Thanks to our friends from BJJ Heroes for the original interview
Luciana Machado is the proud owner of the famous M Kimonos Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Brand. MKimonos was arguably the first brand to become world famous in the BJJ world, a brand associated with big names such as Saulo Ribeiro, Royler Gracie, Xande Ribeiro or Vitor Shaolin Ribeiro and many others. The witty and outspoken Brazilian got together with BJJ Heroes and revealed a little about who she is and what the brand is all about. Check the details below.
How did you first get involved with BJJ?
When I was a little child and danced ballet, my brother started training jiu-jitsu, a martial art that was little known at that time, when he was five years old. He started training with Master Francisco Mansur. He treated us both with a lot of love always and allowed me to watch every single class. I fell so in love with it and it was so exciting to watch the classes every time I was there… And that’s how I got involved forever with BJJ so intensely and kept it in my heart until nowadays.
How did MKimonos start?
Well, my brother Marcelo Machado, is a black belt 5 degrees under Royler Gracie and, at that time, Royler and my brother were partners at an academy, that, at that time, had the largest mat of the whole Rio de Janeiro. It was called Gracie Tijuca, the name of the neighbourhood of the academy. So, since my brother had a lot of students, we talked and decided to start manufacturing only for his students our gi’s, that, in the beginning, were called Herculys Kimonos (Hercules). This was back in 1994. But, dealing with those kinds of weaves was not what we thought it would be. It was much harder and it required a lot of expertise. So, we went everywhere (Marcelo and I) and were able to talk to experts because we had a lot of influential people helping us get to them, especially one of my aunts, sister of my mother. So, in the area of manufacturing, we researched a lot, until, finally, we, again, with the help of our aunt, found a place that tested fabric for different purposes. We talked to the manager there and explained our problem: that we were buying the right weaves, but they would still rip. So, he explained to both of us, that even silk could be stronger than a gi weave depending on the way it was woven! So, big check mate for us after all that time! So, we started asking for our fabric maker to use a special type of weave pattern (very strong one). And so he did and we came out with the best Brazilian jiu-jitsu gi that anyone has ever seen or worn. As people know, my gi’s last for years. Some well over ten years!
At that time, academies were very segregated and people from one academy would not be friendly to someone from a rival academy. Since my brother was related to the Gracie Humaita academy (the academy of Helio, Rickson an Royler), I was the one who, fortunately for me, that love people and love to sell, was the chosen one to go to every other academy and make friends with everyone from jiu-jitsu and sell the gi’s. That for me, was a present, since I LOVE people, BJJ and gi’s. Nothing could be fit me better! So, that’s the way it grew around the whole world, especially in Brazil, of course. But when I lived in Rio (we didn’t have a website, our gi’s were famous because at the World Championship in July of every year that occurred in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the vast majority of Brazilians ONLY wore my gi’s), I sold to America a little bit, to Europe also a little bit, but a lot to Japan, that time.
MKimonos was the first big Gi brand I can remember, back in the 1990s, You sponsored a lot of the big names. The brand set the standard for the Jiu Jitsu kimono industry out there today, how do you feel about the MKimonos’s legacy in the fight gear industry and about being part of BJJ’s birth as an international sport?
|Xande Ribeiro sporting a M kimono|
Wow, it is always an honour when people consider my brand part of Jiu-Jitsu history. I feel privileged for my brand to be worn by so many great fighters in historic matches. The growth of the sport is not something I think I could have predicted, but yes, my gi’s contributed to the creation of the standard of how a BJJ gi should look. I don’t think any of us back in 1994 would have thought there would be hundreds of BJJ academies all over the world, international tournaments even outside Brazil, Abu Dhabi, etc. It has been a great adventure. Of course, I always stop and think, that without Jiu-Jitsu and MKimonos, I would not have met my husband (he was my customer from the US, without even knowing me!) and would not have had my greatest joy in life, my son, Tyler. Now my son trains and wears my gi! It makes me extremely proud! My son wearing me!!! Imagine that!?! It’s all that I ever wanted closing full circle… And one day, my son that loves BJJ, muay-thai and MMA and loves to see my gi being worn by strangers around the world, to see me being recognized somewhere, he gets so proud of me and his Machado name and I know that all of this that I am constructing will be his one day and this is my biggest joy to imagine!
