Lululemon founder's family bets on casual luxury with new retail venture

Tue Oct 28, 2014 12:03pm EDT
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By Solarina Ho and Julie Gordon

TORONTO/VANCOUVER Oct 28 (Reuters) - Sewing machines hum inside a spacious clothing boutique where the wife and son of Lululemon Athletica Inc's founder hope to capture the retail magic that turned the yogawear maker into a stock market darling.

Meet Kit and Ace, the brainchild of billionaire Chip Wilson's wife, former Lululemon lead designer Shannon Wilson, who started the new streetwear venture with his son J.J.

Backed entirely by Wilson family money, Kit and Ace has started with one store in the heart of Vancouver's artsy Gastown neighborhood. The shop, which drew a handful of shoppers on a recent rainy weekday, specializes in "technical" luxury: cashmere-blend casual wear that is pre-shrunk, washable and durable.

It remains to be seen whether Kit and Ace's simple line of basic black, white, navy and gray t-shirts can gain the same traction as Lululemon's products.

"Where Lululemon was very successful was that they identified a new trend," said Darren Dahl, a marketing professor at the Sauder School of Business. "With this new brand, it's not quite as clear that they have pinpointed an identifiable market."

Lululemon itself has faced significant problems in the last 18 months, including a high-profile recall of overly sheer yoga pants and a tense board scuffle involving founder Chip Wilson.

Kit and Ace, which opened in July, plans five new shops across North America in November, at least 100 there by 2019, and a presence in Australia, Asia and Europe after that.

The global push could come sooner if the right partner comes along, said Shannon Wilson, who searched the world for a luxury fabric with the properties of sportswear. Failing to find it, she developed her proprietary blend of cashmere, viscose and elastane fabric, formulated in Italy and trademarked "technical cashmere."   Continued...