LOS ANGELES — It’s not right to shove Kit and Ace into the ath-leisure category.
The company sells a smart cropped jacket promising no wrinkles and the ability to fend off moisture, stretch silk culottes and tops with tactical pocket detailing. It’s a far cry from yoga pants and sweatshirts.
“We really just had T-shirts up until nine months ago so fall 2015 we had a real introduction into maybe we’re more than just T-shirts,” said J.J. Wilson, who cofounded the Vancouver-based firm with Shannon Wilson. “We launched with our proprietary fabric, technical cashmere, and since then have commercialized 50 additional proprietary fabrics. So in addition to being a retailer in the fashion business, we really see ourselves as being technical fabric designers. We really focus on different blends, different weaves.”
Shannon and J.J. are the wife and son, respectively, of Lululemon Athletica Inc. founder Chip Wilson, with J.J. in town visiting the company’s recently opened store in El Segundo, Calif., and its other doors in the area while scoping out space for future Kit and Ace units.
Since September, the company has delved into swim, expanded men’s and added accessories and jewelry. It’ll continue the progression into more lifestyle product for holiday and in August will introduce more mid-weight offerings with new fabrications, Wilson said.
About a week ago the company launched its international web site, now allowing it to accept international currencies.
It’s a lot for what’s essentially a start-up that now counts 63 doors, mostly in the U.S., opened in just under two years.
“It’s been a lot of work but a lot of fun and we’re seeing great success,” Wilson said. “We’re not planning on slowing down any time soon.”
The company expects this year to add 10 more stores to its portfolio, including two in New York coming online by the end of summer at the Oculus in the World Trade Center and another at the Time Warner Center. It also continues to test pop-up showrooms as it feels out new markets to potentially enter. Another 30 are on the books for 2017 and the company is likely to try its hand again at popping up in hotels in new markets next year. The company is learning as it goes with retail, with between 30 to 40 percent of its shops pop-up concepts.
Wilson’s trip to L.A. had him eyeing Brentwood, Melrose Avenue and, further inland, Palm Springs.
“It’s been interesting,” he said of the retail. “A large part of the reason why we decided to take the brand showroom, pop-up approach is to give us an idea of how that consumer landscape is changing. We had seen a lot of success in our past business Lululemon in opening up brick-and-mortar locations, but we’ve also seen the success immediately with Kit and Ace through our e-commerce business. So for us it’s about really planning a strategy around where we’re opening up shops and showrooms — permanent ones — and making sure that we’re not — I don’t want to use the word diluting — but really making sure that we’re not over-opening brick-and-mortar locations because of how the consumer’s transitioning to really being an omnichannel consumer.”
In fact, stores serve a simple purpose: let the customers come in and touch and feel the fabrications the Wilsons are building the Kit and Ace brand around as well as try on items in store. The stores are also venues for gatherings. Most stores have what the company calls its supper club table, which hosts groups of 12 to 14 quarterly for dinner.
Then there are a handful of locations, such as the one in San Jose, that have technical ateliers where emerging designers are given the space and equipment to create with some designs selected to be part of future Kit and Ace collections.