A year ago, we hadn’t even heard of Kit & Ace, and now the homegrown brand is everywhere. (Really: they opened 35 stores last year, including expansion in Australia, the UK and a pop-up in Japan.) Launched by Shannon and JJ Wilson, the wife and son of lululemon founder Chip, it’s quickly become a go-to of those in the know for stylish basics that manage to dance the line between luxury and performance. We caught up with the duo at the launch of their Toronto flagship earlier this month and got the lowdown on their success story, plus the five key pieces every wardrobe needs for fall.
What is Kit and Ace all about?
Shannon: It started with the fabric. Technical cashmere is our proprietary blend: it’s got stretch and recovery, you can put it in the washer and dryer. You didn’t really have that in luxury fibres before. That was our challenge. It was coming up with the fabric and then going, “Ok, now what can I do with this?”
Why hadn’t anyone done this before?
Shannon: It’s difficult! And a lot of the people involved just hadn’t been connected before. We’ve introduced a lot of partners, from the goat herders to the yarn spinners to the factories. Starting in spring, we’re introducing technical silk as well.
Are you concerned people will confuse these garments with activewear because of your background with lululemon?
Shannon: Athleisure is such a huge buzzword right now and it’s a really big market. You see a lot of people getting into it, whether it’s street wear trying to look more athletic, or athletic wear trying to look more street. But we’re going in the exact opposite direction: we’re taking that technical knowledge from athletic wear and applying it to fashion.
What else do you hope to bring to the market that isn’t already happening in Canada?
JJ: Customer experience is something we’re really passionate about. We had a blank slate to be creative and evolve the brand and the environment of our stores. Thirty percent of each shop is decorated by local designers. We really see this place as more of a venue. So there are lots of in shop events that happen. And we have a technical atelier in select stores.
Shannon: Young designers right out of school are given free reign to design anything they want from Kit and Ace fabric. Customers can see it happening in real time and give feedback. Those designs actually go to our head office and we adopt the best and roll them out to our shops.
How have you managed to expand so vastly in the past year?
JJ: The response has been great. People love the fabric. The fact that you can machine wash and dry it—that alone has really attracted a lot of conversation and helped propel the growth. We want to open 30 more stores in 2016, including locations in Calgary, Toronto and Oakville.
What can we expect from the collections moving forward?
Shannon: Going into winter we’re going to see toques, knits, more scarves. And we’ve got a small little capsule of jewellery coming in pre-holiday. You’ll see more pops of colour starting in the spring. But there will still always be room for black, white and grey.
Click through the gallery to see Shannon’s five favourite picks for fall.