DESIGN MOVEMENT | Shannon Wilson, who co-founded Kit and Ace, says, “B.C. is such an amazing testing ground for everything life can throw at you

B.C. is known for its natural environment and active lifestyle, and its design—interior and exterior—reflects that. Buildings are designed to bring the outside in, and clothing to allow unfettered enjoyment of the outdoors. And B.C. designers are increasingly exporting that expertise globally. The province has produced architects such as James Cheng, who recently designed a residential tower in Honolulu applying the principles of design he perfected in B.C. Lululemon’s iconic athletic wear—made for a casual, active lifestyle—is now worn in yuppie enclaves from Buenos Aires to Brisbane. Herewith a look at the local designers who are bringing Beautiful B.C. to the world.

When Premier Christy Clark attended the announcement of Kwantlen Polytechnic University’s new Wilson School of Design in December 2012, she remarked, “B.C. is known as a global hub for technical apparel design.” Along with the design of technical apparel, the school—funded by Chip and Shannon Wilson, their former company Lululemon, Kwantlen and the provincial government—also embraces Kwantlen’s existing clothing-design programs. 

By one definition, technical apparel is clothing designed and manufactured primarily for its technical and performance properties. Lululemon is the best-known ambassador of this category—helping to create a worldwide craze for yoga-inspired athleisure wear—but Greater Vancouver now has more than three dozen businesses making technical apparel for people focused on health, recreation and outdoor activities.

Arc’teryx makes breathable waterproof clothing sold in the U.S., U.K., Shanghai and Tokyo, and Mountain Equipment Co-op outdoor clothing and gear is sold across Canada. Sugoi technical clothing is designed for cycling, running and fitness, while Orb has been making women’s athletic wear for 20 years, and Dish & Duer makes “lifestyle jeans” using performance stretch denim. For the really rugged, Mustang Survival makes flotation clothing for customers ranging from boaters and hunters to the U.S. military. Many of these companies were involved in developing the Kwantlen program.

“Until we partnered with Kwantlen, there were no programs or schools that actually taught people how to work with the fabrics, to think with the perspective of an athlete or a commuter or a skier or a snowboarder—and nobody even talking about what are the machines that are required and how you operate those machines in order to build that product,” says Shannon Wilson, wife of Lululemon founder Chip Wilson and co-founder of Kit and Ace, which has opened 60 shops worldwide since launching in 2014.

Wilson feels B.C. has attracted these companies because it is an ideal testing ground for activities from skiing, swimming, kayaking and paddleboarding to biking to work in the rain. That said, she argues her new venture, Kit and Ace, is not so much about activewear as technical streetwear: “We don’t ever say we’re building activewear. We’re building a product for movement.”

While Kit and Ace may be more streetwear, there’s no doubt that the province is an active one—and that’s evident in the expertise B.C. has developed in mountain bikes and equipment for skiing and snowboarding. Both Rocky Mountain Bicycles, which has won Mountain Bike magazine’s Mountain Bike of the Year award three times, and Cove Bikes, which released the world’s first North Shore freeride bike in 1992, sell internationally—as do Endeavor Snowboard Design and Prior snowboards, and G3 Genuine Guide Gear ski equipment and clothing.

That expertise extends into the world of outdoor space too. Gravity Logic, based in Whistler, designs and builds bike trails and parks in Canada, the U.S. and Europe. Owners Dave Kelly, Rob Cocquyt and Tom Prochazka were employees at Whistler-Blackcomb when they built the bike park there in the 1990s. Although it wasn’t the first bike park in the world, “I think Whistler kind of perfected the model,” says Prochazka. By 2005, they were getting so many enquiries about how they operated that they started a consulting arm: Gravity Logic. Three years later, Whistler-Blackcomb decided the bike park didn’t fit its business model and sold Gravity Logic to Kelly, Cocquyt and Prochazka, who have been operating on their own ever since.

Beyond biking, outdoor design leaders include Arena Snowparks, which builds terrain parks, half pipes and snowcrosses around the world (including for the 2010 and 2014 Olympic Winter Games), and WhiteWater West, which designs and manufactures innovative waterparks (it has installed more than 5,000 of them worldwide since 1980).