Here, in the second part of the Lessons Learned in Five Years article, we are listing 14 items that have stood out in our minds the most.
1. Pink is the most controversial color. Lots of jiu-jitsu women love it; lots of women hate it, and they are not afraid to voice their opinions. Some women believe that wearing pink makes them too girly, and not one of the guys on the mat. Let’s be honest, the color of your gi has no effect on your jiu-jitsu skills. Some like angry animals; some like kanji; some like skulls; and some like color pink! More tolerance, less hate towards color pink! Aren’t we supposed to embrace each others individuality? Let’s not make girls, and women feel inferior because they choose to wear a pink gi.
2. A1 and A2 are the most popular sizes. 80% of our adult gi sales are A1 and A2, the rest 20% is randomly divided between A0, A3 and A4. In the past year, our redesigned A4 size has become a hit among very curvy ladies. This month we started adding tall sizes to put an end to high-water pants.
3. Curvy pants are the most popular mix and match option. We are one of the first companies that started offering mix and match options in 2010, and based on the feedback the curvy pants were created. We had no idea that curvy pants would become our best seller separates. These are essentially half sizes that save the customers a trip to the tailor shop.
4. Popular vote does not necessarily turn into actual sales. There are people who comment on Facebook when we ask for feedback but never make a purchase. We’ve learned to always listen to the ones who have purchased from us, and to trust our gut feeling.
5. Not all colors sell at the same rate. Navy blue color has been in high demand, and seems to be ‘the color’ for 2013 and 2014. White and royal blue gis sell consistently because they are widely accepted in most gyms. Black gis are unpredictable; they sell in spurts. We do not aim for sprints here and there; we prefer a steady pace. Oh, and gis become especially popular as soon as they are sold out. This happens every time!
6. International shipping is expensive. Yes, it is and we wish it were cheaper as well. USPS medium flat rate box shipping charge in 2009 was 25.95 to Canada, and 41.95 to the rest of the world. In 2014 the rates are 42.25 and 61.75 respectively. Astonishing price jump, eh? We can kick, and scream about it all day but that is not going to make a change. The best advice is to order 2-3 gis at a time, and ask for combined shipping which at times is 60% cheaper.
7. As the business grows, the scam artists get bolder. One would think that all martial arts people are honest. We’ve had people claim that the package was stolen when it clearly shows delivered; ordering the wrong size, and demanding a free gi because in their mind the product is defective; threatening to post negative reviews if we don’t exchange a washed gi; damaging the gi, and blaming us for it; endless exchanges, and disputing perfectly fine transactions; asking for a rush shipment, and not paying the upcharge. No business is immune to scam artists. You have to get used to it, and minimize losses as much as possible.
8. Not every latest trend should be followed. We are trying to stay away from cliché design elements, as well as overly garish, gaudy, and flamboyant stuff that is in today, and out tomorrow. Your gi should be functional, basic, classic, and timeless, just like your little black dress.
9. You cannot please everyone. In order to have 100 percent satisfaction rate you would have to do custom gis, fitted perfectly to each individual body. If one person does not like the gi, it doesn’t mean the product is bad. It is not tragic, people have different taste and fit preferences.
10. You have to learn not to panick. The sooner you accept that things will go wrong, the less stress you’ll have to deal with. The time to worry is when there is something you can do about a situation. If you cannot do anything then just let others do their job. Will worrying and yelling expletives at DHL make the airplanes fly any faster? If the answer is no; then you might as well sit back, and read a book instead of angrily refreshing the computer screen for non-existing tracking updates.
11. High price does not equal higher quality. Every brand faces the exact same issues with production, shipment delays, miscommunication that affects the final product, defective stitching, misprints, wrong labels, etc. The list goes on and on. The question one should ask is; Is this defect minor and does it affect only esthetics or does it render the gi completely useless. Although we strive for the highest quality, some imperfections can be acceptable. We have chosen to offer affordable, high quality products, and will stay on this path.
12. We’ve made lots of mistakes. Mistakes happen. Sometimes a wrong size or wrong color gi is shipped out, and it is very disappointing for a customer who has spent her hard-earned money, and really needed the gi on a certain day. We’ve been yelled at, and told to tear our website down because we don’t know what we are doing. We feel terrible when things go wrong. Our goal is to work on minimizing the mistakes, learning, improving, and always finding a suitable compensation for the customer.
13. Most customers are awesome. If you are nice we will bend our own return policy rules rather often and liberally. Sometimes we exchange washed gis, send free pants, patches, free sample gis, shirts. You just have to ask. Be nice, and people will be nice to you.
14. A good message from a happy customer is worth more than money. Especially when we are having a bad week with delays, and hiccups; a kind message from a customer gives us the necessary push, and surge of energy to continue on the path. Fitting a frustrated customer into the right size gi or making a rush delivery to make someone’s birthday a very special day is rewarding. We truly appreciate it!
