People love their denim. A nice pair of high end designer jeans mass produced overseas can cost upward of 200 dollars, an exorbitant luxury cost for many, and items made by hand or in the USA can be exponentially more. But there’s rhyme and reason in this as companies that produce these jeans use special fabrics and often have extremely high quality standards. I recently heard that a new company, Vanguard, founded by Mike Dytri a black belt under Chris Haueter. He is a highly sought after and well respected designer who serves the jiu-jitsu world. Vanguard is putting out their first batch of gis: a limited 100 piece batch of gis made made from Cone Mills selvedge denim fabricated in Los Angeles. Each gi will cost $500.00. These will be some of the most expensive gis ever made, are they worth it?
The truth is that I can anticipate a few possible reactions to this, ranging from “Oh wow that’s really cool” to “How dare they ask that much for a piece of jiu-jitsu gear.” Companies like Lucky Gi and Shoyoroll have offered products that drew those kinds of prices, but it’s a rare spectacle.
I had an opportunity to chat with Dytri about this extremely ambitious project.
Before we even began our conversation, Dytri sent over an advance press release about Vanguard, which lends context to our conversation:
“FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE (7/5/18)
VANGUARD M2W by Ludwig Van to Release Selvedge Denim Jiu-Jitsu Kimono, made in Los Angeles, on July 5th, 2018
Los Angeles CA, June (13th), 2018, — Longtime friends Mike Dytri, of Ludwig Van, and George Wilson, of Rivi, have teamed up to create the world’s first selvedge denim jiu-jitsu kimono, or gi. The first drop will happen on July 13th, 2018 and will be limited to 100 kimonos. The made-in-LA kimonos will only be available online at vanguardkimono.com. Reserve list is now open.
The first drop of the Vanguard M2W kimono is made with the last remaining lot of Cone Mills “White Oak” dark indigo denim. Cone Mills, formerly a major supplier to Levi’s, closed its doors in December 2017. The fabric is 12 oz. sanforized white selvedge with a tightly woven, blue cast indigo warp with a white weft and is made in the USA. There are two more 100-kimono drops slated for 2018, each in a different color selvedge denim. All will be made in Los Angeles.
Both Mike Dytri of Ludwig Van and George Wilson of Rivi have extensive experience with vintage-deadstock fabrics and selvedge denim, but this is the first time they have joined forces to create the world’s first ever selvedge denim jiu-jitsu kimono…meant for training.
This kimono jacket and pant feature taped seams that make them look as good on the inside as they do on the outside. The Vanguard kiminos have already been spotted on some top stylists, as they look just as striking on the street as they do on the tatami mat. They are all processed with a vintage stonewash and finished with an enzyme wash leaving them with a soft hand the will age beautifully.
Dytri has a long history in street-fashion with Ludwig Van (and his previous label Subfreakie) as well as expertise in jiu-jitsu, where he is a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Knowing both genres inside and out gives him an advantage few others possess.
Wilson’s long history producing denim and apparel for some of fashion’s leading influencers, such as Union, Rachel Comey, Rag & Bone, Stussy and others, make him the perfect resource for the starting point of this product.
This limited run will be available exclusively online at vanguardkimono.com and in very limited quantities in Japan.
Launching this summer via internet reserve (and word-of-mouth).
LUDWIG VAN http://www.ludwigvantheman.com
A teaser video detailing the project and production can be viewed at http://www.vanguardkimono.com
Background on Ludwig Van, LLC.
Ludwig Van is a premium casual clothing brand for men. It was founded in 2008 by Mike Dytri, the company is known for using one-of-a-kind deadstock fabrics and incorporating them into special one-off releases. Ludwig Van has used military canvas, vintage fleece and denim as well as unique WWII-era hardware on a variety of their fashions.
To learn more about Ludwig Van Clothing visit their website at http://www.ludwigvantheman.com.”
For starters I was curious about Mike’s rationale for even making a gi out of denim, to me the idea sounded possibly questionable.
“I was prompted by the idea one afternoon a couple years ago. At the time I was measuring out a jiu-jitsu gi for a client I was servicing – the gi was on the cutting table in the back of our development space downtown (I share a production and development space with George Wilson of Rivi Goods) and he walked by and said ‘Mike you should make one of those out of selvedge’ – that’s where the idea began.
George has been developing denim for over 20 years in downtown Los Angeles. Some of the biggest fashion labels, I thought it was a great idea and worth exploring.
We made a prototype out of 12oz. Selvedge Denim (in my size). Then we processed it with a heavy stone wash, some subtle tinting and an enzyme wash to really soften up the fabric and open up the weave to give it that silky hand feel. The first time I put it on I was blown away by how comfortable it felt. You know that feeling when you put on a gi jacket and you just know…? That’s how it felt. Next step was to put it to the test in training. I don’t think people who train in JiuJitsu understand that Denim is essentially a twill weave and is as durable as twill and canvas, yet gets softer with wear. It felt amazing and performed similar to wearing a canvas top with twill pants…but it was different. It’s just that, different but in a good way I think.
