23 Jan 2016
Raven Fightwear are a relatively new fightwear brand originating from Australia. They recently hired me to design a rashguard - The Raven - which you can see in the photo above (and can buy here).
I took the opportunity to speak with Raven owner Adam Smith about the business and where he sees it going in the next few years:
Q: Hi Adam, please introduce yourself to my readers?
A: As a child I trained in Karate. The crappy McDojo stuff. You know the one where some guy knocks on your door and sells it to your parents as discipline and to you as the stuff that makes you an action hero? That kind of karate. I did some Krav Maga and boxing in my mid 20s and have been on and off with BJJ since 2012. I am currently located on the Central Coast of NSW Australia. I have moved a fair bit over the last 15 living over a span over 1,100 kms along the east coast of Australia. When i train I do so at Gracie Shark (a Gracie Humaita affiliate) under Tiago Ferreira but have been off for a little while now due to my busy schedule. One of the unfortunate facts of life is that if you want to get serious about your business it will take up the best part of your spare time.
Q: What prompted you to start up a fightwear company and have you had any experience of doing something like this before?
A: I could fluff it up and say I wanted to help every fighter in the world by offering cheap gear but the truth is I wanted to become independent. I enjoy martial arts and have been a fan of the UFC since the 90s (not so much now that they have sold out). Essentially I took a path that combined my interests with my goals. My sales experience is a little under 4 years. Prior to that I was just another worker bee doing the 9 to 5 like everyone else. Technically I still work full-time. It takes a while to build a business during which you need cash to live off. I am going part time in a few months and hope to resign by 2017.
Q: It is immediately noticeable that your products feature very prominent artist based graphics, was this a deliberate art direction you took?
A: No. The original intent was to keep it simple. Some of the original pieces reflect this (aerial assault and plain black shorts having been a stable since inception). I decided to try something different, did three Norse inspired designs and so began the graphics based product range. Funny enough I prefer to wear the simple stuff.
Q: How do you get your ideas and what factors come into play when assessing ideas from early concept through to final execution?
A: It started with personal interest in all things Nordic and a taste for the gods of ancient history. From there I have fed off customer feedback and given customers what they wanted. The recently successful Dia De Los Muertos range was a fan suggestion. You may also notice a recent shift from gods and a focus on generic characters (another fan suggestion). All in all I think customer feedback is paramount. If customer feedback indicates an interest or desire for a particular line we will do it. We also like to experiment a lot. Designs start as an idea followed by a bit of conversation between myself and the guys. The idea may be posted on social media and then a brief is sent to our designer. Sometimes I may even do my own mockups and have the designer rework them but it's mostly a very short brief. Two to four weeks later we have a fresh piece of work. If that piece is well received it will form the foundation of a series. Some designs are never produced. We have several in our database that simply didn't get the love and attention. Were they are waste of time? Not really. We learnt from them and moved onto more successful ideas. Design work is amazing R&D and a fresh piece of work posted on social media can increase your visibility considerably.
Q: Raven hasn't existed for very long, how is it you have amassed such a huge inventory already?
A: Designs are a big part of the Raven marketing strategy. A new design every fortnight as it keeps things fresh. It's a different strategy to what most offer but it works for us.
Q: You have a reputation for honesty and openness on your social media feeds, in one case, there was a product that you had to withdraw due to IP infringement, would you care to explain that incident a little more and what lessons have been drawn from the experience?
A: There was a Raven design that touched onto the original IP a little too much. Prior to allowing this into the Raven product range I was very much against the idea. Unfortunately I made the mistake of thinking it would be a harmless inclusion and that since everyone else was doing it then so should Raven. A decision which I think many others are also doing. The item was never a top seller but it got noticed. Raven was issued with an infringement notice, I then had to ship remaining stock to the IP owners lawyers, refund any existing orders and give a full list of items sold along with manufacturing invoices. All up the experience cost $1,500.00 which isn't a huge deal for Raven but could have ruined a smaller brand. Mind you being Australian we don't get hit too hard whereas an American business owner may find himself/herself with a huge fine/fee. Was it worth it? No. Would I do it again? No. Your brand is your baby and you should nurture it. Just like a baby you shouldn't put it in a position that would endanger it. Copyright infringement isn't game and even small brands can get hit and not all IP owners are as friendly as the ones we dealt with.
Q: Do you sponsor any fighters? If so, what do you look for in a Raven sponsored competitor?
A: Raven sponsors a range of fighters. We have several black, brown and purple belts. We have both male and female and have fighters in France, UK, USA and of course Australia. We expect that our fighters hold at least a purple belt and either have a social media presence and/or teach their own classes. Wins/loses are not that big of a deal as even if someone has a flawless record they may have very little influence. I also tend to think a loss or two adds humility which can be a good quality to have. Beyond that if you are courteous and respectful you have a far better chance than someone who simply says 'sponsor me.' If your opening line states 'I just found your brand' or 'I have been training for 2 months' the response will be no. It has been my experience that loyal customers make the best brand ambassadors and those with minimal experience are the least likely to stick around. I recommend that anyone who doesn't receive a sponsorship (from any brand they approach) thank the sponsor for taking the time to respond because when they finally make the grade that positive attitude will be a deciding factor. If you're a white belt maybe wait it out a little and leave the sponsorship to the guys/girls who have been training a few years. It's not that we have an issue with White belts, rather, you need to ask yourself "If that purple belt with years of experience hasn't got a sponsor than why should i and what have i got to offer at this stage?" Start your career with a focus on the fundamentals and look into sponsorship when the time is right.
Q: So far your product range includes mostly nogi wear, do you plan to extend into the gi market too? And what other plans do you have for the company over the next few years?
A: I personally prefer the nogi as it offers a little more in the way of being unique. It is also relatively low risk compared to a heavily designed gi. That said, Raven has done gis and will do more this year. The issue I have found is that they cost an arm and a leg to ship and most of our customers are located outside of Australia and for the most part don't want to pay the shipping costs. Raven has points of sale in the USA and UK now so you may find some gis in their inventories later in the year. As Raven builds up a stronger network of distributors you will start to see more and more products in the Raven range.