You have come back to sponsoring active BJJ fighters such as Samir Chantre. Is this strategy something you will invest more in the future?
|Saulo Ribeiro wearing a older M kimono model|
Well, sponsoring is always a very tough subject, you have no idea! Unless I know the athlete well, I have concerns he will not be there for me. They are, many times, still beginners or not famous at all, but they have a promising career and I would start helping to promote the athlete as much as I could and, also always give him gi’s for free (and they are not cheap) and give him my wholesale prices for him to sell my gi’s, and make some good extra money. But, nobody from the public that interests me for my business growth sees him; he’s not in any magazines or anything else at all. For example, one nowadays famous MMA fighter that I truly trusted did exactly this to me, leaving me in a complete “awe”, because of his complete transformation after his first win. But when it’s someone that knows me for years and it’s a friend of mine, the athlete will really represent my brand with love, respect and admiration and that’s what I need. And we’ll talk. And I’ll do the impossible to help him when he asks for something extra. Because I want to help him and he also wants to see my business grow; it’s a very different relationship that I used to have with many of my former athletes. But, nowadays, since I live in Pennsylvania, I don’t know the new ones all personally, so it’s a little bit more complicated to bet on them. So, now I am just focusing on people I like and have got to know. I was sponsoring Xande Ribeiro a short time ago, who is a wonderful person, by the way. But I sponsored him just for events, not for the whole year, etc. And Xande has always been very honest and honourable and great to us. His brother, Saulo Ribeiro, was someone excellent that I used to sponsor for years, because he has love for me and for my brand and even for my family, oh, and I can’t forget his passion for my GI’S!!! He won all his World Tournaments wearing my gi’s! And we are friends for decades and he got his black belt on the same day that my brother Marcelo Machado got his. Saulo used to teach at my brother’s academy for a long time before he moved to the US. Always a great guy and great instructor! Oh, for instance, Murilo Bustamante is another incredible person I sponsored. Someone I can really trust. After the negotiation is done, there are no more problems after that. Not even mentioning Ricardo Liborio, who I used to sponsor and is just someone that any brand would LOVE to sponsor. Did you know that Liborio was voted the most technical athlete at the first ever World Jiu-Jitsu Championship? I also loved to sponsor one person that has one of the most beautiful and technical jiujitsu I have ever seen: Victor Shaolin Ribeiro, who now, has an Academy in New York. He is such a sweet heart, and also, a very easy person to deal with too. Marcio Feitosa was always very clear about what he wanted. I never had trouble with the athletes that were my true friends, never! Royler Gracie, Rockson Gracie, Rodrigo Gracie, Steve Maxwell, Mike Fowler, Leka Vieira, Jared Weiner, Wilson Reis, Robson Moura, Rafael Carino, Regis Lebre, Rodrigo “Minotauro” Nogueira, Leticia Ribeiro, Fabricio “Morango” Camoes, Edson Diniz, all great athletes and great sponsored fighters, among one hundred more that I’m sure I am not remembering at the moment. So, knowing well who you are sponsoring, it’s a very different thing. Besides that, when I sponsor, I look for someone who really represents the sport of jiu-jitsu. And the sport of jiu-jitsu is no joke. I would not sponsor someone that does not act like a professional BJJ athlete and behave just like a punk. Someone who is mean to others, a bully, someone who is not humble and considers himself above the majority just because the majority made him reach the status he did, etc. Someone that is always in the news for being in trouble with the police or in fights on the street, etc. I try to find people to represent my brand that has a lot to do with me. Because my brand and I, nowadays, are basically, one thing. It’s been so long… Already 16 and a half years of my life! And I learned so much about life, people, hard work, determination, relationships, my sense of obligation, my way to deal with people (good or bad), oh, everything!!! I even learned how to say “NO!”; how about that? It’s so much that I’ve learned with MKimonos that if I tell you everything, I would not finish this interview and it’ll be a book instead.
What do you think MKimonos can give BJJ’ers out there that other brands cannot give?
