When I was promoted to purple belt back in January I thought I would buy a little present for myself. I thought: wouldn't it be cool to have a high quality belt that was embroidered with my Meerkatsu logo and the kanji for jiu-jitsu? It would be the ultimate in chic personalisation. Not too loud and brash like a blinged up gi, but just discrete different enough to be noticed only by the eagle eyed. So I ordered one. Little did I know that getting that belt in my hands was going to be an arduous, frustrating and expensive affair ending with a belt that costs more than the priciest gi I've ever owned...
It all started innocently enough. A quick scan on the forums and on google brought up one company that would make a specific BJJ belt, the correct length, hand-built and machine embroidered with my specific design requirements. Kataaro, over in the States, seemed like the best place to go.
The amount of choice on the Kataaro website for designing your own belt is truly staggering. You can choose the length, colour, width, density of stitching, softness level, with white tags or without, and all lovingly hand crafted. It is a BJJ geek's paradise.
To be honest, I should have followed it up sooner. When I did remember to check, Kataaro gave me the shipment tracking number and I tapped it into the US Postal Service website. The site informed me that the carrier in the UK (Royal Mail to you and me) had already tried to deliver my belt but it was unsuccesful. Immediately, my suspicions were aroused. NO ONE delivered anything to me.
I called Royal Mail, they were no help. I tried Parcel Force, the sub-division of Royal Mail who handle parcels but for some reason, are devoid of any communication with Royal Mail. They told me they had the package in their local depot but as no one had paid the customs fee, they were about to ship it back to the US. NO! I cried, I'll pay it, let me pay it!!
Ok, said the lady...but oh hang on..no they didn't have it anymore. Apparently, on the morning of that very same day that I called them, the parcel had already left the UK - shipped back to the US due to failure to pay customs charge...didn't I get their letter? They asked.
I called Kataaro, they said they would wait for it to be returned and ship it back out to me. Five months after I first ordered the belt, it arrived back at Kataaro and we talked about how to ship it back out to me but I had to pay for shipping again.
This time I was on the ball. I tracked the parcel daily and harassed Parcel Force with requests to track it down and make me give them the customs invoice number so I could pay it and release it to be delivered.
I finally got the belt 19 weeks after my initial order, and what a fine beast as you can see. I forgot too that I ordered the design to be embroidered using metallic silver thread. My goodness it really reflects the light, I'm gonna stand out more than I thought.
I can't fault Kataaro in any way. This is just one example of the pitfalls when ordering something from abroad. Interestingly, when I tracked the parcel online the second time around, the shipping bit of the equation is very fast - next day in fact. It hangs around in customs for about a week and then it goes to Parcel Force -who dilly and dally around for God knows how long.
The cost of extravagance
So, if you include the fees for hand-making the belt and shipping it twice over to me, then add the customs duty and, get this from the cheeky UK postal sods - a 'Parcel Force Release Fee' the total cost to me comes at the jaw-dropping price of just under two hundred dollars. It is quite possibly, the world's most expensive BJJ belt.
So, after all this, I am now quite poor in monetary terms, but oh so richer by design. The question is, am I really willing to subject this mini work of art to the wear and tear of everyday class? You bet.
NB: When the US Postal Service parcel tracking website says "Tried to deliver on x date, delivery failed" what that actually means is, once it is out of UK customs and in to the hands of Parcel Force, it kind of loses the trail and does not post the correct information. What you (UK readers) need to do, is copy and paste the USPS tracking number into the Parcel Force website and it will respond by giving you a new, UK specific tracking number. With the new number, you can then follow its progress as it gets moved from customs, to main hub, to local sorting office, to your hom or local post office collection venue.
UPDATE 31st July 2010
I get emails every now and then asking for more info about my Kataaro belt, so here's a typical email and the response I gave, hope this helps:
I saw an older post of your Kataaro belt. I've was thinking of getting one and had a few questions. Did you get the 1.75 width or 2''? Also, did you use the belt length estimator on the website? How is the belt overall, thick and sturdy? Any info you could give would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.
Hey Todd. OMG this belt totally rocks. I chose the 1.75inch version and soft version.
I did use the belt estimator but I also checked it against several older belts of mine to find a suitable average that I liked. Not too long, nor too short. It is exactly the right length for me.
For colour, it fades along the edge I guess due to friction every time your tie and untie it...and this is exactly the effect I want. Give it 18 months maybe two years and it's gonna have that really cool worn out look.
For stiffness, even though I chose soft, it still kinda just sits there, once knotted, the end bits loop sideways a little before dropping vertically down. Perfect in my view - I guess this is due to the superior filling within the belt and the extra lines of stitching compared to cheaper belts.
Finally, the embroidery, man, of course that is the icing on the cake for me. The threads show on both sides without any loss of detail.
Here's a really recent pic of me...you can see how it sits once tied on my body:
Thanks for the highly detailed and great reply. I did go ahead and order a belt today due to your review. Tomorrow I will call and confirm my order and will definitely make sure to mention your blog. Your belt is awesome, and I'm sure well worth all the hassle. Thanks again for replying to me e-mail. I'll make sure to let you know how I like the belt when I receive it. Maybe even post a review of it. Talk to you soon. Take care.