Shannon and her step-son JJ Wilson – the wife and son of Lululemon Athletica founder Chip – passed a lot more than salt around the dinner table.
“The idea of luxury clothing that was practical and easy to care for came up often over the years,” says Shannon Wilson, the former lead designer Lululemon, of her family’s evolving and ad hoc discussions. “JJ and I really wanted to create something that offered what our lifestyle demanded.”
Launching Kit and Ace in Vancouver last year, based on a unique blend of technical cashmere they personally created, they seem the perfect match: his marketing clout and eye for spotting a trend along with his mother’s technical prowess.
Shannon joined the team at Lululemon a year after launch in 1999, while JJ grew up in tandem with his father’s yogi-empire. He studied a commerce degree in entrepreneurship and retail management along the way, and carved a career across various fashion labels and charitable foundations.
“We took a look at the world around us, at our friends and family, and saw a void in the industry so we decided we could make luxury clothing that was technical and functional,” says Shannon. “It can take you anywhere except to the gym – our clothing is for movement, not for sweating.”
But we’re betting there’s been sweat behind the scenes. We talk business and keeping it in the family…
You design garments for the creative class, but who are they?
Shannon & JJ: The creative class can be anyone – the mother who paints in her spare time, the accountant who moonlights as a musician or the artist sitting at the table next to you on a Friday night. They are people who are driven by the impact they have on the world around them, which is exactly why we know that our brand will speak to them. We want to create experiences that inspire. When you walk into a Kit and Ace shop, the space feels like more than a place to find great clothing – it’s a place to engage with interesting people and good conversation.
What research went into business prior to launch?
Shannon & JJ: The concept was in development for more than two years. Aside from working on the creative and technical aspects of the brand, we spent a lot of time building a comprehensive business, global growth and recruitment plan. But what took the most time to perfect was the fabric. Cashmere is such a delicate, precious natural fiber that the biggest hurdle was interlacing it with the right counterparts to stabilise it while still delivering what we needed from it.
Why did you feel a new fabric was required for Kit and Ace?
Shannon & JJ: We created an entire proprietary fabric family [made of viscose, cashmere and elastane], which we call Qemir, because we wanted to integrate technical elements with multiple luxury fabrications. Our aim is to improve flexibility and usability – and in the process save you time (and trips to the dry cleaner).
What’s the best thing about working together as stepmother and son?
JJ: There is no one else I’d rather be doing this with. Shannon comes from technical apparel – she gets fashion and design, but she is also very astute in regional market demands and experienced in growing a global brand. She’s the perfect business partner.
Shannon: We have a shared history, we have a similar aesthetic and we’re aligned with where we see the business going. There is such ease of communication and fluidness in working together – we can be at work or at home and we’re still having the same conversation.
And the worst?
Shannon: Simply coordinating our schedules so that we are in the same country at the same time.
What does your typical day look like?
Shannon: At this point, there honestly is no such thing as a typical day for us. We’re so busy growing our brand that no two days are the same. The one constant for both JJ and I is our commitment to living “full contact” lives, which was the whole driver behind the creation of Kit and Ace.
What’s keeping you awake at night?
Shannon: We are mostly just excited about it all and, if anything, we are up at night because of work that needs to get done – literally. With rapid expansion come challenges and learnings, so as long as we are documenting those and moving forward, we are okay.
Australia’s first Kit and Ace shop will open in Melbourne late July and soon after in Sydney and Brisbane.