That’s even kind of a funny question for me. MKimonos are made in Brazil, first of all, where BJJ was born. Second, it’s a traditional brand worn by the most respected athletes in our sport. Even Carlinhos Gracie Jr., President of the International BJJ Federation, when I lived in Rio, only wore my gi’s just because he would only accept the quality that I would present to him on my product. I started in this business very young with my brother and we had to learn absolutely everything about weaves, industrial machines (some needed to sew the gi’s, and a different one to do the sleeves, besides the cutting machine that cuts one hundred gi’s at a time), fit of the fabric, comfort, looks, perfection in details, like the crossing on the front that should go to the end of your front side hip if you are wearing the perfect size for you, which products to use to put inside the collar to make them thick but not have the collar all twisted (if the manufacturer puts rubber) if put in the dryer, we had also to learn which threads would be necessary for us to buy for that kind of material and sport, so that the gi would not open on the seam, etc. How to send boxes internationally, talk on the phone with foreigners, when I lived in Brazil (it was always me, since I was the only one who spoke fluent English), how to do the accounting every single day, payments to each one of our employees, insurance for everything and everyone, rental of the place, etc. I even had to learn how to cut a gi with that enormous menacing machine, that I always thought it would cut my hand off! It always freaked me out, but, we gotta do what we gotta do; right? So, if the employee could not go to work, I would be cutting gi’s! Also, I had to learn about exportation taxes here, exportation from Brazil and importation here to the US. Fedex from Brazil and its taxes. Here I had to put together a website, make friends without social media yet (I arrived in the very beginning of 2001! I don’t even know how I made it through) so that I could sell my gi’s. That’s how I started; believe it or not! So, this customer would love my customer service and my gi SO much that he would tell his entire academy about me, and so other people would call me and do exactly the same thing that the first one did. They would also love me and the gi and would tell others that would do the same and that’s the way I did when I arrived here in the beginning of 2001. I was famous in Brazil, my brand was famous in Brazil, I had to do nothing there because everybody only wanted my gi’s and my service. Then, I came here and have to start it all over again from 0. Oh, by the way, I forgot to tell you, that, my brother, when he realized that he would have to work by himself he gave the factory and brand up and would close it. Until I said: “No, I want it!” So, I became the sole owner a little bit before I moved to the US. By the way, I moved to the US because of my husband; we married in Brazil and we went through the whole naturalization process. Nowadays, I take care of the factory which is located very far from me, control expenses, importation, exportation, the rights of all my employees there in Brazil, etc. I have to answer about 80 to 100 emails every single day and also Facebook contacts, there are never less than 100. Google +, Linkedln, and many other websites that I participate in debates about working on your own business, or how to make your business grow, etc. Also, the worst part, prepare the boxes… It’s repetitive and, not at all creative, which is not my type of thing. But… What I love the most in what I do is the daily dealings with people, lots of people around me. And I even have the enormous satisfaction, happiness, even emotion, to everyday, receive many emails just saying: “Hi, Lu!”, and coming back to why you should buy a gi from MKimonos and not the other brands, you’ll have the owner of the company answering to your emails and being a friend to you and, for sure, making you feel much better and stronger at the end of the conversation!!! And being truthful and never in a hurry when it comes to feelings… I also receive so many beautiful poems or one “I Just emailed you today to hear from you. How are you doing this week? Working too much? Try to get some time for yourself; ok?” and much more, that can really make my day so beautiful and so emotional too, when I read these things, of course. Because, basically, all my customers are customers forever and we all become friends! Where else would you find that? Another thing is that whatever I say is available, it means it’s right here with me in my basement. So, usually the customer receives his product between 1 to 5 business days only. So, the customer can feel secure with me because I know it all about my product and I will always be there for him in any circumstance. I know about the fabrics (that the other brands copy me and put the same names on their gi’s in other completely different fabrics and people believe that they are the same because of the name!), I know even about the threads, cuts, sizes, how to wash the gi’s, if or if not to put the gi in the dryer, etc.. (that’s why it’s always better contact me before buying a gi; even with the sizing chart!) And if, any problem whatsoever, that a customer has with one of my gi’s (rarest thing on the Earth), I immediately send him another brand new one and always include a gift with it, like patches, a T-shirt, etc.
