Here is our interview with Shakib Nassiri, owner of Submission Fight Co., about the recent “hempgate” Hemp scandal involving his products. In case you haven’t been up to speed on the news, here are a few links for you to catch up with…
As we all know by now the Submission FC “Hempgate” scandal is a hot topic among the BJJ Community as of late, being that you were selling hemp labeled products that actually had no hemp in them.
With this thread from sherdog, http://forums.sherdog.com/forums/f16/hemp-sensation-gi-2444701/index3.html (Submission Fight Companies responses were deleted from that thread by Submission Fight Company, Some consider that an omission of guilt)
A warning of sorts from Chris Odell from Datsusara, saying that he’s not seen any real hemp come out of
Pakistan. Were you not alarmed that maybe your hemp wasn’t real?
It actually did alarm me. I immediately contacted my manufacturer and talked over the phone for hours. It was actually the longest conversation we’ve ever had. They had an answer for every question I could think of and it eased my concerns. I wasn’t an expert in these matters, so I trusted their word.
Why were you so silent when all this info first started to really blow up in the community?
Inexperience. Handling the response from the community could have been better, but this was a situation way beyond my scope of knowledge. The best I could do at the time was write a post about dealing with overseas companies while I looked into getting our own lab tests done. Looking back, I could have done more but I had to get the test results for myself before I said anything in public.
How did it feel when you found out your gi’s had 0% hemp in them after all the marketing you had done?
I was paralyzed. I felt like everything I had worked for was in jeopardy. It’s not the only product we have, but I pushed it hard and it blew up in my face. It was a crisis. It was easy to imagine the angry letters, emails, and posts that would follow. It’s a terrifying feeling to wake up every morning and see hundreds of them.
As for the Hemp Sensation Rash Guard, were you aware that hemp could not be made into a polyester like material, or that you cannot sublimate on hemp or other natural fibers?
I did not know. I’ll admit that I could have done more research into sublimation or rash guards. I asked my manufacturer if it could be done and they said yes. They were supposed to be the experts in fabrics and the excitement clouded my judgment.
A lot of people are not happy with the way you’re handling customer’s returns. (I.E. the coupon) What options are you giving them besides the coupon?
Actually that’s not true. The response I’ve been getting from customers has been overwhelmingly positive. The gift card that people are receiving is for the full value of their purchase. So people got to keep their gi and get a new free gi along with other things. It’s difficult to lay out all our options since we deal with them on a case by case basis. But I’m getting back to every single one of them.
Some people have a receipt, some don’t. Some people bought it from a retailer. Some bought it years ago and only had a picture of themselves wearing it. One guy said he bought it from a friend and didn’t have anything to show for it and demanded a refund. What kind of policy covers all these situations? I’m doing my best with every person and it’s going to take some time.
Do you feel that some people are taking advantage of the situation (For example, the guy who said he bought it from a friend and demanded a refund?) and are just trying to get another gi?
It’s definitely a possibility, which is why we require a receipt and ask any necessary follow up questions to confirm that people actually bought our gi, either through us or a retailer. We even had plenty of emails from customers who stated they still like the gi, but heard we were giving out gift cards and asked for one lol. But that’s just human nature, I don’t feel people are being malicious. Even that one guy was just a very rare occurrence: He said he bought the gi from a friend who he no longer had contact with, had no receipt to show, not even a picture of him wearing the gi. After we finished his case, he sent us a friendly letter letting us know that he was satisfied with how we handled the situation.
Do you feel the coupon is a cop out of sorts? If they’re not happy with your kimono anymore, do you think a coupon to buy more of your products is right? Why not a cash back option?
It’s absolutely not a cop out and it’s really the only thing saving the company. If our customers felt it was a cop out they wouldn’t use it to get a free gi. We’re keeping track of every single one and a lot of people used the gift card to get another Sensation Gi. That leads me to believe that people still like that kimono. And it is a good gi, the biggest problem was the mislabeling.
However, the Sensation Gi is not our only product. It’s fine to be unhappy with it, but we also have a variety of gear that people like.
Are you still selling mislabeled gi’s at the full price tag as previously sold?
The short answer is yes, but it has mainly to do with the fact that hundreds of people have already used the gift cards we issued them and to discount the prices now would be unfair to them. This also is something that requires a more thoughtful approach because I have relationships with different retailers who have to be considered in those types of decisions. Right now, the priority is to ensure correct description of SubmissionFC products everywhere possible.