Quality is top priority – they are sewn by the same sewers that produce premium denim for some of the world’s most expensive labels. They are also guaranteed. If there are any defective seams they will be repaired and reinforced for free. I’m very confident in the way they feel and perform. The construction is extremely good and features chain stitched seams which is more durable and longer lasting than the traditional triple needle used on overseas product. The selvedge seams are split and finished with a double needle twill taping making them super strong. The best part is that there is absolutely zero shrinkage and the kimono comes perfectly worn–in feeling right out of the package. The laundry process alone is very costly and once you see and feel it you understand it. It’s no hassle, you wash and dry them normally just like any other clothing you have.
They feel like butter and silk.”
Some may recognize Dytri’s name, he also owns a brand called Ludwig Van and has done extensive design work for adidas Combat Sports, Storm, Hypnotik and others. I was curious about Dytri’s other projects and how they might intersect at times, especially given that Vanguard and Ludwig Van share 3 crucial letters.
“I recently released a Ludwig Van x Fairtex glove set that sold out very quickly and I was really happy with that project. I’m also working with Hypnotik as a Design Direction consultant to help them build that brand. The focus is elevating the level of product as well as brand. They recently signed Gordon “King” Ryan so I’m working on a signature capsule of product for him. They’ve got a unique position in the “no-gi” market and the personality of the brand is fun and a bit irreverent. The people at the company are a pleasure to work with and we are starting to see some real progress in the growth. I also hope to see the adidas jiu-itsu program get re-established in Q1 2019, can’t say too much about that but it looks promising. Ludwig Van will continue to offer various products and apparel that are more geared toward art pieces.
The name similarity between Vanguard and Ludwig Van was actually a coincidence. When we were thinking of names that fit what we wanted to do – the definition of Vanguard fit perfectly. It’s great that it connects to Ludwig Van in the way that I am trying to carve a new path. We will be developing a competition version of the Vanguard Kimono that will feature all the best details for the competitor and introduce new construction that has not been done before. This will be produced overseas and distributed in more of a mainstream way yet still offering a unique product that is fresh. Beholden to the ethos that is Vanguard.”
As a jiu-jitsu practitioner and competitor, I see a denim gi as being almost superfluous, but I know that Mike knows the same things as I do if not much more, so I was interested in why the denim gi would ever be preferable over a normal gi material product.
“The VANGUARD Selvedge Kimonos are very limited runs due to the fabrication and cost thereby giving the buyer of the product a truly “Limted Edition” – they also perform extremely well on the mat.
VANGUARD Comp Kimonos will offer new details and features to the jiujitsu competitor. Having competed many times myself I know what I like in a competition kimono and I work with many of the best jiujitsu competitors out there that also give me insight into what works and what to throw away. We have an established relationship with a small factory overseas that pays their labor very well, treats them very well and provides a pleasant working environemt. That’s important. I’ve learned a lot about the overseas mfg. process vis-a-vis designing for the brands you mentioned but the factory I’m working with has never produced for any of them, they are exclusive to VANGUARD. The uniform must comply with IBJJF rules and offer a “grain-cloth” pearlweave jacket and that is the main reason for producing them overseas. They have the mill that produces this cloth and the best cotton fibers are coming out of Asia at the moment so the quality of the fabric is very good. I want to offer the jiujitsu competitor a VANGUARD product that is reasonable yet very well made with considered design and cut.
Made in America is very important to me and that is why I’m building the premium level selvedge kimono’s here in Los Angeles. There will be a number of different selvedge farbics and colors used…there’s the dark denim but also canvas and twill fabrics… natural oatmeal, grey, black, tan…it’s going to be fun.
The cuts are very important. The VANGUARD dark selvedge kimono fits like an Armani suit. You can see the difference. I worked with a very good pattern-maker to adjust details so that it not only fits very well but does not restrict movement in any way. The competition models will be slightly more tailored and fitted closer to the body, like most competitors prefer. The selvedge kimonos are all processed with an intense laundry process that makes them “pre-shrunk” – the overseas kimonos will also come “pre-shrunk” virtually eliminating the hassle of cold wash and hang dry. These kimonos are meant to throw in the washer, then the dry like any normal clothes. The competitor Jacket will be a multi-piece construction and feature some of the same unique details as the selvedge kimono.”
In Mike’s press release he mentioned something unusual: the gi is intended for wear on AND OFF the Tatame… I had to ask: is this gi intended for wear outside of the gym?
“There have been several stylists that have come through our development space (on other business for other brands and labels) whom have been very interested in styling their celebrity clients with the kimono….I can’t say the names just yet, but the kimono has been in vogue over the last year or so and that’s probably why. I’ve been seeing a lot of style icons sporting kimono type jackets and I don’t see it going out of style any time soon. One of our main objectives with VANGUARD was to start a conversation about what defines a JiuJitsu Kimono?”
So, for the reader out there, what do you think of Mike’s new project? Is it superfluous? Does it in some way insult the jiu-jitsu customer base? Or does having products like this available to the jiu-jitsu community enrich the art?
I will be reviewing a gi from the first batch of Vanguard kimonos at www.gireviews.net, the post will take an honest look at whether or not Mike’s vision makes sense. Stay tuned!