Kit & Ace: ‘the start up on steroids’

Lululemon ring any bells? You clearly haven’t been to Vancouver, or Canada, or the global high street for that matter. It’s the equivalent of visiting Paris and squinting at sparkly signs donning that unknown ‘Chanel’ or ‘Louis Vuitton’.

Everyone in Vancouver is wearing Lululemon. Its founding family, the Wilsons, are the subject of electric ‘court’ conversation in the city community – everyone has a link or an opinion.  

Their sweaty pursuit apparel has become the unofficial Canadian uniform, reflecting their active, wholesome lifestyles where functionality is rarely at the expense of aesthetic. This hearty, sporty, sophisticated bunch know how to enjoy themselves, walking back from a work out via the bar in their Lululemon gym gear…which is fine.

But there’s a new brand in town.

Think of it as the spirited younger cousin of Lulu Lemon (they are, in fact, related).

In a ‘Keeping up with the Wilsons’ development, Shannon and JJ, wife and son of the founder of Lululemon Athletica Inc., Chip Wilson, found a gaping hole in the luxury apparel industry. They’d spent decades dressed head to toe in stretchy sportswear and wanted to bring that ease and comfort to more sophisticated clothing.

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They wanted the best of both worlds.

When years of hunting got them nowhere, they put their heads together and made it.

Both lead busy lives and needed clothes to reflect and support them. So from the outset, Kit & Ace clothes have been designed for those chasing their tails more often than chasing every trend on the high street. They will sort you out on a practical and style angle and are bloody comfortable. The pair researched and developed technical cashmere (marvelously translated as machine washable cashmere – music to our ears) so you can look great and keep your hygiene and dry cleaning bills in check.

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The price point of the clothes is not alienating, the design is alluring and you can walk out of the shop with a present for your Granny, Mum and sister (and many for yourself). More exciting still, the brand is set to venture across the Atlantic, having expanded like wildfire to Toronto, New York and LA in the past few months.

If you peek your head above the clothing rail though, there’s something curiously different about this company.

‘Cult’ springs to mind when describing Kit & Ace’s corporate culture. It is enviable, intoxicating and worlds away from anything experienced in the UK.

They have applied the success business model of Lululemon which incorporates a real sense of team morale, of developing the employees along with the business and recognising that the two are co-dependent. It is all-encompassing; a lifestyle; a religion. Seriously – we’re talking retail’s answer to Google. They even have table tennis in their trendy Vancouver HQ and their ‘intentions’ on a large whiteboard…not their ‘objectives’ – an overcooked, corporate term, apparently.

The employees are wired on Kit & Ace enthusiasm, living and breathing the brand’s philosophy and aesthetic all at once. They hit Coachella in all-white, host dinner parties in the flagship store (market research fuelled with wine and sincerity) and plan weekend trips to ‘the island’ to spend time with laid back friends and colleagues. Their personal Instagram accounts look like Kit & Ace lifestyle adverts while their Vancouver pads are Pinteresting to say the least. They understand the company’s product because it is catered to them.

Fun and success is far from a zero-sum game in this office. There’s no sense that graft should be painful and punishing – they enjoy it, even when it gets tough because they make it fun and wing in some wine – why not! (No one smokes though – too far).

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So while I learned a fair thing or two about technical cashmere and bought a few things (or four) back in my suitcase, I left feeling oddly inspired by a brand and its people. It was like I’d perused Willy Wonker’s factory and been sucked in to the culture–it was a sub-community, a club – 9 to 5 was worlds away.  I wouldn’t be surprised if more companies take on this model as it fosters a sense of inclusion and belonging – something the sterile realms of the corporate world or the journalism jungle are often lacking.

With an aggressive brand strategy and enviable culture, those cool Kit & Ace cashmere polo necks and structured linen trousers have nowhere to go but up, onto the UK high street and into our wardrobes.

Warning, it’s contagious.

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