JJ Wilson
JJ Wilson

One look at JJís LinkedIn profile, youíd expect this guy to be much older than he actually is. At 26, heís much more mature than his fellow twenty-somethings, and has a heftier resume than most forty-somethings. Kit and Ace, you could say, is his baby ó but rather than nine months, this baby took nearly two full years to come to life. Obviously a busy business-owner, JJ hopped on the phone to tell us about the perfect t-shirt, his supper clubs, and working with family.

What was your life like before Kit and Ace?
I grew up in a retail family and I started working at Holt Renfrew during my last two years of college. I was an intern, and helped run the fashion office. After that, I graduated with a degree in commerce, and worked in private equity. I moved onto a local, Canadian-made contemporary street wear line called wings+horns. I ran sales and marketing for wings+horns, and this was my first real job growing and developing a brand. Two years into working at wings+horns, I was invited to go back to Lululemon to help reinvent the menís division. Lululemon liked what I accomplished at wings+horns, and assigned me with the task of redefining their male customer. My first few days on the job I was meeting with the design team about silhouettes and color-ways.†
So how was Kit and Ace born?
Shannon is married to my father, [Chip Wilson, founder of Lululemon] and she was one of the head designers in the very early stages of Lulu. I was constantly flying from a hot market to a cold market ó if I was traveling during the holidays, it would be snowing in Boston and sunny in Sydney! Shannon and I identified that we both had a love and passion for technical design, and what we both know best is retail. We decided to take our love of fashion and make it perform the same way our performance wear does. We started by building street wear, and thatís when we dreamt up technical cashmere. We really challenged ourselves to make this fabric into a piece of performance clothing. We created something that can keep up with an active lifestyle. It took two years to get there.
And what really inspired you to get this idea off the ground?
Iím a t-shirt junkie. All I want is the perfect white tee that is machine washable. And when I say ďmachine washableĒ that means I canít worry that my favorite tee is going to come out of the dryer looking like a crop-top after one wash! You wonít believe how many t-shirts I was buying and accidentally shrinking. So, it was a matter of building the perfect tee that functions like athletic apparel and wonít pull, pill, or shrink.†
Whatís the core mission statement?
In a single sentence, it is: Kit and Ace is the perfect blend of technical and fashion ó our clothing is functional luxury.†
Who is the ideal Kit and Ace employee?†
We hire people who have an entrepreneurial spirit and genuine excitement to take on projects and jobs that arenít traditional. The job of the shop directors is to build that connection with the local market. For each location, we maintain a list of local restaurants, shops, bars, and museums for customers and to form those relationships with local creatives. I really let the shop directors drive those relationships.†
So how do the supper clubs work?
The whole series actually came together very organically. And now, every store has a supper club table ó theyíre always a square shape. I was building one of the shops with local designers, and it was time to break for dinner. We all sat at this one square table, and we drank beer and wine while eating pizza. There were just eight people ó very intimate! ó until three or four in the morning. Damn, that was so fun! I craved it, and it was an experience I wanted every shop to have every single month. So, the shop directors invite influencers, local designers, and just generally cool people up to cool things for dinner. They come over for a meal, but not to talk about Kit and Ace. Itís all about connecting authentically.†
Whenís the next one!? How can I come?
Iím so blown away by how popular these dinners have become. The wait list is pretty significant ó 360 people right now!†
Is there a celebrity or public figure who really nails the Kit and Ace vibe?
Gwyneth Paltrow. She seamlessly does it all ó she owns a business, is constantly making moves, raising a familyÖ sheís really living this full-contact lifestyle, and doing it very successfully! And you know what? Sheís looking for that perfect tee that goes in the washer and dryer that wonít shrink and function the way it needs to function.†
Kit and Ace prides itself on on its non-cookie-cutter shops, right?
I grew up in the prime of Abercrombie and Hollister ó every single shop was very dark and moody. The retail world was leaning toward the darker aesthetic and I wanted shops to be light and airy. It is my goal to make each shop unique ó obviously, I have a color palette that my contractors stick to for each build-out ó but I didnít want to arrive in a new neighborhood with a cookie-cutter store. At least 30% of the shop is local ó local photographers, local furniture designers ó my shop directors spend a lot of time with local creatives so the stores are a real representation of the local market.†
The way people shop has changed, too. I looked at who I was as a consumer and the millennials around me. People are traveling more than ever, and itís actually my job to travel and shop! I was bored, no matter what city I was in. Everything looked the same because of the digital landscape, there were no more unique experiences! I installed Sorry Coffee and tailors into different Kit and Ace stores to drive consumers to see what we are doing in our stores.
Can you take me through your day?
Iím up at 5:30am. Right away, because of the international markets, I spend at least one hour answering emails. I also own an indoor spinning studio called Ride Cycle Club ó itís more badass than Soul Cycle! I spin every morning at 6am or 7am and then grab a call at around 8:30am in the car. And then, honestly, Iím in meetings from 9am until 7pm. Iím on the road two weeks per month, so thereís always someone to check in with. Sometimes, if Iím lucky, I work out twice per day.
It sort-of sounds like youíve found that work-life balance!
Ha! I think for being 26-years-old with no wife or children Iím right where Iím supposed to be! But really, my work life is the same as my personal life. I know what is important and I need to do a few things every day to be successful. That separation ó is this work or is this play? ó isnít a conversation in my head.†
Tell me what itís like working with family.
Itís a really fun dynamic. As a family, we grew Lulu to what it is. I grew up in the retail stores because that was where my parents were ó we werenít playing at the park, we were at the stores! The dynamic started at a young age in the stores and traveling for work. No matter what, it has always been about family ó we even started a family charity called imagine1day that helps build schools in Ethiopia. It really is about strong communication ó we hardly disagree. They know what theyíre doing ó and I want to be equally successful.†
How do you approach digital marketing and social media?
The world is truly still figuring out the digital market. No one knows the perfect model. But, thereís one thing I do know ó that brand always comes first. Anything thatís overly sales-driven wonít last long-term. I look at three strategies: local, market, and global. Shops are responsible for the local calendars and in-store events. Marketing events are when itís time to roll out something new. And then there are the much larger-scale events: SXSW, Coachella. We really wanted people to touch and feel our fabrics, so we thought we should bring it to them. Thatís how The Copper Studio was born ó a custom Airstream trailer that replicated our stores. It was a chance for us to interact with locals and create relative content. The digital marketing isnít product focused, but face-focused content.†
Whats the best piece of work advice your ever received?
From my father, Chip: hire bigger and hire smarter. Iíve done a really good job surrounding myself with the worldís best talent get Kit and Ace to where it is now. Iím proud of that!

Author: Sarah St. Lifer

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