Inside BJJ had the chance to interview MKimonos co-founder and owner, Luciana Machado Simon. MKimonos is a sponsor and we greatly appreciate it. However, we think you’ll find the interview interesting. Luciana has a rich history with Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and provides unique insight into what you should consider when purchasing a new gi. Thanks for reading.
Inside BJJ: Tell us about your background? How did you get introduced to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and how did MKimonos get started?
Luciana Machado Simon: First of all, Inside BJJ, thank you for the opportunity to be interviewed. Well, I have a long history with Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. My father, being a doctor, was never into martial arts until he saw and heard many times on TV and in the newspaper, about a very light, small man, that could destroy “giants”. He got very curious about it, of course. After all, what kind of martial arts can do such a thing? He needed to see that with his own eyes (like all doctors) to believe. So, he went to watch one of Helio’s very famous Vale Tudo performances in Rio de Janeiro, where he won against a much bigger guy; a really fantastic thing for that time. My dad, watching everything very closely, realized how intelligent Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu was in using the mechanism of leverage in most of the movements and using the weight of the opponent, not against himself, but with himself. That was the base of the old Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu those days. Beautiful, my father thought! And so he became a fan of the art. After that, easy pick! When my dad finally had his own son, my brother Marcelo, my father had no doubt in choosing which martial art to put him to train. My brother started practicing when he was 5 years old and loved it since the beginning. Although at that time there were no girls practicing BJJ and I was more the ballerina type, I loved it and loved to watch every class and learn about the positions and beautiful takedowns of that time (judo takedowns). I was raised watching it during classes and tournaments. Well, time passed and we grew up. Marcelo, my brother, became partners with Royler Gracie in an academy, having the largest mat in Rio de Janeiro. When he received his black belt from Royler in 1995, he approached me with the idea of starting our own gi brand, but just to sell to his Academy. So, I thought: “why not?”. So, we started small and slow and manufactured gi’s for Gracie academy. We didn’t sell the gi’s at that time. Instead, we would give them out to Marcelo/Royler’s Academy’s (Gracie Tijuca) students and would have them train in them to see what would come out of that. We had some problems with the fabric ripping, cut not being the way it should be, etc. The business was much tougher than we had anticipated, being two young kids and trying to develop something that we had absolutely no background in. All we had was our dream. So, we went to a famous university and after meeting many people, we finally got to the one who sent us to a factory that did tests on fabric and manufactured fabric. Wow, we discovered a gold mine! After many tests and comparisons with other fabrics for many months to come, we were able to get the strong fabrics we have nowadays. That was when, finally, our beloved MKimonos was born and it’s still my pride and joy. After 1 year of my brother and I, our uncle Aristides joined us and remained partners with us for five years. I became the sole owner when I moved to the USA, in the beginning of 2001.
Inside BJJ: There are many gi manufacturers in the market today. What makes MKimonos standout versus the other gis?
Luciana Machado Simon: Well, no… there are many gi resellers nowadays; right? They have never manufactured their own brand products. Also, have you noticed that so much about the gi industry today is about being new and different? What sets me apart is that I am not doing that; I focus on the traditional basics. For over 16 years now, I have been producing designs that are traditional. I give importance to the final product itself and I don’t want to distract people with unnecessary designs and many details I don’t consider essential. I spend more money and time on quality fabrics, construction, and inspection than any other company I know.
Inside BJJ: What should a person look for when purchasing a new gi?
Luciana Machado Simon: That’s a very important question. I see dozens of discussion threads on the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu forums each year, always asking what the best gi is. They always get fifty different responses with fifty different answers. So, here I go with what I know: besides high level quality fabrics and constructions, there are a few other things to take into consideration when buying a new gi, like how much the person trains (frequency), the climate where he/she lives, body type, strength of the gi, comfort that it offers, how long the athlete expects that gi to last, if the person intends to compete or not, etc. I really think that people should think about these things when buying a gi and, also, always stop to analyze where their money is going . A gi will cost X dollars, but customers need to understand that the price is a result of a lot of factors. A gi is just not a gi; they are not all the same and not made the same way either. People don’t stop to think what I go through having to deal with many day-by-day things like dealing with the fluctuation of fabric costs, the rental of the factory place, the local taxes, the salaries I pay to all my employees, how the maintenance of the sewing machines are done and with which frequency (weekly, sometimes twice a week), cost of embroidery and dying, packaging, shipping charges and taxes on top of that, Customs and duties, storage, problems that I have to solve at the factory/employee level, almost daily, etc, etc, etc. And I am not talking here about customers, emails, social media, etc. I know it all seems obvious, but I am sure that no one has stopped to think the difference between someone that manufactures her own gi’s and someone else that just goes and buys them all ready, having no idea what it takes to get it done. Also, it is good to remember that, when we have our own business, we must advertise, sponsor, create and develop new products, participate in promotions or giveways and we always end up giving away gi’s for free to friends and people in need, of course. Oh, there is also money spent in trademark, copyright or other legal expenses; and just to finalize, money spent on website, e-commerce, credit card and bank processing fees, etc. All of these is taken into account when a company prices a gi. Each company will decide to spend more or less in each category or just buy the gi ready and not have to deal with all the hastle. Just make sure you understand what you are buying. Are you buying a 200 dollar gi where the company spends 10% of the cost on actually making the gi and 90% of the cost in advertising and sponsorships? Think of that…
Inside BJJ: What are some simple things someone can do to extend the life of their MKimono?