And most of all, well, there’s not even comparison! The gi’s nowadays look like pajamas!!! Or they are way too fancied out! BJJ is a traditional type of Martial Art, so the gi’s should be treated with respect and should be manufactured with the only purpose of training and competing. It’s not something that should be flashy, full of patches or tribal details or pockets!!! Pockets??? Camouflage, purple gi, all of them, for me, is the end of the Earth, if we talk about the sport as it being a serious subject, I guarantee that if you ask Murilo Bustamante, Ricardo Liborio, Royler Gracie, Ricardo De La Riva, Jose Mario Sperry, etc, that they’ll agree with me. Gi’s are not clothing, so, all they need to be is comfortable enough inside (not comfortable enough for you to go to bed, though), extremely durable (that’s why my gi’s are more expensive: better fabric, will last much longer) and resistant. And a gi, should give you that sensation that, whenever you put it on, you feel proud of yourself, you feel like a warrior, not a clown…I’m sorry to say that, but I have not been following BJJ for the only first 6 years of my life, so, for me, these flashy things are extremely inappropriate, unnecessary and clownish. And, also, in my opinion, it shows disrespect for our sport… So, good enough? If not, I can keep going here probably for many more pages explaining why you should buy my gi’s and not the other brands’. I KNOW Jiu-jitsu!!! I LOVE jiu-jitsu! I personally know many of the great champions in the world. How about these websites that buy a gi from wherever to resell, and have no clue what it takes to make a gi???? How would they be able to assist a customer properly if they don’t know anything about the subject??? Also, money is never a problem with me. When I see that a person REALLY loves the sport and will wear my brand with honour, of course I can work with him/her about the price!!! That is never a problem for me; I just want, sincerely, to make all my customers, that usually become friends, to have the gi of their dreams and to wear it with pride, feeling like a warrior and develop as much as they would like, in their favourite sport; that’s all!
I heard you are moving MKimono’s head quarters to Asia, why the move, is it a financial opportunity or did you see an opening in the Asian scene for BJJ?
No, not anymore. It was my husband’s company that offered him a job in Hong Kong and we were going to move, but, at the end, we realized that it would not be worth it and decided to stay in the US.
How do you see Brazilian Jiu Jitsu 15 years from now?
Well, that’s the toughest question you asked me, since, unfortunately, I can’t predict the future… It can go two ways. If the parents of the young kids look for the proper academies, where the child or adolescent will learn, besides BJJ, how to respect his or her Masters, rules, learn how to be patient, persevere always no matter what, understand that repetition makes it perfect, and IF the gi business stops with this circus thing, Brazilian jiu-jitsu can still grow worldwide and become the most used form of self-defense in the world!!! But, if all I said goes to the other side, jiu-jitsu will end up seeing as a sport for bullies, impolite people that have no respect for anything or anyone and it’ll end or will be practiced for the ones with the bad intentions. It’ll be shameful to say: “I train jiu-jitsu”; understand what I mean? So, let’s pray that people stop taking it lightly and start seeing how wonderful of a self-defense sport it is and how much they can accomplish with that in every single angle of their lives, so that, our sport can only grow from now on and so, people can become more civilized and peaceful everywhere.
Where do you see MKimonos in the near future? What can we expect from the brand in the not too distant future?
GROWTH, only growth. Because, like I said, when in Brazil, I knew absolutely everybody. Here, I had to restart my business from 0. Having no physical store so that I could meet and get to know my customers and they could try the gi’s on. There I could make it tighter here and there, and we could talk about BJJ and MMA and the fights and the athletes, etc. No, I had to start meeting BJJ people online, I don’t even remember how I started doing that, seriously… Anyway, the only thing I truly know and remember very well is that customers that bought a gi from me, would love me and my product and would tell someone else about his experience, and the other would buy a gi from me and the same would happen. So, here, I got one customer at a time, it was a mouth to mouth business and that’s all! No magazine ads, no media, nothing, just my online store, that is still the same, very friendly and inviting. My idea was that, since nobody knew me here, at least, having a website telling my story and posting some pictures of my life, people would feel closer to me. Imagine that! And that’s what I did when there was no Facebook, Twitter, Google +, etc… So, now, that finally, because of the social media, people are STARTING to know who I am (can you believe that???) and what I do for a living, there’s absolutely no other direction for my business, besides its fast and, hopefully, endless growth, after 16 and a half years of complete dedication and so much love put into it.
Is there anything you would like to say to the MKimono fans out there?
Yes, sure! I would like to thank you all, enormously, for all the support you have been giving me! Some of you, for so long and others, more recently. I want to thank you for your sweet emails and messages, for your “good morning, Lu” , or “I just emailed you to let you know your gi’s are the best and I’ll always be a loyal customer to you”, that so many of you send me daily, bringing me so much joy and, always, tears to my eyes, because, I am just a regular person and I keep asking myself: “Why am I so special that these people care for me so much?” So, I thank you also, very much, for your understanding when I am late with an order because I got sick or my son got sick or like this Monday and Tuesday that the computer broke and I had no way to print. I would like to tell you that I absolutely adore to deal with all of you; because of you, I have the job of my dreams and have had the immense pleasure of meeting so many incredible people, like so many of you, the great majority of my customers. I REALLY love you all and I guess you know that; right? Much peace and hard training! But, never forget to have fun at all times!