5 Things to Know About Starting a BJJ Apparel Line

Recently, I began my own BJJ apparel line, Old School Grappling Gear. Nothing huge. Nothing spectacular. I won’t pretend to be able to tell you how to run it for years and years, and I won’t try and tell you how to be wildly successful either. What I can tell you though, is how to get started, and some other issues to keep in mind.

  1. Keep It Simple
From Old School Grappling Gear

One mistake I came across that other new apparel companies faced was the lack of simplicity. They had too many designs, too many products, and they couldn’t pick a focus. For example, I talked with a guy who had some amazing ideas, but not a ton of money to invest in it (yes, you will have to invest some of your own money). However, instead of trying to focus in on one aspect of his business, he spread himself too thin.

This guy was trying to print shirts, make custom gis, sell patches, and design rashguards. Obviously, that’s a bit much. In the end, he never even got his business off the ground. All of his designs, planning, and hard work never gave him anything to show.

The best way to avoid this would be to pick one thing to start with (t-shirts, for myself), and set up pre-orders for it so you have an idea of how well you are or are not going to sell your designs right up front. The fact of the matter is if your family and friends aren’t willing to buy your stuff, no one else is either.

  1. Everyone Will Want to Give You Input

One thing about getting a new project of any kind started is that people will offer you their unsolicited ideas. If that’s the sort of thing that is really going to bother you, don’t get started at all. It will happen. Often.

That said, it isn’t necessarily a bad thing. People have actually offered me some spectacular ideas that I plan to use in the future. But not all ideas are good. Understand that you won’t use every idea you have or receive. That’s ok. It goes back to keeping it simple.

  1. Ask Questions

I could have never gotten started without asking questions. I had some cool design ideas, but as far as getting those ideas from my head to a shirt that someone else would wear, I was lost. It will be complicated, but not impossible. Especially if you can find someone else who has done it and ask them about it. I was lucky enough to be able to ask questions of a variety of people. Some made BJJ apparel, some just made shirts for local clubs and activities.

Keep in mind, you still don’t have to follow these people’s advice. But for the most part, you would be wise to. An example of bad advice I took was a recommendation for a designer. This guy came highly recommended by a friend, so I checked out his portfolio and decided he was a good fit. I paid him a fair chunk of change. I got nothing of value back. The guy had faked his portfolio.

So make sure to question that as well. If you get a recommendation, make sure it’s from a professional, not just a friend of yours.

  1. Pick a Good Printer

The person or company that prints your shirts will ultimately be the life or death of your small business. If you get a printer because they’re cheap, you may end up with what you paid for. If your customers are unhappy with the quality, your ship will sink.

Quality isn’t the only thing to look for either. Most printers require minimum orders. Some don’t. It is easiest for you if you find someone who doesn’t require it when you’re first starting. Even if all of your family and friends buy a shirt, you’re not going to be selling high volumes right off the bat. There’s no reason to tie all of your money up in merchandise that won’t sell.

  1. Be Unique
From Strych9

I cannot stress this enough. Don’t try and do what has already been done. Pick a theme and go with it, but don’t let your theme be a repeat of what’s already out there. One company that actually does an excellent job of remaining unique in what is honestly an overcrowded market, is Strych9. They’ve got a theme (martial arts history) and their designs are unique. For me, it was creating a brand that was a homage to blue collar workers who find time to hit the mats.

Sadly, much of what we see in BJJ apparel lines is either a rehash of something that already exists, or it’s too similar to Tapout or Affliction (I’m not saying those companies don’t have a place in BJJ, I just don’t think it’s what most BJJ practitioners are looking for anymore).

Whatever you do, make it original. Don’t plagiarize what someone else has done. Express your originality in a way that others can relate to, then go out and make it happen.




  1. I reread this and most of what he says applies to what entrepreneurs and small business owners do, or should do. If you're thinking about a start up, this is a great article to look at.

  2. Really awesome man. I appreciate the fact that you are sharing your experience with us. I am working on starting my own bjj apparel line and i am finding your articles very useful. Thanks a lot man!!


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