White double-weave cotton has had a chokehold on martial arts wear for more than a century, but a pair of Kiwi entrepreneurs are planning to shake up the ring by introducing a revolutionary range of performance fightwear.
After five years of development—including a lengthy collaboration with AgResearch—a perfect collision of technical talent and international business cred has seen Lavinia Calvert and Grant Scott, owners and founders of Dunedin-based startup Gimono, launch an alternative to the traditional cotton gi. Calvert says although martial arts have become mainstream, the uniform hasn’t kept up with the times. It may stand up well to the repeated stress of grabbing and throwing, but fails miserably from a comfort perspective; heavy and stiff to wear, it absorbs moisture quickly while being slow to dry.
Manufactured in Christchurch and available in white, black, red and blue, the gimono is set to change all that.
The pair now own the intellectual property for a lightweight knit known as Fortitude, blending the strength of polyester on the outside of the garment with a soft, breathable wool inner layer. While AgResearch may have handled the scientific development, the concept is entirely Calvert and Scott’s.
Although Gimono represents a substantial investment for the couple, it wasn’t entered into lightly. Scott is an instructor and black belt in judo trained in a variety of styles, while Calvert’s business savvy has been honed over 15 years of international experience, most recently as Reuters’ global head of strategy and marketing.
The concept for the Gimono range was born in 2005, one summer afternoon in Japan. Daily training sessions left Scott grappling with the shortcomings of the gi: “uncomfortable, hot and awkward to launder.” Says Calvert: “It was just a classic case of, ‘Why hasn’t someone already done this?’”
After returning to New Zealand and conducting market research to see if it was a universal problem, the couple set out to create a line of high-performance apparel.
“We’d done a fair amount of research beforehand and thought we could buy fabric off the shelf.” They thought wrong. Armed with a hefty list of criteria the pair set out to find a suitable textile, evaluating fabric samples from all around the world—including hemp, cotton and flax—before contracting AgResearch to develop a purpose-built material tailored to their vision. Sustainability was one of those requirements.
“In New Zealand and Australia we’re quite well educated on the benefits of wool,” Calvert says, “and farmers are welcoming another application for merino.”