Inverted Gear Blog / Inverted Gear
I started Inverted Gear four years ago. Yesterday, our 19th gi shipment landed in the United States. Four years ago, I could never imagine being where we are today. I wasn’t even sure I could sell our first 100 gis, let alone ever have a need for another shipping container full of merchandise.
For that I thank you.
Thank you for choosing Inverted Gear. Thank you for recommending us to your friends. Your kind words in the gym and on social media have been instrumental in our growth. We have done very little advertising yet have succeeded in selling out of every batch we order. And we can’t thank you enough.
The gi landscape has changed a lot since we first opened our doors. Back when we started, there were a limited number of options for gi brands, probably less than twenty serious companies. Now we have over 100, yet you keep choosing us. That never stops amazing me. I love checking our email and social media in the mornings and seeing pictures of Panda Nation grapplers all over the world—from first time buyers, to the hardcore fans with a closet full of gis. It’s still all very surreal, but I love every minute of it.
We are working hard to pay it forward. Our sponsored team continues to grow. We are up from 20 athletes last year to 30 this year. We continue to support the great folks at Tap Cancer Out, sponsoring all of their tournaments this year and releasing another collaboration gi in a few months. We’ve been working to make more original content for our blog, more technique and match footage from our sponsored athletes, and a growing social media community.
All of this has led to a mild r/bjj addiction for me. I can’t get enough of the jiu-jitsu community.
The sport has come a long way in four years, but we think the sport still has a lot of growing to do. To perhaps play a small part in that, we have a huge announcement:
We are sponsoring Polaris 3! We believe that Polaris is doing an amazing job of pushing the sport to the next level. They are giving athletes a platform like we haven’t seen before. As much as we say we have professional grapplers, the prospects for professional grapplers are extremely limited. The success of Polaris, in our minds, is the start of something great.
I started Inverted Gear in 2012. I never thought in my wildest dreams Inverted Gear would be as successful as it is today. I am still amazed that I can travel to remote places and find people wearing our gis or scroll to my Facebook feed and spot pandas in the background during technique videos filmed as far away as Japan. I still remember working on the website, hosted on BigCartel back then, and having a presale of our first batch of gis—50 blue and 50 white. I remember how nervous I was.
I thought, “Did I just throw all my savings down the drain?” and “How many people are going to want to wear gis with a silly upside down panda on them?”
My life has changed tremendously since those days, but let’s start at the beginning.
For starters, I had no business background. I took exactly one business class in college before I dropped out, 20 credits away from an exercise science degree. As you can imagine my parents were thrilled by this decision. I was 24. I was a purple belt in BJJ, was working a part-time job during the day and teaching BJJ at night. I still lived at my parents’ home when I started the company, and their basement is still referred to as our old “warehouse.”
I read a ton of business books in that time. I dreamed of what life would be like when I earned my black belt and could have my own Jiu-Jitsu School. The students of the school I currently taught at wanted a patch for their gis and some shirts with “Nelson Puentes Jiu Jitsu” on it. One of my students, Steve Pachon, offered to help out with a logo. Steve and I started throwing ideas around and the idea of a BJJ panda stuck. I had recently spent about a week teaching what I called Panda guard, and we were all obsessed with it.
It all started with that logo.
A local print shop made the t-shirts, and we started rocking them at local tournaments. Then something funny happened—people that I had never met before kept coming up to me and asking me to buy one of the shirts! I would ask them “Are you sure? It has my name on it?”
The logo struck a chord in the community. At that time, in 2012, the BJJ gear scene was drastically different from where it is now. Other than Shoyoroll, the general direction of the industry was to take the MMA-tough-guy route. I recognized this and thought, “Maybe we can start a brand for non-tough guys!”
There was a clear disconnect between where the market was going and what BJJ guys were about. Most of us looked like accountants. If you saw us on the street (other than the cauliflower ear), you would have no idea we trained martial arts. Sure, we trained, but then we went home and read books and played card games or got sucked into video games. So I asked Steve to redraw the logo and came up with the name Inverted Gear. Bearimbolo Brand was a close second, and thank God we didn’t go with that one!
After we drew up the initial gi design, I contacted 10 factories. Five of them didn’t bother getting back to me since my order of 100 gis was too small for them. Of the five that did reply, only four agreed to produce samples. After many weeks of late night back and forth emails—it felt like I lived on Pakistan time—and after many trips to Western Union, my first gi samples were on the way. Some of them were terrible.
One factory “corrected” our design, “Hey guys here is the sample. You had put the panda upside down but we fixed it for you!” Another factory took “artistic liberties” and added artwork that wasn’t there before. Two factories stood out though, and I ended up deciding on the one we still use today because the cut and quality was better. I emptied my life savings and used it to make my first order.
