How about you start us off by telling us a little bit about yourself? (Where you train, how long etc.)
We train at Gracie Humaitá – St. Louis under Professor JW Wright. Krista and I (Vince) have five children (Alec – 20, Emily – 14, Kata Bug – 11, Fonzie Joe – 11, Ava-9) and we are all students there, all seven of us. Professor JW Wright is an IBJJF Pan American champion at the black belt level and is a student of Master Royler Gracie and Master David Adiv. I’ve been training there since October 2010. Krista and the children started in July/August of last year. The academy is really our second home, we love being there and we can’t say enough about JW and the environment he’s created. We could both go on and on about the academy lol…
How did you get started in Grappling?
I was one of those guys that used to go to the gym and just lift weights. A buddy of mine there kept trying to convince me to go with him to this “MMA” school. The idea of being kicked in the face didn’t really appeal to me but I eventually relented and went with him. The school actually turned out to be a Budo Taijutsu academy and was part of the Bujinkan system. For those who aren’t familiar, the Bujinkan system is an organization that incorporates the teachings of nine ancient Japanese schools (Ryū). We did a little bit of everything. There was judo style throws, striking, weapons and of course grappling. I’m a huge history buff so I thought it was amazing to learn the history of where all these techniques originated from but I was always drawn to the grappling. Grappling just seemed the most practical to me and it is a really great work out.
After about eighteen months the school closed down and I had nowhere to train. I paid JW a visit at his academy and I was immediately hooked. The level of jiu-jitsu there was just so far above anything I had learned up to that point. It was about this time that I began trying to persuade my precious little bride to train as well. I tried everything:
ME: “But honey we’ll be able to spend more time together!”
ME: “Just think of what a good workout you will get!”
ME: “We have such a great group of people there. You would love hanging out with everyone!”
ME: “Just think, we could have the kids train and then we could all have an activity to do as a family!”
ME: “Check out this really cool special edition gi. I bet you would look awesome in this. Nobody has one of these.”
Eventually she came in and just sat on the mats. Then she sat on the mats in her gi. Then she trained with me just a little. Now she’s ninety pounds of pure fury who regularly chokes me all but unconscious. She has actually documented her journey onto the mats really well over at GirlJitsu.com.
Have you had any experience in owning your own business prior to KOZEN?
Back in the late nineties a buddy and I ran a computer consulting business. It only lasted for a couple of years but it was great experience learning how to setup a company, develop a brand, etc. All of that experience really came in handy when starting KOZEN. It saved us a ton of time.
There isn’t a lot of information out there yet about KOZEN, when did you start?
We started talking about KOZEN early in 2012. The conversations became progressively more serious throughout the year and we made it official sometime in early November.
What made you want to start your own gi/fightwear company?
With seven of us training we ended up with over a dozen gis. Then, Krista and I started collecting gis the way some folks collect sneakers. We eventually had something like 20 different gis from all the big names. We had adult gis, we had women’s gis, we had children’s gis. We started to become really opinionated about what we liked best. For instance, we love rip-stop pants but they have to have the pearl weave crotch. We love the stretchy cord on the pants. We love the rip-stop foam collar, etc. We would go on and on about the details.
That’s when we started kidding around about developing our own brand. We finally got to the point where we were either going to spend a ton of money being “collectors” or we were going to make the investment in our own company. We also felt it was a good way to help promote our academy and some of the people who we know there. These folks are truly like part of our family and we wanted to invest in them just as much as we wanted to invest in our own brand. Many of the products you will see coming from us this next year are intended to do just that.
Obviously the name is in honor of Kosen Judo, but what does the name mean to you? Why did you decide to choose KOZEN?
Well like I said, I’m a huge history buff. I loved studying Bujinkan and the origin of what we are learning and practicing today. The name was super important to both of us. We wanted both the name and the logo to be simple and distinctive.
To us KOZEN is a reminder that what we study today can be traced directly back to Hélio Gracie. The system he has developed and shared with us can then be traced back to Mitsuyo Maeda then to Kano Jigoro… all the way to the ancient samurai.
Since you’re a pretty new company, how hard was the process of finding a manufacturer?
