GiReviews.Net: Tell us a bit about your background with martial arts.
Alex: My background in martial arts I think is pretty much how every kid growing up in the 80s got a start and that is through the magic of the legendary Jean-Claude Van Damme. If you asked me what the hardest decision I could make at the age of 3-7 is I'm pretty sure my response would have been whether or not I wanted an outfit when I became a ninja.
My childhood consisted of ninja and JCVD movies with a very healthy dose of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. So with all of this martial arts would have been the obvious path however it wasn't until after my teenage years that I actually started. I'm sorry but the next part of the story is gonna take some text.
I spent roughly 7 years of my life on skateboard as a teen in SLC Utah. One day while at the skatepark I met my now wife. I was actually living out of my car at the time and our relationship got serious very quickly and I moved in with her. Her brother was a professional snowboarder and had his own snowboard company at the time. He asked me to come with him to pick up an order of boards he had in Denver and along the way we were discussing hobbies and outside of skateboarding and his sister we didn't have anything in common. He then asked me about martial arts and if I had any interest. I told him the same old always wanting to do Karate or Tae Kwon Do but never got around to it story and he brings up Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and the Gracies.
I have no clue what the fuck he is talking about. He then starts explaining what grappling is and how a large percentage of street fights end up in a clinch or ground fight and how BJJ allows you to understand what is going on in these scenarios and how to use technique against a larger or more athletic opponent and remain in control even off your back.
Our ride to Denver and back was 8 hours each way so he was able to fit quite a bit of BJJ in the conversation. He then tells me about how he has been training BJJ for almost 2 years and has been taking a break but wants to get back into the gym, if you have made it this far and guessed that he was a blue belt go ahead and pat yourself on the back.
His professor apparently had a fight at his gym that gained some media coverage and that location was directly across the street from a Little Ceaser's Pizza I worked at a year or two prior. A couple co workers there trained Capoeira across the street. The gym was run by a guy named Pedro Sauer. If you train jiu jitsu you may have heard of him…
Alright apologies for the ramble but I'm getting to where I am now. Thank you for bearing with me. Fast forward 3 or 4 years. I marry my girlfriend my now wife and we live together in Maryland. We moved out here to help her father with his construction company. I'm new to the area and don't know anyone so skateboarding wasn't going well anymore.
I picked and played competitive billiards (8 ball to be exact) and did that for a year when a guy strolled into the pool hall wearing a Tapout shirt and sporting a mean cauliflower ear. I used to stay up night after pool tournaments and watch the first season of The Ultimate Fighter. Seeing the guy in the Tapout shirt made me wonder if BJJ was local. Through a quick google search I found Mike Moses' Evolve Academy. He used a little bit of the Lloyd Irvin marketing on his site so I had to go and see what he offered.
From the moment I stepped onto the mat for the first time it was a wrap. I had the biggest grin. 7 year old me would have been so jealous. There is was, on m way to becoming a fucking ninja. Life achievement begun.
After that day though, life happened. That was a little over 11 years ago and I have taken a few different breaks and couple that lasted over a year. However if you look at my circle of friends and acquaintances you will see that with a single exception every one of them is through BJJ and the different schools I trained at and currently train. I received my brown belt late last year from Vicente Jr.
A 4th degree black belt under Ricardo De La Riva at Conquest BJJ and MMA in Millersville Maryland. I have kept up with many of my relationships through the years and drop in at friends academies and schools somewhat regularly as well. It's crazy to think about the journey that skateboarding or BJJ can take you on but here I am.
GiReviews.Net: Tell us the story of how and why you started Sleeve And Collar and what your motivations were entering an already saturated marketplace?
Alex: Sleeve and Collar started as blog idea for my partner Richard Semides. He actually started with gi reviews. I told him what a shitty idea that was and…. just kidding. He was doing the blog thing for a little bit and one day we were watching a Fight to Win or UFC event and our core group of friends was hanging out and we shot the shit about gi companies and what we would change or do different. We didn't like the “catwalk” aspect of BJJ gear. BJJ in itself is a very simple activity although the techniques and applications are very technical.
Why does a gi need to have a million patches or logos on it? So after about 30 minutes of bullshitting I got to brainstorming and together Rich and I came up witht the idea for the SCJJ gi but more importantly we went forward with the idea. Yes the market can seem saturated but the reality is only a select few companies are having any sort of an impact and our goal isn't ultimately to make gi's and nogi gear.
