating $250,000 in gear to the new arrivals. The letter writing campaign also included a $50 discount code for orders that tallied $150 or more and was valid for a week. There hasn’t yet been a tally about the impact on sales, Advani said.
The company didn’t want to confuse the priorities of the campaign, namely if “it becomes about promoting sales, selling product and moving product, it will naturally lose its authentic goal. We refused ahead of time to set any ROI or sales goal.” Advani said, adding that “it was as much as possible to remove Ministry of Supply as the headline.”
The note also included an appeal for bulk donations and a few brands, including Nobull and M.M. LaFleur, have answered that call.
International Institute of New England and the International Rescue Committee, two organizations that Ministry of Supply has worked with for several years, are distributing the donated items from the brand and from other labels that have stepped up.
Advani said Ministry of Supply has “quietly donated hundreds of dollars [worth] of products and time.” Prior to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement changes in 2015, Ministry of Supply routinely made starter kits created for newcomers to the country, consisting of a pair of Ministry of Supply shirt and a pair of pants with a few toiletries and a welcome letter.
Not knowing what to expect from the campaign in terms of number of responses, the company wanted to create “a contagious level of goodwill that we felt so strongly about which is beyond refugees, helping Americans, who need a fresh start to get one,” Advani said. Hundreds of letters have been received, and he said more are still coming in.
Asked for whether he was wary that the campaign could be perceived as capitalizing on the issue, he said, “Any time you talk about any type of charitable mission, there’s always an insinuation that it’s with the wrong intent and motives. We had to state this to make sure this was entirely focused on this goal. If the business continues to grow and we’re able to donate more, that’s great. But it should not and cannot be a primary dimension of this…we’ve been donating tens of thousands of units for seven years now — six years before ever publicly announcing it.”
Advani declined to specify annual sales other than to say it is a profitable brand “shipping hundreds of thousands of units out.” Having once had six stores, the fallout from the pandemic changed that. The company’s flagship in Boston is currently the only one.
Upcoming collaborations include one with Rockport for footwear that is due out next spring. In addition, as a vegetarian brand (as in no use of leather or down feathers,) Ministry of Supply will be partnering again with the vegetarian fast food chain Clover Food Lab.
Ministry of Supply will be among the ones featured in an upcoming exhibition at the National Air and Space Museum featuring apparel brands inspired by space travel. In the meantime, the brand will unveil its first home decor item in the next few weeks — a temperature control duvet based on an open NASA patent for phase-change material.