By Craig Patterson
Vancouver-based ‘technical cashmere’ brand Kit and Ace has announced new ownership and a new direction, as it finally sees profitability after more than four years in operation.
CEO George Tsogas, who had led Kit and Ace since April of 2017, tells Retail Insider that he bought the company from Chip Wilson’s company Hold It All Inc. for an undisclosed sum with the deal having closed on August 31 of this year.
Kit and Ace, which was founded in 2014 as a luxury-focused ‘technical cashmere’ brand, became profitable for the first time in July of 2018, according to Mr. Tsogas. The company expects to further grow with a focus on the ‘modern commuter’ who might travel by bike, foot or on transit in large cities. The company’s ‘Navigator Collection’, which launched in the spring of this year, is geared towards the urban commuter by providing ‘office-ready clothing options’ as Kit and Ace renews its focus towards technical apparel.
The Navigator Collection, which launched for men in April with a range of trousers, joggers, shorts, blazers and jackets, introduced women’s trousers in August of this year, with more categories on the way. The Navigator Collection features venting, secure pockets, and reflectivity for cyclists that is made from a technical fabric that is said to be water-repellant, durable, easy-care and comfortable. The new line is the first step in transitioning Kit and Ace’s product line to technical commuter wear, according to the company.
In order to ensure that its products perform, Kit and Ace has introduced the ‘bike test’ into its design process to make sure clothing holds up to increased movement, outside elements, and moisture, while maintaining an office-appropriate look upon arrival. “If it works on a bike, it will work for any commute,” according to Kit and Ace.
“With the world’s urban population surging, we are seeing a new segment of commuters that are riding their bikes to work and want to be office-ready but haven’t had apparel options to do so,” said Mr. Tsogas. “The commuter way of life is technical and functional, yet allows you to show up to the office looking put-together and professional, without needing to change into something new. This is what we’re bringing to our apparel.”
Chip Wilson, best known for having founded Lululemon, will remain as a mentor to Kit and Ace as the brand continues to transform under Mr. Tsogas’ leadership.
Kit and Ace launched in July of 2014 and was initially led by Chip Wilson’s wife Shannon Wilson and son J.J. Wilson, though sources confirm that Chip Wilson was quietly involved with activities such as lease negotiations for some of the company’s first retail stores.
The company expanded its base of stores quickly after its summer of 2014 launch, which began with pop-up stores in various Canadian and, soon, international centres. Longer-term leases were eventually signed as Kit and Ace grew to more than 60 stores globally and 700 employees in early 2016.
By March of 2017, Kit and Ace’s store count was reduced to 41 stores, prior to an April 2017 announcement that all but nine Canadian stores would remain open. Since then, three more stores closed and at the moment, Kit and Ace operates six locations with two of those in Vancouver, two in Toronto, and one store each in Calgary and Oakville, Ontario. The Vancouver Gastown flagship recently relocated to 151 Water Street from 165 Water Street due to a redevelopment.
The other Vancouver store is in the Kitsilano area at 2235 W. 4th avenue. The Toronto stores are both street-front spaces on popular streets — a ‘Mink Mile’ store is located at 102 Bloor Street West, which also houses a coffee concept called ‘Sorry Coffee’. The other Toronto store is at 779 Queen Street West on trendy ‘West Queen West’. The Oakville location is at 171 Lakeshore Road East and the Calgary location is at Mount Royal Village, a First Capital Realty-owned property just south of the downtown core.
More Kit and Ace store locations are planned, according to Mr. Tsogas, though not nearly at the rapid rate seen in 2014 and 2015. Two pop-up locations will be used to test the market, which could become a strategy moving forward as the brand looks to new markets. This month, the company launches temporary locations at Metropolis at Metrotown in Burnaby as well as at CF Chinook Centre in Calgary, both of which will operate through to February of 2019.
To serve the urban commuter, more in-store coffee shops could be in the works, according to Mr. Tsogas.
In order to move the brand forward, Mr. Tsogas revealed that staff will be offered an equity stake in the company as incentive. Canada will be the focus as will the United States before Kit and Ace relaunches an international store expansion. Kit and Ace’s new strategy is to be a ‘problem solver’ according to Mr. Tsogas, offering a unique product that is also practical to the modern urban dweller looking to look good while commuting in the city.