If you are into combat sports you must have noticed Ronda Rousey (the UFC champion who starred in “The Expendables 3”) and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson wearing apparel sporting the faces and names of legends such as Bruce Lee, Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson. You might have also probably noticed that this apparel does not show any brand, which is concealed inside instead.
Welcome to the world of Roots of Fight, a sports fashion brand created in 2009 by Canadians Jesse Katz and Richard Lawley. Both avid boxing and mixed martial arts fans, Katz and Lawley were not very pleased about the usual design and marketing associated with their favourite sports’ apparel, usually featuring skulls and feisty dogs. Hence they decided to create their own brand, but instead of embarking into a typical advertising campaign and use the most common sales channels, they literally reinvented the wheel.
Operating with a limited budget, they started by signing licensing and royalty deals with former champions such as Ali, Tyson and Joe Frazier from boxing and Royce Gracie from the UFC. While keeping their days jobs, in 2012 they launched Roots of Fight with a collection celebrating Ali’s 70th birthday. The following year things started to change for the better for the brand as celebrities such as Beyoncé, Jay Z and Anthony Bourdain began sporting Roots of Fight apparel, until “The Rock” bought 50 shirts in 2XL and 3XL. The good thing about this is that none of the above testimonials were ever paid a single cent by Roots of Fight.
What is the secret behind the brand’s success? It probably lies in the use of powerful iconic personalities like Lee, Ali and Tyson, giants who have inscribed their names in the history of sports and who people love to be associated with. The brand also sells its apparel mainly online (thus cutting distribution costs) and makes heavy and effective use of social media channels.
Speaking to the online magazine Adweek, Katz said about Roots of Fight: “We’re a discovery brand completely. You don’t know who we are—or where we came from. We kind of see ourselves as brand custodians for all of the fighters we work with. We’re treating their brands like an agency. We’re building their brands for them. We’re treating them with respect. We’re connecting them to their fans—and to their own histories and stories.”