Krista was in charge of finding a good manufacturer while I developed the web site and some of the artwork. Initially we heard, “NO”. We heard it A LOT. We spoke to tailors, we spoke to textile manufacturers. We looked high and low. In the end Krista did an amazing job of doing the research and hunting down the right folks.
It is really important to us to produce gear that is highly distinctive and extremely functional. If you look at our site and our Facebook page you’ll see that we started with a batch of prototypes followed by two separate batches of production samples. Each time we made changes to the design, the artwork and the features of the gi. In doing so we finally settled on two separate manufactures that we plan to be using from this point forward.
Your first offering looks pretty nice, not too blingy and not so subtle either, how did you go about choosing these two colors for your first gi?
We wanted a design that would appeal to anyone regardless of rank or affiliation. This was intentional as some of our other designs are going to be pretty crazy. Some of the limited edition and collector’s edition stuff is going to be really over the top!
We chose White/Red and Black/Red combinations because they are contrasting colors and they are primary colors that thought were really pleasing. Also it was super important that any color belt looked really good on the gi.
I see you have a standard, custom, limited, and collector’s edition listed on your page under Edition Matrix….When can we expect to see some of those? Any time this year maybe?
One of the main reasons we created KOZEN was that we wanted to offer these separate editions. We are actually really passionate about this. We want to always be able to offer the standard design at a really good price point. Then we also want to have some really creative designs for people who like collecting or for people who really like to show off a bit of originality.
So yeah, this is where Krista reels me in a bit. If it were up to me alone we would already have a gi embroidered head to toe with dragons and jewels and sequins! Still though, some of our ideas are really unique.
You can definitely expect to see at least two more designs by the end of the year, maybe three. These designs are going to be developed in part by some of the folks we are looking to sign endorsement deals with. We’ve begun work on one of them already and though I can’t say much about it yet I can tell you that there’s never been anything like it before.
Can you give us a little detail in your custom gi? Meaning, are you going to tailor the gi’s or will they be sent off to your manufacturer for construction? How long would it be to get it from time of purchase?
We’ve worked really hard on the custom gis. There’s a reason that no one else has an offering like this. Actually, there are many reasons why but we think we have been able to develop a workable solution with our manufacturers. The custom gis will work like this:
1.) We are currently developing an application for our web-site (SPOILER: I’m a software developer by day) that will allow you to build your own gi.
2.) You will first choose from a list of available designs. As of right now this will include over 20 color combinations based on our standard design using white, blue and black gis with contrasting colors. There will be more and more designs added over time.
3.) From there we will step you through the measuring process. The web-based application will then automatically generate a detailed design document and deliver it to our manufacturer.
5.) The production of your new KOZEN gi will take anywhere from 3-6 weeks plus shipping.
6.) The end result should be a gi that fits much better than a standard size in the colors and design of your choosing!
You have an AJ Siscoe shirt for sale, any plans for normal KOZEN shirts this year after the full on launch of your kimonos?
We have a batch of shirts being produced right now. The design is inspired by our Standard Series Kimono design and you can see it here:
Beyond that we plan to pair a shirt with a similar design to each gi we produce. For the Standard Series we are selling the gi and shirt separately however other designs will most likely be sold together.
Shorts perhaps as well?
Definitely! Again, this is where my precious little bride reels me in. If it were up to me we’d have KOZEN shorts, flip flops, energy drinks, breakfast cereal, evening gowns, paper towels, etc. But yes… definitely shorts.
Considering the market of BJJ gi’s is very heavy at this time, give me three words that can describe how KOZEN sets themselves apart from other companies.
ATTENTION TO DETAILS
How can we go about purchasing KOZEN Kimonos?
The best way is to order through our web site at www.kozenfightgear.com
If we’re ever in the area, where can we stop by to see the gi’s in person? Maybe a Pro Shop in the gym?
Right now we are working quite a bit with our home academy, Gracie Humaitá – St. Louis and its affiliates to carry our products on a retail basis. We’re hoping to deliver a good amount to the new academy in Cape Girardeau and to Columbia, MO as well. If you guys are ever in the STL definitely let us know!
Any final thoughts you’d like to leave the readers with?
Just a big, “Thank You” to everyone who has supported us this far.