Within weeks, the world changed, though the extent of the shift would not become clear for months. Mr. Advani recalled a sign posted in the brand’s stores in mid-March that said it would reopen on April 1. “It turned out that April of 2021 would have been ambitious,” he said.
At the time, the company was not alone in believing that it simply needed to ride out a monthslong storm before normalcy returned. It put retail store staff to work on remote projects like sending gifts and handwritten notes to its best customers, and tapped the Paycheck Protection Program to pay those employees and its landlords. It also started producing masks, which would ultimately account for 13 percent of sales last year and give the company much-needed cash flow.
By the end of the summer, the end was nowhere in sight and the company’s revenue was stagnant. “Every time I would call an investor, they’d say, ‘Please tell me Ministry didn’t go out of business,’” Mr. Reese said. He had faith in the executives but, he said, “if you weren’t concerned, you weren’t paying attention.”
By August, the start-up decided to “stop betting on the comeback happening,” as Mr. Amarasiriwardena put it, and overhauled the business around new ideas: the notion that remote or hybrid work would continue for years, and office dress codes would permanently loosen. The company put a focus on “sharp” clothing that could be worn in many different situations. It would continue to promote its science-backed approach to clothing and unique fabrics.
A mad scramble ensued. Fabric that was slated for blazers was repurposed to joggers. The company edited items that were already in production, inserting elastic waistbands where there were once stitched waists and tapering hems on suit pants to give them “sneaker cuts,” while pausing orders of suits, blazers and dress shirts. The modified suit pants took a scant 30 to 45 days to turn around, compared to the company’s typical product timeline of four to six months.
Ministry of Supply rephotographed all 200 items on its website and rewrote the descriptions, with an eye to “get rid of every pair of high heels, every brown dress shoe, every tightly tucked-in shirt, every mention of office or work-friendly,” Mr. Advani said. It renamed about 25 percent of its wares to make them more appealing to remote workers — dropping the “dress” from its “Apollo Dress Shirt,” for example.