Thank you for reading and stay Powered by She!
In October, five years ago, we received our very first batch of women’s gis. Five months of somewhat hard work culminated in an actual product! It was such an exhilarating time; so much eagerness and a hefty dose of cluelessness. When you start a business, it is very much like stepping on the mat as a white belt; nervous beyond belief but too excited, and in awe to turn away. The white belt enthusiasm carried us pretty far, and looking back makes us wonder; how did we survive this?
Remember the feeling; driving home after a hard training session that could only be described as a gigantic disaster; you were emotionally and physically beat up, overwhelmed, upset and unable to control the tears? Yeah, in the first year we had plenty of meltdowns like that.
Starting commerce with a Pakistani vendor was like learning a new language. A western woman demanding answers was unheard of, and not well received at the factory. Cultural differences, communication errors, and constant clashes resulted in missed deadlines, and resentment on both sides. Fortunately neither party was a quitter, and things got smoothed out over time. Just like in jiu-jitsu you start trusting your training partners, the same happens in business. You find your groove.
When you reach the blue belt level, you walk onto the mat with a renewed confidence and the feeling of ‘oh yeah, I made it.’ After a couple of shipments of gis, that’s how we felt. We made it; the first product is out; we are in business! Woohoo! And then the first customer complains emerge; you panick. Seeing new gi companies pop up every week, and your very first bad shipment sends you to a full-blown panick attack. The kind that makes you hyperventilate; binge eat; and think ”bloody hell, I can’t take it any more”; I’m getting a real job next week.
The second and third year in business are the real test, the not-so-pretty-blue-belt phase. It’s the real grind of hard work, learning, making mistakes, learning, making more mistakes. Bigger companies are still not threatened by you because most start-ups fold by this time. Surely, this one will close up shop soon. But in the back of their mind they wonder, can this company really take customers away from me? How do they keep the prices so low? No matter how big their smile is, inside they are uncomfortable.
Many companies go under since the brand-new-business-excuse cannot be used forever. Making a hundred gis and calling it “limited edition” has its charm until every other company tries to do the same thing. The fluctuating product quality, uncertainty of dealing with vendors thousands of miles away, and cash flow problems can send any company spiralling downward, no matter how cool their products look. Very often you can’t tell if it is a real business, or one of the fantoms trying to make a quick buck promising the moon and the stars, then disappearing, and re-appearing under a new name weeks later.
At the purple belt level, the white belt enthusiasm, and blue belt hunger have disappeared. You kind of know that you will never use every technique you’ve learned. Starting to fine tune your favorite ones becomes exciting. Most of us have probably had our fair share of injuries by now, and hitting every possible open mat in 100 mile radius is not the priority any more. The game has some finesse but there is still so far to go. Training smarter, not harder!
In business, this is the time where things are running pretty smooth. Frantic, knee-jerk movements have been replaced by relative calmness. There are still days where things go very wrong but this is normal. We’ve developed solid customer and vendor relationships that we continue nurturing. Seeing the vision come to life, and grow like a mushroom thanks to the immense support from jiu-jitsu women is gratifying. However, the work never ends; we are far from putting our feet up, and sipping martinis all day. Finding balance while making a mark in the world is what we strive for. Thank you so much for being part of our first five years!
On June 1, at the 2014 IBJJF Worlds, Michelle Nicolini added yet another world champion title to her impressive list of achievements. She is the only woman who has won world championships in light feather, feather, medium heavy, and open weight classes. Her latest win over Tammi Musumeci was the most talked about match of the 2014 championship, and the devastating arm lock she applied on her opponent was a submission most of us had never seen.
Michelle Nicolini is spending the rest of the month of June teaching Brazilian jiu-jitsu for women on both coasts. She is in Massachusetts, at Worcester MMA, June 9-14. The following weekend you can catch a women’s bjj seminar with her in San Francisco, at Ralph Gracie BJJ, and back to the East coast for the Grappling Girls Guild camp June 27-29, in Washington, DC. Don’t miss the opportunity to train with the most decorated black belt competitor, and learn the secrets of her annihilating submissions.
Michelle Wagner is one of the first American female black belts in the Pacific Northwest. She is a second degree black belt under the infamous Giva “The Arm Collector” Santana. Michelle started training in April 1998 to keep herself busy after ending a 7-year relationship. She was headed to a karate class when a friend derailed her plans, and took her to jiu-jitsu class instead. Jiu-jitsu became a big part of her life even though the instructors were hard to find. Her biggest influencers over the years were Marcelo Alonso, Juliano Prado, and Giva Santana.
She received her black belt from Marcio “Mamazinho” Laudier in 2007, and currently trains, and teaches part-time at Foster BJJ in Kent, Washington. Michelle focuses on helping her female students, and has been teaching women’s jiu-jitsu camps in Seattle area for the past couple of years. She has also hinted that a comeback to the competition scene is not out of the question.
