Photos by Caitlin Abrams
Inside Kit and Ace's North Loop Minneapolis location
Inside Kit and Ace, 113 Washington Ave. N., Mpls., second floor.
There’s no such thing as starting small when you’re the son of lululemon founder Chip Wilson, who turned yoga pants into a billion-dollar empire and changed the way we dress in the process. Chip quit the lululemon board this year. In the wake of a clash with the company he built, Chip’s son, JJ Wilson, 26, started thinking about what comes after all-day athletic clothes. The technical cashmere that Chip’s wife (JJ’s stepmom), Shannon Wilson, developed became the catalyst for Kit and Ace. The Wilsons launched just 13 months ago in their hometown of Vancouver and are on track to open 50 stores this year. Minneapolis was high on their priority list—Kit and Ace opened in the North Loop in June. A second Twin Cities location is coming this fall to Mall of America. I talked to JJ about his grand plans.
How is Kit and Ace different from every other brand that sells T-shirts and hoodies?
We’re trying to take fashion and make it technical so it stretches and moves with you, and you can put it in the dryer without it shrinking. We wanted to be able to wear fashion that performs the same way as athletic apparel.
The clothes are incredibly soft, but the assortment is limited.
In the fall, you’ll get our first, gentle view of the full product scope—bottoms, technical outerwear. As we grow our collection, we want to make sure we are learning and building on who we are.
And who are you?
Effortless luxury. We want everything we’ve created to save time, to be a luxury experience. We don’t want to be limited.
How involved is your father?
He’s got two other projects, an online meditation platform and the family charity. He’s putting a lot of time and effort into those things. But I embrace whatever he can give. He’s pretty brilliant. And he’s 100 percent supportive. As a family, we’re excited to be in creation again. We excel at the beginning stages. We’re having a blast.
What’s the best advice he gave you?
There’s no way anyone can do what we’re doing by not being willing to mess up a few times. Not everything is going to go perfectly, and you have to be OK with that.
And what is it like working side-by-side with your stepmother?
We work unbelievably well together. Every single conversation is a mix of personal and business. That’s the way our family communicates, and it allows us to have a strong relationship.
The North Loop store is furnished with a dining table made locally by Noah Hall. And I know it’s used for your “Supper Club.” Can you explain?
We don’t talk about that! I guess we can. It’s really about connecting. We bring in local emerging chefs, and our shop directors bring groups together (ideally, 10 or so people that have never met) for dinner.
Are there other elements unique to each store?
We fear all the shops looking the same. We want them to be consistent, but specific to each market with art, lighting.
A second-floor space in Minneapolis seems risky.
It might be a little off the beaten path, but North Loop was on our list and we wanted to start building the brand there. We probably won’t be in that space more than two years. When the right real estate comes up, we’ll do it all over again.
It’s interesting that you’re putting so much emphasis on physical stores when so many brands are doing their building and connecting through digital.
Our shop is about brand experience. Come in, feel, look, be a part of Kit and Ace. E-commerce may be the future, but I don’t think the social element of shopping will ever go away. I love shopping.