7 Oct 2014
I first came across É Nóis Clothing (website: http://enoisclothing.com/) on Facebook when I saw photographs of their unique looking t-shirts. In a refreshing departure from the many many type-led BJJ designs, or crazy animal art led (ahem, I'm guilty!) here was a set of designs that took a totally different path from the rest of the market. I spoke with brand owner David Telfer about his vision and his goals for the brand.
What is your BJJ background?
I am currently a black belt under Giva Santana and Tim Peterson of Lotus Club BJJ. My first encounter with BJJ was in 2003 when I was studying abroad in Sao Paulo, Brazil. I was a competitive bboy (breakdancer) before that and was interested in moving towards a martial art. I was totally ignorant regarding martial arts and was lucky enough to be in Brazil when I made that decision.
I started at an academy in my Sao Paulo neighborhood under a black belt named Guigo. After finishing my time abroad, I moved back to North Carolina (where I grew up and attended undergrad). I continued training in North Carolina at a Royce Gracie affiliate until I moved out to Los Angeles in 2005 for law school at UCLA.
At UCLA, I met Tim Peterson in the BJJ recreation classes they offered. Eventually Tim and I took over the classes and started a club team. Upon graduation from UCLA we opened a gym (after a short stint at a law firm) called Robot Fight & Fitness in Santa Monica as part of Lotus Club BJJ and under Giva Santana. I received my black belt from Tim and Giva this year.
I competed a fair amount at purple and brown belt and earned bronze at Nationals and World No Gi Championships (both at Brown Belt). I don't compete much these days.
Why did you decide to start a clothing brand?
Honestly, the question for me is why I didn't start a clothing company before. I have built things since I was quite young and creating a clothing company has been my single biggest dream since I was about 16. Unfortunately I let my fears and doubts prevent me from committing to that dream and I pursued a more stable career. I ended up going to college and then law school, worked at a law firm and then grew enough courage to drop the law career and open them gym. The more I progressed in BJJ the more comfortable I became with the possibility of failure. Finally, I sold my share in the gym and with that seed money I went all I on E Nois. Of course I now have big school debt and I've been waking up in a cold sweat every morning but nothing brings me as much pleasure as the creative process and magic of making functional art, i.e., clothing.
What is the meaning behind the name É Nóis?
É Nóis (pronounced Eh Nois or Eh Noish depending on where you are in Brazil) literally means "It's Us." However, it's a slang expression (the correct spelling is "É Nós.") I would compare it to "oss," however it is not directly linked to BJJ or martial arts. It would commonly be used to express "I'm with you," or "I get you." With that said, I prefer the literal meaning - “It's Us.” BJJ is us and our overarching goal at E Nois is inclusivity. We think everyone should have the opportunity to train regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation and/or socioeconomic status.
How would you describe your brand style?
Our style is raw, subtle and craft quality. We like clothing that looks like human hands took part in its manufacture and that is utterly unique and fashion forward. We also think it is important to share the process with our customer. We print our own shirts and I personally print every new sample. This is because the print process is the creative process. I've never walked into the studio and walked out with the exact product I had in mind beforehand. The printing process is where I get to experiment and get my creative juices flowing.
When you separate the designer from the process you lose 50% of the creative opportunities. That is why we are currently moving toward a model where all our products are finished in our studio. As far as imagery, I think BJJ clothing is already beginning to mature and eventually we will leave behind the less subtle wording and graphics like "tap or snap." We are bigger than that and smarter than that and we can express our culture without yelling about it. That's why we try to use subtle and abstract wording and let our images speak for us.
Who else is part of the team?
The E Nois creative and business team is pretty small. I have two advisors who are MBA's at USC - Mohammad Alhusaini and Jeremy Klein. I also have some other friends I call on for advice and my brand ambassadors. Dave Gieselman is our sales rep. The artists are… me! I design everything – website, logo, t-shirts graphics, new products, etc. The creative part is what I enjoy the most. If I could outsource everything expect product development and other design tasks I would gladly do so. Part of our mission is helping kids from underprivileged backgrounds access BJJ. We work with Stephen Crissman and John Boyle at Alley Cat Fitness Foundation in Panama City, Panama where they have an entirely free kids BJJ program for underprivileged kids in their area. In fact (little plug), our next gi will be the Alley Cat Kids Gi and we will send the kids down there one gi for everyone that we sell here (think Tom’s Shoes). We are even planning an open trip for peope who want to help us bring the gis down there and take a little training vacation in Panama.
Do you sponsor people?
We have several brand ambassadors. We think of them more as ambassadors rather than sponsorships. We look for people who really believe in our product and our mission (inclusivity and diversity in BJJ). It’s just as important for us to work with competitors as it is to work with individuals who are out there working to make the BJJ scene a better place.
What are your goals over the next few years?
We have a lot of goals for the next few years! Our first goal is to solidify our Assembled in the USA model. We are working to vet vendors abroad for the basics and set up our studio here so we can assemble/finish our products in our LA workshop where we have more creative and quality control. Of course we’d also like to grow our sales domestically and abroad and we’d like to expand our offerings into more casual/street wear. And just as important, we want to start a charity that helps underprivileged children here and abroad gain access to BJJ. We will start with our partners in Panama and expand that program as we learn more about the process.
My thanks to David for his time with this interview and for the cool looking clothes.