In two years, Kit and Ace, the technical apparel — don’t call it athleisure! — brand founded by Chip Wilson’s wife and son, Shannon and JJ Wilson, has grown at a breakneck speed, with 63 locations in two years. It came in hot, arriving just after the functional-but-stylish clothing boom in the U.S. Lacey Norton, head of retail at the company, joined this week’s Glossy Podcast to talk about growing too fast, creating a brand’s own identity and if athleisure can really scale.
Edited highlights below.
Macro-economic trends drove the rise of athletic wear
Kit and Ace prides itself on making premium, basic, functional items. Norton said that Lululemon proved that people wanted workout clothing that also functioned outside the gym. Thus was borne the rise of technical fashion — luxurious fabrics in comfortable cuts that’s “clothing you don’t need to think about.” Driving the trend was the rise of telecommuting and young people in the workforce that Norton says bucked the trends of the business world. “We’re definitely shifting into this new realm of dressing.”
Kit and Ace has created its own dictionary
The brand calls its in-store people “educators” and its store managers “directors.” Oh, and stores aren’t called stores, they’re “showrooms.” Norton said the company in year one starting building a “glossary.” The salespeople aren’t just selling, they’re there “to educate people about what the products are, because there is so much value in our product you cannot see,” she said. “It’s essential for any brand to start to develop their own language.”
Every brand can be a lifestyle brand
There are 2,700 brands on Twitter that tout themselves as lifestyle brands in their bios. From fast food to apparel to hotels, every brand wants to be more than a provider of goods and services. Norton, whose own company is of that ilk, says it’s a good thing. Kit and Ace provides a “full contact lifestyle” for people who go from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., and that’s living the brand. “Brands need to create the lifestyle that people see as aspirational,” she said. “It’s the way forward.”
Retailers don’t have to think about permanent stores
Kit and Ace grew at a fast clip — at a five year pace in two years. One unusual tactic was to open stores or “showrooms” in places knowing that they may shut down in one or two years. It was a way to be first-to-market without too much commitment. The brand will open a store in a city, then see how it goes. It may lead to a closure of the brick and mortar space and a focus online, or it may lead to a permanent store. This enabled them to make mistakes and correct quickly.