So, myself and a friend of mine formed an MMA/BJJ apparel and equipment design and retail company last year. When we first formed the business, I had already decided that, upon launching, it would be interesting to write up a fanpost detailing the ups and downs of such a venture. We launched yesterday. I thought it would be easy.....I thought it would be written last year.
First, a little background. My business partner's name is Justin Waiau. I've known Justin a few years now, through jiu jitsu, and the guy is an absolute genius. We both got our purple belts in less than 3 years of training and both have the same cerebral approach to jiu jitsu. We also have the same passion for jiu jitsu. He is just as much of a genius when it comes to computer editing, graphic design, and various other technical talents.
Most of you already know me as I am a mod here. I am a long time Law Office Manager with firms specializing in business and contract law. I also co-own a martial arts gym here on Maui called, simply enough, Maui Martial Arts. Somewhere in conversation, Justin approached me with his idea of forming a business that specialized in gi/kimono design and retail. I initially brushed the idea off as being overdone, but over time we kept getting into more and more detailed discussions. He wasn't just interested in throwing something together to make money; he genuinely believed he had something to offer that isn't out there with other companies. He started showing me prototype graphics of the gi he had in mind and I was instantly interested. Justin would be the creative and technical side, and I would be the business side (and the handsome face but whatevs...).
This area was new to me, but not brand new. Some of our clients through the years were retail stores and manufacturers. Justin got me up to speed with the research he had been doing over the past couple of years, and we definitely had a head start. Our company was going to cut no corners. Our idea was, and still is, to offer aesthetically pleasing equipment and apparel made from the finest materials available. Justin began contacting manufacturers, I began working on the formation of the corporation.
We needed a name. We are in Hawaii and recognized the fact that building a local following would be key to our success. Justin is Hawaiian, his name sounds cool, and it just sounds like a gi company. Waiau Fight Company, Inc....(pronounced vai-uh-ooh) there we go. Now, anybody can go and form a corporation on LegalZoom, but that will only get you part of the way. A properly functioning corporation needs to issue stock certificates, adopt a corporate seal, by-laws, hold organizational meetings, keep a corporate record book where you store the minutes for your meetings, and so on. I can not stress enough how important it is to operate properly as a corporation. Don't try to do it yourself. Splurge a little and hire a professional. I've formed many corporations over the years and seen many people mess up their own. The difference in your corporate structure can be the difference in whether or not someone can "pierce your corporate veil" should you ever get involved in litigation. You form a corporation for that veil.
Justin got back to me with his research on the manufacturers, but this isn't a "How To" so I'm not going to divulge too much information here. Let's just say that some manufacturers are much sketchier than others. You would be surprised how many gi companies start out with a blank gi, using a previous gi company's specs, throw on some patches, change the color, and the gi is out the door. We decided to try multiple manufacturers, multiple cuts, multiple weaves, and multiple prototypes for each one. The first prototypes we had made we didn't like. The second ones, we didn't like. We made tons of changes, sent them out again, and got our third set back....we're getting closer with this one. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, we had a product that we could stand behind. This was by far the most comfortable gi I had ever put on. The fit was perfect. The design was clean, classy, stylish even. The pants felt and looked like you could wear them with anything. We showed some gym members the prototypes and they basically started shouting TAKE MY MONEY!
We then went through the same process with t-shirts. Fight shorts, rash guards, and blank gis are being manufactured for us as of now. With the t-shirts, we took our time finding the base t-shirt to work off of. We finally decided that our shirts would be made in America and would not be a cheap "Heavy T" type t-shirt that people wore to the gym and threw to the bottom of the laundry basket for weeks at a time. We found the most comfortable shirts we could, however, since they were such high quality shirts, it was much harder to get a reasonable quote from screenprinters to have our designs put on the shirts. Throughout this process I heard horror story after horror story about trying to get a screenprinter you can count on. Anyway, after a decently lengthy search, we found someone up to the task and the t-shirts were done. Again, we felt we had a product we could stand by.
Next up was photoshoots. We met with photographers, we interviewed models, we scouted locations. When all was said and done, we ended up doing most of the stuff ourselves; not because we weren't happy with the editing or ideas being thrown our way by photographers, but because we put in some effort (and trial and error) and realized we were getting quality stuff on our own. All in all we were very happy with the final shots we ended up with for advertising as well as for "look books" for marketing to retail stores.
Our gi is called "The Icarus". It will be part of a series of gis that we will be releasing soon. The process of having these gis produced and reviewed by professional gi reviewers has been time consuming, but we realized we should still launch in order to build interest in the brand before trying to sell a high end product like these gis when people don't even know who we are.
After a year, many meetings, about 34,000 Facebook messages between us as of this morning, we set yesterday as our launch date. We launched the facebook which is here and the website which is at www.waiaufightcompany.com.
So far (less than 24 hours in) the feedback has been great, orders are coming in, fighters are contacting us for sponsorship deals, and we are excited to see how things play out. I sincerely hope everybody here will at least check us out, "like" the facebook page, and share the page if you really like it. The shirts are outrageously comfortable and the gis are already a hit locally.
I'll keep monitoring the post in case anybody has any questions about the process to get to this point, snags they've hit in their own companies along the way, and any other insight I can offer..... thanks for reading Bloody Elbow!