What was the most challenging belt level for you?
The most challenging time for me in jiu-jitsu was during my years as a blue belt. Our academy was unexpectedly shut down, and that left us wondering what we were going to do next. There were not many choices for us because jiu-jitsu was new to the Pacific Northwest, and academies were few and far between. Eventually some of my team mates were able to find a garage where we could train. That grew into a new location, and into a new BJJ school. Although we still had challenges keeping instructors at the new location, we made do with who we were, and what we knew until we finally had someone to stay and teach for 6-7 years.
What advice would you give to women who have a hard time in training?
Don’t give up! Find one reason that will make the difference for you. If BJJ is your passion, you will find a way to prevail, and make it past even the toughest challenges. Don’t be afraid to say NO to the person who doesn’t get what rolling with technique means. In all my years of training, my biggest pet peeve is rolling with people who just have to win at all cost. They are not worth your time or energy. Don’t be afraid to be straight up about it either. They are going to realize it some day on their own so you might as well be the first one to let them know.
As the biggest tournament of the year, IBJJF World Championship 2014, is getting close, athletes are doing their last-minute drills fine-tuning their best escapes and submissions. The competition in women’s jiu-jitsu is tougher than ever, and last year’s victory does not make winning this year easier. The ones who strive to be better even when they are the best will prevail. The true champions must also be prepared to live with the failure. Having the courage to step on the mat knowing that there is a possibility of defeat separates them from the rest of us.
Winning by advantage points is getting more and more frowns lately. Some believe that the only way to really win is to submit your opponent. Others believe that a win by points or advantages is just as valuable. Many times the competitors are so even that the referee has to decide which competitor had greater offense, and came closest to scoring a possible point. Leaving it to the referee’s hands will most likely make the loser replay the match in her head over, and over, wondering what she should or could have done. Anyone who trains knows how hard it is to submit someone who has been training as hard as you, if not more. It takes great timing, technique, and the right amount of intensity to catch your opponent. There is nothing gentle in a submission but it’s beautiful and admirable.
It is exhilarating to win by submission. It is even greater if a photographer captures the exact moment when the opponent’s hand is tapping. Here are some of our favorite submission shots. We hope you like them!
Leticia Ribeiro started her jiu-jitsu training in Brazil, at Gracie Tijuca academy, in 1994. She fell in love with the sport, trained 2-3 times a day, and received her blue belt in three months. Leticia holds nine world championship titles, seven in gi, and two in no-gi. She has been competing at the Worlds ever since the women’s divisions were introduced in 1998. She received her black belt from Royler Gracie, and Vinicius Aieta in 2000, after winning her first title in the black belt division. In 2008 she moved to California, and started leading Gracie Humaitá female team. In 2013 she opened her own academy, Gracie South Bay. Leticia is a third degree black belt, IBJJF Hall of Famer, and one of the busiest instructors teaching women’s jiu-jitsu seminars and camps all over the world.
Which belt level has been the most challenging for you?
White belt was the hardest for me. When you start training, you don’t even know how to move your body. Everything is new, even hip escape, and shrimping are difficult movements. When you get closer to the blue belt things become easier. You start to understand the game more, have better control of your body, and breathing. That’s when the fun really starts! I felt that after my first armbar. I thought: I love it, I want more!
Tournaments were tough back when I started training. There were only two divisions, and all belts together for women at the first Worlds in 1998. After a few years they separated blue belts, later on purple belts, and now we have all belts separate. I’ve seen the evolution of the women’s jiu-jitsu from the very beginning. I’m very happy with the progress. We have lots of good, technical fighters now. When I was a white belt, we did not have a lot of girls but I was lucky to have Leka Vieira to look up to. She was always two belts ahead of me, and had her female team. She has always been a huge inspiration for me.
What advice would you give to women who have a hard time in training?
My advice to all the women who train BJJ is to keep going! Be confident, and be patient with yourself in the learning process. The hard times will pass, and the armbars and chokes will come. It is great if you want to compete, but it is also okay if you don’t want to compete. Jiu-jitsu is for everyone, it will help you in different aspects of your life.
It takes away all the stress at work, kids, family, and everything else that can disturb your day or sleep. Many people say that they don’t go to train because they are too tired from work. To me it sounds like an excuse. No excuses! After work get your gi, and go to class. I can guarantee that you will feel much better after training. Enjoy being on the mat not just to train but to enjoy your team who is your new family because your jiu-jitsu academy should be your second home. Good luck and good training!
Summer is the season that you look forward to all year, gripe about when it arrives, and are sorry when it’s gone. – Anonymous
As the weather warms up, sweaters and boots are packed away into the far corners of the closets, and colorful shorts, tank tops, and flowy dresses come out to play. Flip-flops are the go-to footwear in summertime. You can never have too many pairs!
Make some memories this summer in pretty Fenom flip-flops. Get a pair for now and one for later, and enjoy the sunny season.