Cashmere—soft, light, flowing—is perhaps more synonymous with luxury than any other fabric. But its delicate genetic makeup means it disintegrates, it pills, and it must be handled with extreme care. So when Shannon and stepson JJ Wilson were developing their new clothing brand, Kit and Ace, their idea was, in essence, to enhance something already largely seen as flawless. “Cashmere is perfect,” says JJ. “So it was, ‘How do we make it not so precious but still keep it luxurious and really improve the perfect?’” A lofty goal, to be sure, but JJ and Shannon are not ones to shy away from a challenge. Ambition has been at the forefront since day one.
The result is Technical Cashmere, the foundational fabric from the trademarked, proprietary Qemir family created by Shannon, which took nearly a year-and-a-half of research, planning, and testing to perfect. “I found as I sort of went down that research road that as exciting and dynamic as luxury clothing is, and really inspiring, it didn’t perform for my full-contact lifestyle,” she says. “Everything was very precious and had to be dry-cleaned, and maybe there wasn’t much thought put into the fit and performance, the actual user, the wearer. So it really was looking at this fabric I’d created and what was being offered in luxury and saying, ‘Maybe there’s room for us there.’” So far, so good: Technical Cashmere, which is now trademarked, has been enhanced with technical fibres, so it can be machine-washed and worn all day without issue; it has the soft feel of regular cashmere, but can be handled more like cotton, and retains its shape throughout the day. As such, Kit and Ace offers a comfortable, well-tailored, crisply-designed collection of menswear and womenswear items, including T-shirts, tank tops, skirts, dresses, pants, and shorts. The brand, based in Vancouver, launched in 2014 and already has 22 stores across North America, with plans to open 30 to 50 worldwide by the end of 2015—no small goals.
The Wilson family is, after all, unbreakably driven, and certainly no stranger to the clothing industry; Shannon’s husband, and JJ’s dad, is Chip Wilson, the vision behind the Vancouver-based, internationally popular athletic wear company Lululemon. Shannon was one of Lululemon’s designers, and has about 20 years of experience in fabric under her belt (in fact, she presented her new material to Lululemon, but it was turned down). She likens creating Technical Cashmere to baking a cake without a recipe. “You kind of have an idea: you want it sweet, you know you need some liquid in there,” she explains. “It’s an idea. I go, ‘I want these kinds of fibres, I think, and I want it to perform like this, and then I want to be able to sew it up into a T-shirt.’” Attention to detail is paramount, as demonstrated with tailoring: a stitch along the arm of a T-shirt, or down the back of a tank top. “I think it was taking something that was basic and not designed and really adding those luxury design elements to it,” explains JJ. “If you took true, honest Italian tailoring and applied it to your all-American white T-shirt, and saw what that showed up like.” It’s true fashion innovation, mixing luxury with everyday wear and focusing on comfort, fit, and longevity.
Very early on, though, Kit and Ace (named for the brand’s target female and male customers) proved itself to be about more than the clothing; they present the idea that with each item comes a built-in lifestyle. Brand growth is JJ’s specialty, and he has worked fast; every Kit and Ace storefront is different, taking décor and design notes from local creatives. Every location has The Wall, which features the work of local artists. And the brand hosts supper clubs, a chance for members of the creative class—which JJ defines as “anybody who is doing something that they love, whether it’s their full-time job or their passion project”—to get together and share ideas. “For me the creative class was a group of people that were pushing the world forward in any way that they could,” he says. “They’re thinkers, they’re initiators.” And, of course, they’re impeccably dressed.
UPDATE, October 2018: The Wilsons have parted with Kit and Ace, which was sold to the company’s management team and will now be led by chief executive officer George Tsogas.
Read more in Style.