Kit and Ace closes international stores, lays off head office staff

Canadian showrooms and e-commerce store to stay open

Kit and Ace had 41 stores worldwide last month | Kit and Ace

Vancouver-based fashion retailer Kit and Ace is closing 32 stores located outside Canada and laying off staff at its Vancouver head office while shifting its business’ focus to its nine Canadian stores and its online store, the company announced April 26.

Kit and Ace president Wendy Bennison has also been let go.

The family of Lululemon Athletica Inc. founder Chip Wilson founded Kit and Ace in 2014 and rapidly expanded the company to 700 employees and 61 stores in early 2016. Growing pains forced layoffs, and the company’s store count fell to 41 stores as of last month, according to information that the company provided Business in Vancouver in March.

Nine Canadian stores will stay open, including locations in Gastown and West 4th Avenue in Vancouver. Stores in the U.S., U.K. and Australia will close.

“We recognize the traditional world of bricks and mortar retailing is changing, which is why we’re shifting strategies,” said Wilson, who is a founder and principal of Hold It All Inc., which owns Kit and Ace. 

Wilson is effectively acting as Kit and Ace's president, said Deirdre McMurdy, who is at Navigator Ltd. and does public relations for Kit and Ace. 

“We believe in the business model for Kit and Ace," Wilson said in a release. "Going forward, we will be a stronger company. Fewer stores require fewer people. We remain deeply grateful for the creativity and commitment of those leaving the company and thank them for their valuable contribution.”

Wilson did not reveal how many people would be laid off.

Business in Vancouver contacted Wilson April 25 to ask if rumours were true that Kit and Ace would be closing its stores.

He asked BIV in an email to phone back next week.

A former employee told BIV that the first head office layoffs were from the product team in late 2015. Kit and Ace then laid off about 35 workers at its head office in February 2016. In September 2016, a further 60 employees were given pink slips but the head office still had well over 200 people.

There has also been a shuffling of executives.

When the company was founded, Wilson’s wife Shannon Wilson and her stepson J.J. Wilson were running the company.

The family then brought in former Lululemon Asia-Pacific managing director Darrell Kopke to be CEO. He then left suddenly in November 2015 for undisclosed reasons.

That's when Bennison, who is a former Roots president,  was brought in to be Kit and Ace’s president. 

A similar executive rotation has taken place at Hold It All, where Paul Wilson, who is not a family member, was brought in to be CEO in March 2015. He lasted until February 2017, when Warren Beach was promoted to be CEO after being Hold It All's COO and CFO.