A Surprising View Into Women's Jiu Jitsu Gear
Meet Randall Roberts of Toronto, Ontario. He’s been training in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu for over 4 years, and a purple belt under Elliott Bayev of Open Mat Mixed Martial Arts. Randall is also the owner of Grapple Gear, a Canadian source of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu gis, rashguards, streetwear, and other fight gear, with a unique mission: He’s been trying to develop an equal opportunity brand, with availability for everyone who trains. He speaks of the lessons he’s learned below:
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My background in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu has been a bit unusual in that there are quite a few women who train with me. I’ve been floored in the past when I meet other guys who’ve been around long enough to get a purple belt, and had never even trained once with a woman. As a smaller guy, a lot of my training partners are women, so one of the things I kept seeing over and over was how difficult it was for them to find gear that fit them properly.
I started Grapple Gear because I wanted to build something that gives back to the BJJ community. I’ve been very fortunate in my life so far, and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu has been a huge part of what shaped my outlook on life, my lifestyle, and even my career. I wanted to build something 100% equitable - starting with the same amount of choice and selection for men & women alike. I started asking around, specifically to the women I knew in Jiu Jitsu:
“What do you find fits you well?”
I asked about brand preferences, sizes, cuts, & common issues - anything I could think of. The answers I got should’ve been my first warning - they were all totally different. I had no idea what a complex world I was about to walk into. I solicited several suppliers and started ordering right away, naively thinking it was as simple as ordering A-fits for men; F-fits for women.
The first thing that blew me away was that even with distributor access, I simply couldn’t get anything from many suppliers. Even if they had women’s gear, the products might be displayed in their catalogs, but there just wasn’t inventory. It was astoundingly difficult to make orders with as many options for women as there were for men - it still is. After making several backorders, and waiting patiently, we’ve come along slowly, but Grapple Gear still isn’t as 50/50 as I’d like.
The real lesson came once the orders started rolling in though. I simply had no idea how difficult women’s sizing could be until Susan* contacted me. She was fairly new to the sport, and since Grapple Gear was local, she asked for help figuring out her size. Eager to help, I made myself available and we ended up having her try on nearly every gi Grapple Gear carries, in multiple sizes.
You know what my first experience with a gi was? I put it on, the sleeves were a bit long, so I got the next size down. End of story. My second, third and fourth gis, I just ordered the same size, and they fit fine, despite all being from different manufacturers. I didn’t have to think about whether I could do a full squat in them, my hip-to-butt ratio, the size of my thighs… I put it on, and the waist size was either correct, or it wasn’t.
Susan ended up finding something that fit, but had to mix & match men’s fits and women’s fits, and go through several sizes before finding something that worked for her. This was no one-off, either. Later, her friend Tammy* also made the same request, and we went through the same process for no-gi gear. Multiple sizes, manufacturers, and cuts.
For example, “Men’s” and “Women’s” cuts in rashguards is a bit of a misnomer - it’s often as little as the difference between a crew neck or a v-neck. Women often complain of rashguards rolling up their sides, whereas I’ve never had to even think about that. Making a rashguard pink is not what deems a female cut!
The lack of availability of true women’s sizing is pretty incredible. We’ve set out to specifically carry a wide selection of women’s fits at Grapple Gear, and believe it or not, women have actually made up over 60% of our customers thus far thanks to those efforts (Take that, Ralek Gracie!). Yet, it has still been incredibly difficult. What little is out there is often in such small quantities, it’s nearly impossible to keep in stock, and some manufacturer’s cuts are often not true to women’s actual shapes.
I feel like there’s definitely a growing movement for women’s representation in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Dominyka Obelenyte has done an excellent job speaking out about prize money lately, Metamoris took a lot of heat for not having female matches, and here in Canada, we’re seeing David Aguzzi encourage a growing women’s division by offering free entries to all women at certain Grappling Industries events, and Cat Clarke including women’s matches in his showcases. The efforts are showing, but I don’t know that I’ve ever seen someone point out just how hard it is to find women’s gear in this sport. Who is championing this? Because as a man, this blew me away - I was clueless.
As for Grapple Gear, we’ve now taken to ordering even more variety & sizes, and are much more pro-active about special orders, and taking requests. Even the “Men” & “Women” menus on the website went through enormous internal discussion, and several opinions & considerations were taken from our customers as well (eg: You wouldn’t believe how many companies shove “Women” in there as if they’re a product - “Gis”, “Rashguards”, “Shorts”, “Women”). Despite all the communication, the gender categorization is still very likely to change as we get more feedback. We’re constantly tweaking.
There’s still a lot left to be desired. I don’t claim to be an expert, but this is one guy who now finally gets it when women in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu talk about just how difficult it is to find something that fits. My eyes have been opened.
*Name changed for privacy