Words by Vince 'Bear' Quitugua
The first time I took a beginner jiu-jitsu class was at the Gracie Academy in Torrence back in 1999. In those days, you had to wear oversized Judo gis that always seemed 10x too big, and were only available in three sizes: A1, A2, and A3.
I remember being fascinated right away by the silkscreened gym logo patches everyone was putting on their back. Back then we took so much pride in it – buying them from the front desk and using them to stylize the uniform in our own unique way.
The following is a collection of some of our favorite batches over the years – some of the first kimonos we ever produced, some we made with our friends, and even some mistakes.
The Absolute cut has been designed, drafted, toiled, sampled, fitted, tested, redrafted, retooled, resampled, refitted, retested, etc. I continued this cycle until it met our standards and satisfaction – just like how I was taught and trained to do a collection. Given the fact that it’s impossible to satisfy everyone’s needs, we’ve reached a satisfactory prototype through grading that fits most body types the best way possible. The Absolute kimono was our first kimono MADE IN LOS ANGELES. It was designed in 2014 and created by avid competitor and Jiu-Jitsu athlete Viking Wong.
The brand started out in my garage in 2000, taking a heavy influence from surf, skate and Jiu-Jitsu. At the outset, we had no intention of making gis. However, in 2005/2006, we were given the opportunity to do so and made a small batch of about 50 kimonos. Batch #1 was a lightweight gold-weave kimono with twill cotton pants – very basic and simplistic with only a few logo hits on it.
Batch 50 was a simple kimono with a tonal colorway. This batch was the first time we produced a gi with tonal patches in three different colorways. We created this kimono for an in-person release at the 2015 World Championships.
Batch #34 Beast
The early, iconic Jiu-Jitsu competitor uniforms of the ‘90s were the inspiration behind the Beast design. The goal was to mimic the layout of those ‘90s uniforms and make it as loud as possible using fabric-type patches all over the kimono. We teamed up with our friends at DualForces creative group to help us with design on this project.
Batch #34 Blue Skies
When we started changing styles of the kimono back in 2006/2007, we made a gi using a color that was very out of the ordinary. The gi was white with a grey lapel and Carolina-blue trim, and was nicknamed Grey Skies. Fast forward to 2014, and pulling inspiration from Grey Skies, we decided to push the limits and release a kimono that was all Carolina blue. This was the first time we had ever produced a kimono in this color and is how the very bold Blue Skies kimono was born.
Batch #51 Worlds Comp
One of our most popular releases was a gi called The Competitor. This kimono featured logos and patches all over, which was typical of what you’d see on competitor gis at a tournament. In 2014, we decided that for Batch #51 we wanted to bring back a similar look to this design. Our intention was to release this gi at the Worlds Competition, hence the name, however the gi did not land on time. We released Batch #51 at our first ever in-person release in Tokyo, Japan at Tsutaya Book Store in Daikanyama in 2015.
Batch #53 Forever Rolls
In our sport, the mainstream icons and heroes are championed by generations of stories being passed on and stuff that is found on the internet. Through our research and in-depth talks with various people, it was no surprise that Rolls Gracie is seen as the biggest and most influential person in Jiu-Jitsu – a man who is considered by many as the greatest Jiu-Jitsu athlete of all time. We had the opportunity to speak with many red belts and older black belts, and they were all in agreement that he was by far the best in the family. For us, it was very important to pay homage to a Jiu-Jitsu icon and help continue to tell his story, because legends should never be forgotten.
柔術というスポーツにおいてホーウス グレイシーは最大の影響力を持つと言われています。柔術の赤帯や黒帯の高段者達がこぞってホーウス グレイシーがグレイシーファミリーにおいてベストだったと言います。このキモノはホーウス グレイシーのオマー ジュ、伝説として伝えていくために作成されたキモノです。
Batch #40 and #44 Gadar
Myself and Paul Schreiner, a friend and black belt from New York, were talking about doing a project together for a very long time. The name Gardar kept coming up as someone to work with, and after years planning, we finally made the project happen. A composition by utilizing parts of Gardar’s art. It was not only a fun and refreshing project, but it was epic to work with Gardar – a world-renowned artist, amazing human and killer Jiu-Jitsu athlete.
