I have been watching the Kit and Ace brand grow over the last year from one store to an international chain of more than 50 stores (Canada, USA, Australia, and the UK), with more than 750 employees. That is huge accelerated growth in less than a year that only a rare few can achieve.
The collection was built by the Wilson family, the founder of Lululemon (Chip Wilson’s), wife and son . Kit and Ace is allot different from the humble start of Lululemon and Westbeach. They have invested lots of money to grow the company/brand to what it is today.
But one thing you learn over the years is money doesn’t buy you everything. It can take away the personal feeling of a more humble brand that needs to watch its finances to ensure growth is achieved organically, consistently and effectively. But another thing we learn is money does buy you location, location, location, marketing, and an accelerated expansion.
Now it’s about having the right people in place, with the right strategy, structure, systems, processes, performance measures, culture, community, product and market positioning that will allow it to blossom like a fabulous spring day.
Kit and Ace mantras are similar to what established Lululemon to be unique and different. At the start the kit and Ace brand was built on Integrity, morality and ethics. I like the sincere meaning behind one’s word. But really is a great business built on one? Or is a solid team that makes the difference? A team built on passion, a dream, love for the brand, and desire for the business.
Growing a business has many challenges, especially if you work in HR (Human Resources) and are growing at the pace of Kit and Ace. Imagine you have superiors who dictate what you can and cannot do. Crossing the boundaries, the culture, and the ethics within. Hiring based on past positions, locations, and relationships, which have nothing to do with the roles, responsibilities, and objectives of the brand/corporation today. It becomes politics and it’s not about what is best for the brand, the long-term position and growth possibilities of the corporation. Imagine if the power was changed, and HR was allowed to do what they do best!!!
The first store in Vancouver was so new back in August, 2014 they only had basic silhouettes (mainly t-shirts) available to sell to the consumers but they brightened the women’s up with a colourful skirt, see below.
I was excited to try on the new products and hopefully find some new additions for my wardrobe, but I was shocked with what I tried on. So I came out of the change room with the garment on so I could show the staff member. We chatted about the problem and possible solutions, but I don’t think that ever made it anywhere.
In June 2015 well on a trip to New York, I decided to go back into the Kit & Ace store, see the new changes, re-try on the products, look at the new styles, and see the story evolve (the fabrics, the fits, and the business model). I was in shock and awe about the same fit issues and now there were quality issues.
As a new brand it is great to be different, below are some of the Kit & Ace differentiators:
- Technical Cashmere
- Darted seams on knitwear to make for a more fitted product
- Different methods of construction, compared to traditional
- In store product development
- A strong culture and community based on morals
I was excited to walk into the first store in Vancouver back in August, 2014. I liked how the store was built into the offices for a more personal and interactive feeling.
Cool and unique to have apprentice designers in the shop making new products for consideration. I hope this goes beyond the display and makes it to the shop floors.
Now let’s look at the products that build/support/lead the brand and sets the differentiators.
The same fit issue I noticed back in August, 2014 was still a problem in June, 2015. It showed sloppiness with execution, which should never be with the right qualified people behind the brand. This could have been avoided by spending more time trying products on different body shapes (sizes), getting them to move around in the product. Being active and living life to the fullest to ensure the product provides longevity for the consumer and the brand. See more about the Kit and Ace fits on their website: http://www.kitandace.com/help-me/fit-guide/
A unique differentiator for Kit and Ace is the pleated back on the knit shirts, which is great if you do not move around in the garment. What if your active and decide to raise your arms over your head. See below photo of how the garment will look if you raise your arms above your head.
The shirt will ride up and be gathered around your chest/waist line. Kit and Ace should have had staff and fit models, moving, shaking and stretching to see how the product reacts to determine the ultimate fit. But when you are moving at lightning speed sometimes the little (big) things are missed.
One other thing you may notice on the picture, the neckline looks stretched or oversized, that is because it is, which could have been avoided in fittings and management of your supply chain (manufacturing). As well they could have looked at the placement and weight of their hangtag, to ensure it will not pull down on the neckline.
I like the idea of the knit and woven combo on the dress shirts, the fit was okay, having the woven structure on the front helped reduce the effects of the above knit shirt. But I believe this issue will also be a factor over time.
You can see the gathering around the armhole, which would mean the armhole, is too small or the product is too fitted and will show lots of flaws easily on the many body types that will try on this garment.
Now let’s touch on the quality. I like the idea of the sewn down dress shirt collar, but this will be a problem in mass manufacturing. To avoid the problems shown you will need to have sewing manuals, process, and procedures (expertise and experience) in place, as well you will need experienced staff to be on top of your supply chain (manufacturing management). The experienced staff must go beyond QC, and have entrepreneurial expertise in thinking outside the box, looking at planning, schedules (WIP and T&A), factory structure, performance (KPI), productivity, and expertise for sewing. But with lightning speed expansion, this can be overlooked which will affect the long-term brand integrity.
The left side is nice and straight and the right has a slight kink in it… I noticed the other color on the selling floor had the same issues.
The only difference to the Navy one was the Navy was the right side and the light Blue was the left side.
Going beyond the collar, I started to notice issues with the seam sewing, which was sloppy and showed signs that an unqualified manufacturer or a manufacturer that had other priorities produced this item, or possibly there is a shortage of qualified staffing at Kit and Ace. The issue could be avoided by qualifying and selecting the right manufacturer (maker). Managing your supply chain, visit them on a regular basis to let them know your involved and committed to delivering a quality product in a timely manner. As well establishing the right management and support tools and processes for everyone involved with the product.
Look at the sloppy armhole stitch on this shirt; it really baffles me how this ends up on the store shelf in NYC.
Is gathered the new look on seams? Or is this product defective?
I wonder if anyone in the head office is trying on this product or looking at the quality? How can a brand with so much expertise be producing this quality of products with this fit? Is it all about growth and speed to market with no passion or love for the product? This complete disturbs me, as I know the founders would not want this!!!
The business model is the ideal opportunity; I believe the future is for premium products like Kit & Ace. But the recent collection reminds me allot of Banana Republic. Maybe that is the feeling they are going for but it should be more unique to capture a different audience.