19 Mar 2013
I had the good pleasure recently to work on developing a new BJJ brand called OK! Kimonos. The company was started by Brendan Hufford who some of you may also know as one of the dynamic duo (along with Dan Halpin) behind GiReviews.net.
Brendan approached me last year with his plan - to create a range of fightwear aimed at kids featuring eye-poppingly zany cartoon animals. I was flattered to be assigned the task of designing the characters and so far, the company has put out a number of popular items, including kids gis, t-shirts, stickers and kit bags. More excitingly, there are a number of products soon to come aimed at adults too! Everyone it seems loves a cute tiger on their fight apparel!
I spoke to Brendan to give me the low down on his brand and what his plans are for the future...
Q: What gave you the idea for a kids range of gis?
When Christian Graugart undertook his BJJ Globetrotter journey, I was taken by the story of his visit to Drive In BJJ in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro. Seeing the passion for our art that was so obviously evident in their tiny training room adjacent to an alleyway really propelled me to want to do more for the BJJ community.
I had started a local BJJ blog and right around the time Christian was on his journey, I had a friend who was really pushing me to do more with what I had accomplished. When I read about Drive In (Paulo Cezar) teaching kids for free, I thought it was a great idea. But, I was heartbroken to learn that since many kids couldn't afford a kimono, they weren't able to train despite it being free of charge.
I've worked in low-income urban schools during my entire adult life and I've seen hundreds of students who have an intense thirst for knowledge and success but struggle to make it happen because they have less than others. I love being able to support those students and to be able to support students of an art that has monumentally changed my life is something that I'm really passionate about.
In early 2012, I had a local gi drive and raised over 150 gis to donate to charity, but very few kids gis. I worked diligently to raise more kids gis and the result was Ok! Kimonos and the Gi Exchange Program. So, honestly, the Gi Exchange Program came about far before the idea for Ok! Kimonos. Ok! Kimonos is truly an amazing way to further what I started with a local gi drive and continue to grow it while providing amazing kids gis!
Q: How do you think OK Kimonos differs from other kids gis?
I have been very blessed to make a lot of friends through my time training BJJ and running GiReviews.Net. I love meeting and helping new people. Parents at my academy and friends who had kids kept telling me how awful all of the gis were that their kids had to wear. I'm really proud to say that Ok! Kimonos is the first and only brand dedicated to producing BJJ gis and Nogi gear for kids. Many other brands either do a smaller version of their adult gis or make what they 'think' kids want to wear. I've had the fortune to survey thousands of BJJ parents and kids and find out exactly what they want in a BJJ kimono. The result of that painstaking process is what you see in Ok! Kimonos and I couldn't be happier with our gis and upcoming nogi gear.
Q: How easy or hard have you found the process so far?
Absolutely nothing has been easy about this but absolutely everything has been very rewarding. I think that the most difficult part of everything for me is staying focused. I have a million ideas every minute of the day so staying focused on a single task or concept for months is difficult.
Q: Have there been or do you see, any conflicts between being a brand owner and an impartial gi reviewer?
This is a great question. Obviously, there is a huge conflict between being a brand owner and an impartial gi reviewer. But, I think that same problem is there for every person who reviews gis or owns a brand (I just happen to do both). The essential problem is whether or not you forsake honesty and transparency for your own personal gain.
If I was a brand owner and not a gi reviewer and somebody asked me what I thought of, say, Scramble's gis, I could tell them that they're total crap and they should buy my gis instead. Granted, that would be a total lie because Scramble's gis are some of my favorite in the whole world. If I simply ran GiReviews.Net and did not own a brand, and somebody asked me what I thought of a certain gi brand, I could lie to them and tell them the brand was great when they aren't. Maybe I would do that because the owner was a close personal friend or because I was getting paid by that company to promote their product. As I said, it really boils down to whether or not I want to forsake my own morals and ethics for a small financial gain.
To me, this really isn't an option. I'm constantly pursuing strength in my faith and to lie to people to sell my product (or push a product dishonestly), is not only is against my moral code, but also shows a total lack of confidence in my product/reviews.
Another hidden conflict is that of time. Obviously, my time is a finite resource and the more time that I devote toward Ok Kimonos is less time that I can devote toward GiReviews.Net. This just means that more time must be found in my schedule and thankfully, I've managed to eliminate a lot of wasteful ways that I was spending my time to devote myself to more meaningful pursuits, such as this. With that said, I just spent 20 minutes looking at bowties to buy. So there ya go :/
Q: What things have you got lined up for Ok Kimonos?
Some of the things that I'm really excited about it our next batch of gis, which are on pre-order right now. These will included cuddly tiger gis in blue (kids and adults!) as well as basic white gis for anybody who doesn't love blinged out gis (not me!). In addition, one of the things that I'm most excited about is our new line of nogi gear. Our new grappling tights/spats are being made by one of the best manufacturers in the world and I'm literally on the edge of my seat waiting to get the samples.
Q: Where can peeps buys your stuff!?
Definitely, the best place to buy our stuff is our homepage, http://www.okkimonos.com. But, we're also sold over at BjjGearJunkie.com that not only has awesome prices on our gear, but lots of other brands as well. If anybody ever has any questions about any of our products or gis and gear in general, they can always contact me on Facebook (facebook.com/OkKimonos) or twitter (twitter.com/OkKimonos). I'm a bit of a talker though, so be ready for that ;)