The pioneer of "technical cashmere" is a famed Canadian export.
Lululemon founder and former CEO Chip Wilson has left his mark on Vancouver—and on the backsides of yoga wear devotees who have made the brand a global success. But locally, his influence doesn’t, er, “end” with stretchy pants. From giving $8 million to kickstart the Chip and Shannon Wilson School of Design at Vancouver’s Kwantlen Polytechnic University, to donating the “laughing men” statues—a much-loved sculptural installation by Chinese artist Yue Minjun which, thanks to the Wilsons, now has a permanent home near Vancouver’s English Bay—the Wilson’s philanthropic imprint has been as significant as their fashion legacy.
Chip Wilson changed the way we work out. (Or at least the way we dress when we pretend we’re going to work out.) But now, Wilson’s wife, Shannon, and son J.J. want to change the way we work—and kick back—with their new fashion venture, Kit and Ace.
Launched in the summer of 2014, the first Kit and Ace opened in Vancouver’s Gastown. Occupying a premiere berth on Water Street, their flagship space is hard to ignore: from the exterior’s green painted facade with its stylized white “A,” to its clean, uncluttered interior, the space is defined by a slick yet casual aesthetic, one which is mirrored in the company’s clothing line.
Using what Kit and Ace calls “technical cashmere”—generally, a blend of Mongolian cashmere, cotton, and synthetic fabrics—their aim is to produce streetwear that is elegant, luxurious, and easy to care for. (The fabrics are preshrunk and machine washable.) Although perhaps best known for their men’s and women’s tees, the line includes everything from dresses, skirts, and scarves, to pants, hoodies, and bombers, at price points that are far from prohibitive: tee shirts start at just over $50, while the wraps top out around $300.
Expansion has been rapid, and the brand currently has retail stores across Canada and the U.S., as well as in Australia and Britain—it’s latest Vancouver outpost opened in Kitsilano this summer. As with Lululemon, Kit and Ace are committed to giving back; imagine1day, an organization founded by the Wilsons to help give Ethiopians access to education, is a prominent side project.
Ultimately, though, it’s the clothes that will make or break the brand. Like the laughing man statues at English Bay, we are … optimistic.
Guy Saddy covers the Vancouver and other beats for Travel + Leisure.