ニューヨークのブラックベルトのポール シュレイナーといつも何か一緒にプロジェクトができないかと話し合ってきました。そこで世界的なアーティストのガーダーとのプロジェクトの話が数年を掛け生まれました。デザインはDUALFORCESが手伝ってくれました。 ガーダーは素晴らしい人間でもありキラー柔術アスリートでもあります。
In 2007/2008, the Golden State was one of the early designs in which our brand started exploring themes and colorway patterns. Bear is a California native and an island boy, so it was very easy to eld inspiration from a team in California. Blue and gold were the colors of the Golden State.
In 2007 / 2008, color and choice options for Jiu-Jitsu uniforms were very limited. As a matter of fact, the only color choices at the time were either unbleached, white, black or royal blue. We decided to create something very unique and loud. The Grey Skies was a white kimono with grey lapels and trims, along with Carolina-blue accent colors throughout. At the time this was something very new, and many people did not understand the concept, nor did they want to purchase this style. Fast forward to 2016 and it’s safe to say that the Grey Skies may be one of the most sought after gis of all time, with collectors willing to pay between $1,600 and $2,000 for a used version.
Batch #43 Magik
Magik Kimonos is the idea and brainchild of Dirty Dozen black belt Chris Hauter. After years of Chris making and sampling kimono designs, he then connected with Bear at Shoyoroll to create a line of kimonos together. The project and designs have a heavy military influence and aesthetic, and the kimono came with a cardboard box casing.
Magik Kimonosはダーティダズンの黒帯のクリス ハウターとのサンプリングやデザインの協議を経て生まれました。そしてDUALFORCESとショーヨーロールの共同プロジェクトとなりました。デザインはミリタリーの影響を強く受けています。
Batch #38 Mendes
For years we’ve explored the idea of working with creative director PM Tenore at VA Sport. It all finally came together perfectly as we added the Mendes Brothers, who are undoubtedly two of the best Jiu-Jitsu athletes in the world, to our roster of sponsored athletes. The gi has a clean, minimal look with just the right amount of patches throughout.
VA SportのクリエイティブディレクターのPM Tenoreと一緒に何かできないかと考えそこにメンデスブラザーズが加わりパーフェクトなキモノが出来ました。メンデスブラザーズは世界最高の柔術家と呼ばれ私たちのスポンサーアスリートでもあります。シンプルで クリーンなミニマムルックなキモノです。
Batch #28 Nous
This project came about when a US Special Forces Jiu-Jitsu athlete and avid supporter of the brand was trying to get a uniform made for his squad. Batch #28 was a private kimono project made specifically for this special group and saw no distribution. The kimono design is simple, with a few cool military patches and slogans installed to reflect the brand and highlight the culture of their unit.
Batch #21 Orix
This design was inspired by one of the greatest Japanese baseball players of all time, Ichiro. The tones come from the colors of his former baseball team, the Buffaloes.
Batch #39 Triple S Proto
The idea behind this project was to make a fully detailed gi that comes with a lifetime warranty. The kimono features a heavyweight, judo-style pattern with a tapered cut and brushed inner cotton for a super soft, plush feel.
Batch #29 Sergeant
The name speaks for itself. The Sergeant pulls influence from military camouflage and was offered in multiple colorways, each with camo patches on random areas of the kimono.
Batch #49 Sticker Gi
The idea and concept behind this kimono was to sell a sticker for $250. We had no idea how it would be received or even if anybody would purchase it. To our surprise, we offered the sticker online and it sold out in less than an hour. As a reward for the die-hard supporters of the brand, we included a limited kimono with the sticker. The kimono was designed with a black tonal-look with graphic patches throughout.
Batch #27 T-bone
Over the years we’ve often worked with Seth, an avid Jiu-Jitsu athlete who also worked at Terry Richardson’s place in NYC. We were able to make this project happen and they were looking to make a cool, rad kimono that showcased some elements of Terry. Although the kimono itself was our classic kimono, it was the first of its kind whereby the inner panel of the gi top was fully lined with flannel. We released Batch #27 in Brooklyn, New York.
Batch #11 Mitsuyo Maeda
To this day, this project is still one of our favorites. The inspiration of this kimono was to help drive and build awareness to the origin of Jiu-Jitsu and shed light on Mitsuyo Maeda – the true grandfather of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. With this kimono, we enclosed a fact sheet to help educate about one of the most fundamental people in the development of the sport.
[This archive first appeared in Rebels Against the Mainstream, a book published in 2017 by Shoyoroll with SYR Japan's Shigemitsu 'Zuk' Suzuki, creative director James Oliver, art director Yukio Sugaya, design assistant Mari Furukawa, and sub editor Mike Burns.]