Kit and Ace to open swanky downtown showroom Thursday

Ian Thibodeau
The Detroit News

The Vancouver-based “athleisure” brand Kit and Ace opens its new store at 11 a.m. Thursday at the corner of Woodward and Clifford in downtown Detroit.

The 3,337-square-foot location – with its line of “technical cashmere” clothing for men and women – is part of a two-phase expansion effort. The first phase, which opened last year in a smaller showroom in Midtown, closed June 9. The new store’s opening marks a continuing revival of retail on lower Woodward.

Kit and Ace is a retail anchor on one of the three blocks of Woodward between Grand Circus and Campus Martius parks. The new shop at 1449 Woodward is sandwiched between two other big-name retailers that fill spaces managed by Dan Gilbert’s Bedrock Detroit. It sits diagonally across from the John Varvatos store, and about a block and a half from the recently opened Nike Community Store.

JJ Wilson co-founded Kit and Ace with stepmom Shannon Wilson in 2014. He says the brick-and-mortar locations are about highlighting the brand in a way that cannot be done online.

Wilson calls his stores “showrooms.”

“I try to operate my showrooms like venues,” he said. “(They are) more about the brand experience, and showcasing the brand in a beautiful way.”

It’s important for customers to feel Kit and Ace products, many of which use a custom cashmere-blend fabric named “Qemir,” Wilson said.

Kit and Ace built its brand on the fabric that’s soft, stretchy, durable and can be machine-washed. It sells pants, shorts, shirts and polos, sweaters, swimwear and accessories for men and women. Prices online range from $78-$128 for men’s T-shirts; pants start at $138. Women’s blouses start at $108; pants at $148.

Dan Mullen, Bedrock Detroit executive vice president, said Kit and Ace’s rapid expansion in two years means Bedrock got in early with a growing company. Since the brand debuted, the company has opened 57 locations, 33 of which are in the U.S.

“We’re (getting) one of these big-name retailers ... and we’re going to be one of the first,” Mullen said.

A similar sentiment made Detroit attractive, Wilson said. He’s jumping in on the ground floor of downtown growth so the retail scene can grow around Kit and Ace.

“(Detroit) is only going to continue to grow,” he said. “We’re going to continue to see more diverse retailers bring their business into the city ... I think that it’s the right opportunity to get in now and really introduce our brand.”

Kit and Ace was created by the same family that started the popular Lululemon Athletica brand in 1998. Wilson’s father, Chip Wilson, founded Lulelemon and helped start Kit and Ace.

JJ Wilson said he and Shannon have used the Lululemon model to form their own marketing technique. “We’re doing it a lot faster,” Wilson said, and every move is geared to stimulate brand growth and awareness.

The brand is in flux, Wilson said. Kit and Ace is still adjusting the cut and fit of many of their items, relying on customer feedback in-store to know what tweaks need to be made.

The Detroit location, like other showrooms, will feature on-site tailors and sparkling water. It will also feature art and design elements from local artists and photographers.

Normal operating hours are 11 a..m to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and noon to 6 p.m. Sunday.

(313) 222-2359

Twitter: @Ian_Thibodeau