Luciana Machado Simon: It’s actually quite simple. An MKimono can last an extremely long time (way over 12 years), if you take good care of it. So, repeating what I always say: wash it in cold water and let it hang dry (explained why not to use the dryer at the end of my “Buyer’s Guide” on my website). Also, only use regular detergent, never bleach your gi. If you bleach or use the dryer, these processes will weaken the fabric over time and lead to tears (not to mention that the dryer will shrink it to almost a one size smaller gi).
Inside BJJ: MKimonos recently sponsored Xande Ribeiro. Xande is an international superstar in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Many tournaments do not pay or offer cash prizes for tournament winners. What are your thoughts on this matter?
Luciana Machado Simon: Wow, controversial question! Well, I do not want to seem like I am going against Carlinhos Gracie, but I do think that the major tournaments bring in profit. Between competitor fees, spectator fees, advertising fees, concessions, merchandising and DVD sales, I feel there is money that could be given back to the top tier athletes. If fans desire to see top athletes compete at the Black Belt Level, we should not go against compesating them for placing. I think it is all part of continuing to encourage, develop and promote the sport of BJJ.
Inside BJJ: What can a company such as MKimonos do to better the art of Brazilian jiu-jitsu?
Luciana Machado Simon: I think any company is limited in what it can do. I try to ensure that MKimonos represent people who I feel are good ambassadors of not only my brand, but Gracie Jiu-Jitsu/Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu as a whole. Through supporting them, we are influencing the direction of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. I sponsor very few people and sometimes go years without sponsoring anyone. So it is not a decision I take lightly. Sometimes, while watching Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, I think, “Wow, that guy is really good!” But then when I watch that specific athlete behavior, sportsmanship, how he/shes runs his academy/ies, etc. I decide not to approach that athlete anymore, no matter how great he is at the practicing/competing at BJJ. Even the people that we (my uncle Aristides, my brother Marcelo and I) used to sponsor, but no longer do such as: Marcio Feitosa, Vitor “Shaolin” Ribeiro, Murilo Bustamante, Robson Moura, Leticia Ribeiro and the list goes on and on. And then, only myself (since I am the only owner since I moved to the US in the beginning of 2001): Jared Weiner, Mike Fowler, Xande Ribeiro, Samir Chantre, etc, etc. All are great people and great for the art. I highly recommend you to go train with one of them, if you get a chance.
Inside BJJ: Is there anything in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu you would like to see changed?
Luciana Machado Simon: I am part of the traditional school. I have been part of the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu community for 30 years now. I really feel that I have grown up right alongside Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. When I was a child, I was in the academy watching the closed door training sessions of my brother and Royler Gracie or watching tournaments. When I became an adult and had my MKimonos brand, I was always everywhere, so I watched classes at Nova Uniao, Gracie Humaita’, Barra Gracie, training sessions of the Brazilian Top Team, having Ricardo Liborio (nowadays owner of American Top Team), Murilo Bustamante, Jose’Mario Sperry, Ricardo Arona, Victor Belfort, the Nogueira Brothers, etc. All of these individuals successfully competed in sport tournaments, but also felt a strong belief in training the roots of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (the self defense/street fighting curriculum). I am concerned now that with the number and types of sport tournaments that people are no longer emphasizing the roots of BJJ, that is simply everything that an athlete needs to really be a successful BJJ champion/fitghter, on the mat and in real life: work as much as you can on your basics and, this way, you will know how to defend yourself on the streets! When I was younger, I witnessed the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu vs Luta Livre and other challenge matches. Part of what makes Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu special and potent is the reality aspect. This is what many of the Traditional Martial Arts lost along the way. I do not want to see Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu go the same way. So, while I encourage sport competition, I also find of extreme importatnce that people need to maintain their training for the street as well. You can see that in my list of people I have sponsored over the years: Royler, Saulo, Xande, Shaolin, Liborio, Bustamante, Minotauro, Feitosa, etc. They all were successful sport competitors, but they also are firm believers in the traditional self defense techniques and strategies. While their students do very well in competitions, they still teach self defense in their classes.
Inside BJJ: What is next for MKimonos?
Luciana Machado Simon: My goal is to set the standards for the industry. We created the hybrid weave. It continues to be my most popular gi and is now my only middleweight offering. I just developed the Palladium weave to reenergize the double weave market. I have been amazed at the response I have got from customers on it. I pioneered the Summer weave 15 years ago and will be working on reintroducing that over next few months.
Inside BJJ, thanks again for the opportunity to talk with you. It was a pleasure sharing a little bit about myself and my MKimonos. If anyone has any other questions, they can email me at Luciana@MKimonos.com. Take care you all,