With Joshua Vega

In late 2015, Josh Vega — an amateur martial arts practitioner with a purple belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu — was on the hunt for some new uniforms (called gis) to wear during his training. He scoured local shops for rash guards and gis, but to his disappointment, he couldn't find any that appealed to his personal aesthetic.

“A lot of the available uniforms — gis, kimonos — had the same basic design. I couldn’t find any rash guards that really matched my style.”

At the time, it was difficult for practitioners like Josh to find uniforms with unique artwork or graphic treatments. Like many amateur martial artists, Josh had a flashier and unique aesthetic that he wanted to share with his peers at the gym. Only a handful of vendors sold rash guards with graphic artwork, and practitioners who wanted to wear these uniforms were at the mercy of their price and availability.

“I knew roughly how to start a company, and I saw a market opportunity in a segment that I love.”

Soon, Josh got to work experimenting with designs that he’d be proud to wear to the gym. Feeling confident about what he had created, he launched Yudansha Fightwear: a speciality martial arts apparel company built on Shopify.

“I liked what I had created, but I really had no idea whether other people would like my designs, so the first production runs were a big risk.”

Josh’s love for his sport helped expedite the design process — he felt that he knew roughly what he and other practitioners wanted to wear, and his experience dictated materials and other factors. What he didn’t know, however, was where — and how — to manufacture them.

“I went to the usual places to source manufacturers and tried a few before settling on a high-quality Chinese textile shop.”

The first few runs were a success and quickly sold out. Feeling confident with these early results, Josh decided to retain a troupe of contract designers to help him expand his inventory.

“It was $600 or more to license a design, and you didn’t always get exactly what you wanted. I had to expand my inventory, so I chose to take design in-house. By doing it that way, I felt that we could get better designs at better prices.”

Yudansha Fightwear’s target audience is comprised of amateur martial artists — many of whom are low-income and seeking sponsorship for basic equipment like gis, rash guards, and kimonos.

“We serve a small segment within the martial arts community. A lot of these guys aren’t making any money, so they can’t afford expensive uniforms. Some of them sleep at the gym.”

Josh keeps Yudansha Fightwear’s prices low by tightly managing inventory and keeping a pulse on what’s trending in the sport. Before investing too heavily in inventory assets, Josh tests new products with small production runs.

“It’s more expensive, but I couldn’t afford to take the risk of manufacturing tons of product that can’t sell.”

Josh’s analytical mindset also extends to the tools that he uses to promote and sell Yudansha Fightwear to consumers.

“We use Shopify and plugins like the Google Shopping app for DTC sales. This means I don’t have to pause campaigns when a product sells out, or risk spending money advertising a product that is currently out-of-stock.”

Yudansha Fightwear epitomizes speciality retail startups: launched as a passion project by an enthusiast and kept lean through tight asset management, the brand has expanded to reach market penetration levels that Josh couldn’t have imagined just four years ago.

“I’m really excited to see where this journey takes us. My goal is to improve our margins so we can feel even more comfortable investing in the business for years to come.”

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