This summer, Midtown will become home to one of the U.S.’s first Kit and Ace shops, a rapidly expanding cashmere blend T-shirt franchise, poised to add more than 50 stores worldwide by year’s end.
The clothing brand is the creation of Shannon and JJ Wilson, the wife and son of Lululemon Athletica founder Chip Wilson.
Slated to open June 18, the shop will occupy about 750 square feet in Suite 106-4240 on Cass Avenue and sell mostly T-shirts. But JJ Wilson says he and his stepmom have bigger plans.
“Eventually I see it going into the suburbs, but I wanted to start in the city. Detroit is evolving and there’s so much excitement around it,” he said. “You can feel it. There’s something in the air about the people coming together to reinvent Detroit.”
Reinvention is a big part of what the Wilsons are doing with their clothing line.
Founded in 1998, Lululemon Athletica has gained an almost cult-like following among celebrities and everyday folks alike. Michigan has stores in Ann Arbor, Troy, Birmingham, Novi and Grand Rapids.
And while the Kit and Ace stores start with Wilson family money, JJ and Shannon Wilson have been clear about separating the brand on its own.
“It comes with its benefits and it comes with its costs. I don’t think I could build Kit and Ace with Shannon without the interest in Chip’s involvement,” said JJ Wilson. “The cost to that, you spend a lot of time managing it. The conversation can quickly become about Lululemon and Chip.”
To be sure, Wilson says, his father’s influence and gaining industry experience growing up with the Lululemon brand has been vital to his company.
“If I could look at the big picture of Kit and Ace, I’m seeing it as a new addition or evolving the Wilsons being a prominent family in retail,” he said. “When I look at what we did with Lululemon, we defined athleisure. With Kit and Ace, we’ve figured out how to add technical luxury.”
Wilson said the shop will start by selling their signature cashmere blend T-shirts for $65-$130. If things go well, he said, they would seek a bigger space for a full store and leave the T-shirt shop as is. The full line includes products for men and women: tops, bottoms and outerwear, with most of the items coming in black, white, dark blue or gray.
The fabric is Shannon Wilson’s creation and called “Qemir” — pronounced “come-here.” Unlike cashmere alone, it’s stretchy and durable and can be machine-washed instead of requiring dry-cleaning.
‘The stars aligned’
“When we talk about technical cashmere, we designed it for our West Coast active lifestyle,” said JJ Wilson. “We wanted to be able to wear luxury fabrications like cashmere without having to have it taken care of to the same degree.”
Founded in Vancouver, British Columbia, Kit and Ace has seven North American stores, including a T-shirt shop in San Francisco and a full shop in New York City. Detroit will be one of 13 cities to get a Kit and Ace this summer.
Wilson said “the stars aligned” for the Detroit location: It was the right place on the right street with the right shop director to grow the business. But beyond that, Detroit’s bustling art scene fits perfectly with the Kit and Ace philosophy.
The shops feature wooden tables and light fixtures from local craftspeople. Each one has a wall featuring art from local artists that is changed every three months. And community events and supper club-style parties are often held there featuring local food and drink.
“One of my biggest fears for Kit and Ace was that I never wanted each shop to feel the same,” said Wilson. “I wanted it to feel specific to that area.”
Plans for quick expansion
JJ and Shannon Wilson are pushing for quick expansion, aiming for 30 new stores in North America by the end of the year. But JJ Wilson says he has spent his entire life preparing for the challenge of building his own brand.
“The biggest asset was probably just growing up and watching Lululemon. I was 15 when it started and by the time I was 20 it was at hundreds of stores around the world,” he said. “I don’t like saying I was built for this, but in a way there’s nothing I know better at 26 than building something like this.”