Kit and Ace. For those of you who are new to the name, keep an eye out for Canada’s newest darling brand. Its phenomena seemed to explode overnight with stores popping up around North America then around the world. With each location uniquely designed by local talent, it’s changing the retail industry in a beautiful way.
Every success story starts somewhere, in some room, with a dedicated team of do-ers. About 7 months ago, I had the pleasure of being introduced to Courtney Chew through a mutual friend. What started out as an informational interview to learn about a company in Vancouver turned into an unexpected insider’s look at the start of something amazing. The foundation for what would become the sudden success of Kit and Ace. As it turned out, Courtney was one of the original team members that was recruited to help grow an idea into something real. Beyond the Kit and Ace story, I was curious to learn more about Courtney and what led her to take that leap of faith to join an unknown brand
Can you share a bit about your role at Kit and Ace?
I’m the Brand Operations Manager at Kit and Ace. It’s funny because although I get asked that question a lot, I still haven’t quite nailed that Coles notes summary of what I do. In a nutshell, I oversee all operations for the global brand and market team here, and work with the other creative managers to develop the strategy, vision and direction for the brand. I also work closely with JJ, our Co-Founder and Head of Brand, on setting the team structure and dynamic. This is very important to me so much so that the team has nicknamed me “Team Mom” because I truly am passionate about them.
Is there anything in particular that you learned about yourself this past year?
Working in an environment that is fast paced, really pushes and challenges you with the unexpected. Change is inevitable with any company that is going through growth, but we joke here that a year at Kit and Ace is like five years at any other company, so there are a lot of learnings we’re coming up against as we build this plane while flying it.
I’ve always considered myself flexible but now, especially overseeing a team of 50 people, I’ve learned it’s important to be gracious and patient when change occurs and to maintain your positivity though it all. Oh, and always have fun. I’m lucky to be part of a team of freaking talented individuals that work their butts off sometimes pushing 11+ hour days and trust me, those days are LONG. But what keeps us going is that we know we’re all in it for the long haul.
Life is more enjoyable when you’re laughing and you’re at work for most of it, so why not make that part of your day as inspiring as possible. I’ve learned how important it is to surround yourself with people that you can just thrive off of and who instill positive energy that you want to be around.
“Life is more enjoyable when you’re laughing and you’re at work for most of it, so why not make that part of your day as inspiring as possible“
We hear about so many successful start-ups but we rarely hear about the hardships that go into making them. For people who may think that start-up life is glamorous with free lunches, beer-o-clock etc… can you share your personal experience of what it’s like to grow something from nothing?
I would have to agree that the start up life is not what I would call glamourous. There’s a lot of hard work and time dedicated to developing something new and you honestly have to have your whole heart in it. I would have to say that for the past (almost) two years since I started at Kit and Ace, I’ve been horrible at shutting work off when I get home. I am so passionate about what I do that it’s difficult for me to just “stop working”.
I’m physically in the office from 8:30AM until around 7pm and on email pretty much 24/7. I have to constantly tell myself (with helpful reminders from my team) that it’s important to take care of myself and spend time being present outside of work. Work will be there the next day. And as I’m writing this I’m currently on a plane heading home from a mini getaway (and only touched my emails once)! Baby steps…
It takes a lot of intention to foster the right kind of culture to push boundaries and innovate. What are some of the things you contributed to develop and grow that team environment?
When I started, it was just JJ and myself that made up the full time Brand Team of Kit and Ace. The two of us spent a lot of time thinking about this. Being a brand-led company, creativity is so important to what makes Kit and Ace what it is. We knew that however the team was set-up, it would be done in a way that fostered that creativity.
Everything is created in house. That ensures everyone from design, to content, to photography can create together. And that’s where my Brand Operations pod comes in – they’re the core and the glue that holds us together. They are the ones that execute process and streamline how our internal pods work with one another and with other departments in the company. This allows our creative pods to focus on being just that – creative. I take pride in this structure and how I’ve built the Ops team – they’re an amazing group of motivated, process driven, yet creative beings that know how to get shit done. They drive our team to produce assets that constantly meet our highest standards.
They’re also responsible for helping me maintain the team culture with the “little things”: the specific onboarding process for our brand team, weekly morning huddles where we end off reading out “Good Feels” (notes written throughout the week to personally acknowledge someone who did something rad), we celebrate Birthday Months with cake and have an informal social committee to plan “fun” during the holidays. It’s rare to find a group as large as ours where everyone gets along, so much so that we’re like a family. I’ll continue to do everything I can to keep it that way.
Giving 100% day-in-and-day-out to grow a team is exhausting work, How does Courtney Chew unwind and relax? Do you find it difficult to intentionally stop and take time for your self?
I always make sure I sweat every day. Whether it be at the gym or a spin class, that definitely keeps me going and clears my mind for an hour or two. Netflix is also GREAT. I spend a lot of time in my car and love driving around with my music borderline obnoxiously loud – especially if the end destination involves food and/or ice cream.
When you look back, was there a moment when you knew the risk you took to join an unknown company had finally paid off?
As much risk as there might have been to join a start up that literally had seven people, no product samples and not even one shop yet, I never doubted that it was the right time for me to take a chance. I wouldn’t say there was one defining moment but looking back now and recognizing that we have over 800 employees worldwide, 50 global stores and a strong online presence all accomplished in one year – it’s humbling to have been part of this from the start and watching JJ and Shannon’s vision come to life.
“As much risk as there might have been to join a start up that literally had seven people, no product samples and not even one shop yet, I never doubted that it was the right time for me to take a chance.”
What are you most proud of that you have accomplished this year?
I took a chance with my career and left my dream job to join Kit and Ace. I was previously at wings+horns for almost four years, where similarly, I set up and developed their Marketing, PR and Retail strategies. But, taking this leap has opened me up to so much professionally and personally and it’s setting me up for where I want to be in the next few years. There really is so much that becomes possible when you just go with the flow, trust your gut, and take on whatever next challenge comes up.
There really is so much that becomes possible when you just go with the flow, trust your gut, and take on whatever next challenge comes up
Your top 3 go-to beauty winter items, Kit and Ace or not?
- Le Labo Santal 33 body lotion – it smells so delicious and is also just really good lotion
- Grown Alchemist lip balm that I stocked up on during my most recent trip to Australia
- Kit and Ace West Beach candle – I’m biased because I developed this scent for the brand, but I love it so much. Every time I smell it, I feel like I’m back on one of my favorite beaches surrounded by the ocean, getting hugged from the sun – pretty awesome for a candle ya?