28 Feb 2014
UK based Brazilian Jiu Jitsu gi making is ten years old! I say this because as far as I am aware, the very first British company to make a BJJ gi was Evolution Fightwear - who released their eponymous debut gi way back in late 2003 and beginning of 2004. The photo above shows Dave 'Speedy' Elliot wearing that very first gi!
Andy Smith, owner of Evolution, tells me:
"Evolution began in 2001 and the first BJJ gi I believe was not until the end 2003 beginning 2004 I only made 12 or something like that as a test run and they went well ,they were made in Brazil, I can only find one picture of Dave Speedy in it which is dated Oct 2004 (Im sure this was the first design ) I don’t recall any other UK brands at the time."
While Evolution were most probably the first, they were soon followed by a number of brands - all of whom have been pivotal in shaping the fightwear and jiu jitsu clothing scene we have today. Here is a brief timeline and rundown of the major players in the past ten years:-
Black Eagle opened up shop in 2005 selling traditional martial arts uniforms and equipment. They entered the BJJ market with their gi in 2007. According to this interview with owner Steve Turner, Black Eagle have endured ups and downs, but they're still here and still selling BJJ uniforms.
South Wales based Tatami Fightwear began in November 2008 with a number of gi models. Co-owner Gareth Drummer tells me:
"Tatami started in November 2008 but our first real batch did not arrive until February 2009. We started by renting out a friends spare bedroom to store stock. Now we have a 5000sq foot warehouse and employ 8 people."
Also in 2008 - 2009 an internet sensation began popping up across UK fightwear forums and boards. The person taking on the character of a tough, old school Brazilian fighter, was called Faixa Rua. These posts were incredibly funny - so long as you understood it was all intended as a parody. When the gi brand Faixa Rua was launched, the following was such that immediate success was assured. Sadly I can no longer find these old forum posts, perhaps they have been archived somewhere?
Another gi brand worth noting that opened up shop in 2008 is Grab and Pull. Run by UK based Brazilian Gus Oliveira, the Grab and Pull line was marketed as both a fightwear brand and a tournament circuit. The latter now being renamed to BJJ247. Their first gi came out in 2009.
Scramble also opened their doors around this time. Initially offering just a series of Japanese themed t-shirts and tops, their brand really kicked off with the introduction of their first 'spats' and then their 'ichiban' kimono. Scramble co-owner Ben Tong says:
"We began in 2009, in Costa Coffee over a pastry and Americano, if I remember rightly.”
Since the early days of British BJJ and fightwear companies there has been nothing short of an explosion of new brands and new designs. It is interesting for me, as an industry observer, to witness this growth and also the way many of these companies are getting some serious traffic not only in the UK, but around the world as well.
In no particular order, here is a list of all the British companies that I know who make BJJ uniforms:
1. Tatami Fightwear
2. Faix rua
3. TUFF Fightwear
4. Black Eagle
5. Valor Gis
7. Blitz Sport
8. KII Fightgear
9. Battle Gear.
10. Submission Sniper
11. Strike Fightwear
12. Evolution Fightwear
14. Grab & Pull
16. Rei Gi
All photos used with permission