The first shipment was a nerve-wracking experience. The estimated deadline approached quickly, and we had issues with customs. I didn’t file all of the proper paperwork, so it took some extra doing to get the shipment cleared. When it finally did, I borrowed the Puentes family minivan and drove from New Jersey to a New York airport warehouse to pick up the first ten boxes of Inverted Gear product. The feeling was electric. I already had preorders to fill, and the very first order was going to New Zealand (which meant having to figure out international shipping; something I didn’t expect).
I recruited a few friends to help ship orders and paid them in gis. By the time it was all said and done, we shipped 80 gis. Soon after I shipped the 20 remaining gis. I could not believe I had pulled this off. I remember my first company expense was buying a laptop for Steve who had been helping me with the design work so he could work on some shirts for Inverted Gear as well. Quickly the second shipment followed, then a third, and then on the fourth we outgrew my parents’ basement.
Our last shipment was 2100 gis—large enough to warrant our own container. Thank you, all of you, that have supported the brand over the last few years, especially those of you that have been here since the beginning. I could not have done it without you. It’s been an amazing journey, and we are glad you are a part of it. The community behind this sport is incredible, and I hope that other creators take the plunge to bring their unique vision to the world.
To enter the Black Panda Gi Instagram Giveaway log into your Instagram account. If you don't have an Instagram account, visit Instagram.com to create a free account. Then follow @invertedgear, like the #PandaGiGiveaway post, and finally, repost with "I hope it's an (your gi size) @invertedgear, #PandaGiGiveaway and #bjj." Two lucky winners will be selected at random, and win a free Panda 2.0 black gi, 2 months before they are available on our website.
1. Complete all steps to enter.
2. Entrant may enter one time per day during the eligible period.
3. Winner will be notified via his/her Instagram account.
4. Contest ends August 25, 2014 at 09:59am EST.
Hello Panda Nation,
It’s been a while since you heard from us, but it’s been PANDAmonium at Inverted Gear HQ! Here’s a nice big update for all our loyal pandas out there.
Panda Nation Athletes at the PANDAmerican Jiu Jitsu Championship!
To recap some of the things our awesome athletes have been doing, we’re happy to say that two of our sponsored athletes placed at the Pan American Jiu Jitsu Championships! Megan Nevill of the Gracie Elite Team placed second in women’s adult black belt middleweight, and Rachel Demara of the Big Brothers Academy took third place in women’s adult black belt medium-heavy. Good job ladies!
Also, we’re happy to introduce John “The Show” Cho to Team Panda. John is a black belt under Fabio Clemente at the Alliance Academy in New York City. John recently competed in the Abu Dhabi Professional Jiu Jitsu Championship after winning the Trials in New York. Check out and "like" his athlete page on Facebook here to see what he’s up to by clicking here.
John Cho wearing our new gold weave gi- details below!
New and Upcoming Releases
We have had a ton of new releases lately. While we’re keeping our traditional Inverted Gear pearl weave gis in stock, we’ve introduced a lightweight gold weave, which features a 350 GSM top combined with 12oz ripstop pants and gold weave crotch. This is a great gi if you’re trying to make weight; great timing with Worlds right around the corner!
For those who dare to be different, we spiced our normal panda by putting a fun, camouflage twist on it with our newest rashguard. It is the same cut as our other rashguards; it’s still cut long enough so that it won’t ride up on you during rolling. Guaranteed to BAMBOOzle your training partners! (see what we did there?)
Our camo rashguard made it to the top of the Rocky steps!
As the warm weather approaches, we are releasing our new line of Inverted Gear tank tops. We made sure to do male and female cuts so no panda gets left behind! They should be up in the shop in the next week, so keep your eyes peeled and your wallets ready. In June, we should have our first batch shipment of another new gi; the PandaCS gi. CS stands for “crowd sourcing” as we took Panda Nation’s input in to account for the color scheme to make this gi unbleached with purple stitching. To add even more excitement to this release, it will be a bamboo/cotton blend, making this gi extremely soft but still durable. This project combines the traditional Inverted Gear gi design with the embroidered panda while moving forward with new materials and colors. But don’t worry, we’ll always have the original Inverted Gear gis in stock if that’s your style!
Keep your eyes peeled for interviews with some of our sponsored Pandas; we will be speaking with John Cho so you can learn more about this new Alliance black belt and keep your eye on him. And as always, thank you to our loyal fans; we were at the New York Open this year and were humbled to see our brand of only two years represented so well on the mats. Until next time!