I will admit this is a good response and in my opinion, a great way to approach it. Are your retailers doing anything for the customers, or are refunds and coupons solely coming from you?
You’ve touched on another difficult situation. I would like to have all refunds and coupons to come solely from SubmissionFC so that we could oversee and track everything. Some retailers take matters into their own hands to deal with their customers who purchased our gi. Which is great that they care too, but I told all my retailers to forward any dissatisfied customers our way so that we could take care of it on our end.
You said in another interview that “Rumors had started to grow online that our “hemp” gis may not be exactly as claimed to be. So we quickly found a legitimate lab called SGS and sent them pieces of the gi fabric for testing to do our own internal investigation on this matter.”
You said a “Legitimate lab”, are you saying Chris Odells lab results aren’t legitimate?
No. I’m referring to the bad experience I had with the above lab.
Your test results came well after Chris had done the burn test, why did you wait so long after the burn test, was Chris’ burn test not alarming to you enough to get a test done when he did it?
The burn video was alarming and I immediately looked into getting the fabric tested. A quick search led to me to a company called TexTest in the US. It was a waste of time as I had a bad experience with them and didn’t like their customer service. I wanted to see the percentages of the fabric material and eventually I was told their results would not include percentages. This again, was due to inexperience.
So I contacted some people in the hemp industry which led me to SGS. People spoke highly of this lab. Their labs in the US could not test for hemp, so I had to send my sample to their lab in China. Obviously, that took a little longer than I wanted.
Do you feel like you could have made another post stating you were waiting on test results to help ease the tension from the crowd?
At the time, I was still pretty shocked at how fast things were developing. I felt like anything I posted was going to be seen as buying time or diverting attention. Looking back, it probably would have calmed people to know that we were conducting our own investigation. But none of that matters now, we’re taking care of the mess one piece at a time.
Why were Chris’ results of an actual lab test posted before yours?
I’m embarrassed to admit that I received my test results from SGS the day before Chris posted his results. I wish I would have posted mine before. But the truth is, I was in shock and did not know what to do. I didn’t know who to ask for help or what I could do. It led to people thinking I was hiding stuff, but really I was just scared. And that hesitation has led to people thinking I’m a crook or ignorant remarks about my religion.
You also stated in the same interview that “besides Submission Fight Co., there is no other bjj gi brand that has had lab tests done on their bjj gis.”
Do you feel that is kind of a spin on the situation as no other gi company has been called into question on what they’re selling?
Obviously, I don’t think people are dumb. I’m trying to see the positive in the situation. But being positive doesn’t mean we’re ignoring the negative, it just means we’re trying overcoming it. This has been a difficult time for us, so we’re going to highlight any of the steps we’re taking to correct our mistakes.
Are you still doing business with the same factory?
I will never put in another order with this factory. Unfortunately, I have paid for some products that have yet to be delivered. It’s a previous order that I’ve already paid for and I’m concerned about it actually. But I’m happy to say once it’s received I will no longer be working with the same factory.
Will these products be labeled as “Hemp” as well?
They were originally labeled as “Hemp” but I had them change the tags to “Cotton/Poly Blend.” They haven’t sent me a picture of it yet, which is troubling. But this is just another reason why it’s the last business I’ll be doing with this factory.
What steps are you taking to ensure this doesn’t happen again?
First and foremost, we will no longer be dealing with the same Pakistani factory. I will also be lab testing any new unique fabrics that I introduce to the market in the future to ensure the true fabric blends. This information will be posted on our website for the public to view. I am also planning to get frequent factory inspections on any new overseas productions to ensure this never happens again. I want Submission Fight Co. to be transparent and start a new chapter.
Is there anything you want to say to the readers, future and past customers to end this interview?
I just want to thank everyone who has understood what a difficult time this has been for us. This crisis has nearly crippled SubmissionFC, but I believe we’ll get through it. As a practitioner of jiu jitsu (purple belt under Jean Jacques Machado), I believe the pressure will make us stronger in the end. I know it’s cheesy, but I love training and being part of this growing community.
There you have it, questions that have been asked and until now, haven’t been answered. I hope you’ve enjoyed this interview and answers some of the questions you might have had regarding Submission Fight Company and the Hempgate scandal. – Robert