Our goal is to be a full apparel and accessory provider for grapplers. The plan is to eventually get into tasteful clothing options for grapplers without saying “hey look at me I'm a badass” or having to have our name all over it. Part of that stems from myself liking certain products from Eddie Bauer but I hate the fact that he feels the need to leave his autograph on it. Sleeve and Collar is dedicated to making gear for BJJ and Nogi but we aren't stopping there. That's our motivation.
GiReviews.Net: What do you feel makes Sleeve And Collar different from every other BJJ brand out there right now?
Alex: So there is a few different ways to answer this question. First is in the present. At present at the time of this interview, we have 2 gi's, 2 hats and BJJ belts available. Both gis only have the company name on the patch at the bottom of the lapel on the exterior. The interior has a neck label with our name on it.
We don't place our name all over the products or place logos at random locations on the gi. We don't offer any pre-order or limited runs. We want our consumer to be able to go on the website and like something and be able to purchase it right then and there. No waiting or no finding out it's out of stock because we only made 5 of that particular product.
Another way to answer this is where we are headed. If you don't like being a walking billboard for a company or having the flashiest gi on the mat we are building products for you. We create minimal designs and build things that we wear on daily basis.
All of our products get tested on and off the mat before they go up on the site. If it's not up to our standards or there is an adjustment we feel that needs to be made we make that adjustment before we try to sell it. We aren't here for the quick buck. We are here to make a lasting brand and a lasting impression on our customers.
We aren't going to sell you a membership to get special access to our site or offer a preorder on a product and have you wait 6 months for fulfillment. We have a newsletter that you can sign up for on our site and that gives the opportunity to hear about and purchase products at a discount before they go on the website and are for sale to the general public.
We will stock our brick and mortar retailers during this time as well so if you are local you can purchase there also. We believe in good customer service and ethics. Having over 10 years experience running a construction business has given me an immeasurable amount experience that I am able to apply to Sleeve and Collar not to mention the lessons I've been taught through BJJ that translate to society.
GiReviews.Net: Which Gi would you recommend for our audience to try and why?
Alex: Well at the moment we have two options available. The SCJJ and the Onyx. The SCJJ is almost sold out and I don't think we will be restocking it. It was our first gi and as such we made a small order for private sale and we have very few left. They also only came in the 5 basic sizes. A1, A2, etc.
The Onyx, however, we have introduced fitted and long sizes as well as other sizes. These sizes are the same ones you are used to from other manufacturers so you don't need to learn any new lingo or grab a measuring tape and pull 18 different measurements to get your size. These are numbers you are used to. The Onyx only comes in black. It follows our tradition of minimal design and only has two arrow embroideries on the shoulders and our logo on the lapel. The inside neck insert has the size sublimated onto it so there is no tag in the back to irritate your neck. Black on black gives you a stealthy ninja look and I love the gi.
But let's be honest. Who cares what the fuck I think about my own products. The reader is on this website to hear what YOU guys think about the gi. I highly suggest you take a look at the reviews on this site for the Onyx and you come up with your own decision. We have reviews on our site as well on the product pages for each item. They are 100% honest reviews from real customers as well.
If you need further proof go do a quick google search and see what comes up. We are a small brand and barely dipping our toes into the market but we are doing our best to get our products out there and get feedback so you should find something.
However, I do urge you to not leave this site and read the reviews here. These guys are the #1 resource for gi reviews and take their job seriously. Otherwise, I would not be here doing this interview and I would be on some other blog.
GiReviews.Net: What is Sleeve And Collar all about and what does it represent as a brand?
Alex: Sleeve and Collar is all about clean comfortable clothing and accessories for on and off the mat. I touched on our goals in previous answers but it's all true. We aren't trying to revolutionize or completely change the market. We are trying to change the way you promote the fact that you train.
We want to make clothes that when you see them on the street you know that person trains and you can strike up a conversation or maybe check out an open mat at their gym all because you recognized the clothes. We represent anyone that wants to look good inside and outside the gym. From our training gear like gi's to our shirts and other top secret projects we want to give you a product that you will be happy to have purchased and will wear for years.
GiReviews.Net: If there's anything else you'd like to share about Sleeve And Collar please do!
Alex: Sure check us out on Facebook, Instagram or go to our website and sign up for our newsletter. We do not spam you and we do not sell your info. We do give you product updates and private discounts and purchase options. You won't get a ton of emails from us and the ones you do get will be worth it.
Other than that if you have any questions for me or comments please feel free to hit me up at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for your time. I know I'm a storyteller.
PS. Don't forget, GiReviews.net readers get an exclusive 10% discount code on Sleeve and Collar's clean and modern BJJ gis.