So all the GiFreak work has me paying even more attention to brands and marketing. There’s an up and coming brand—Inverted Gear—whose logo smacked me in the face as soon as I saw it on a gi sleeve. It’s a cuddly, achromatic, deliberate, Chinese break from the aggressive, industrial, Nippo-Brazilian logos that most companies and schools present to the public. The logo? An upside down panda.
Brand recognition is a big deal and an aspect of marketing that companies spend large amounts of money to measure and properly implement, but BJJ is a small niche where that kind of time, capital and effort probably isn’t going to be invested, so me saying that Inverted Gear’s panda is possibly the most easily recognizable logo in the world of BJJ gis is based off my own gut reaction and that of people when the panda first premiered. Because of that reaction (a cross between “Awww!” and “Awesome!”), I had to contact the head of the company (Nelson Puentes) and find out what was up with the upside down panda.
Apparently, he was working on a lagartixa (gecko) sweep, which he was originally introduced to by a friend as being done from “panda guard”. After working it a few successful times in competition, his students started calling him “Panda”. Later, at purple belt level, when his students started asking him to make a patch that incorporated the panda, he decided to veer off the angry-animal path. The logo was used on a few shirts and after seeing the shirts at tournaments, people started asking if they could buy them (that’s the power of a good logo right there).
Nelson tells me that the panda even acts as some sort of furry, inverted Rorschach, with some people seeing an animal interpretation of the Taijitu, some seeing the panda as the simultaneous beginner and expert and others seeing pandas embodying the constant and endless evolution of BJJ. The truth? The panda survived into Nelson’s entrepreneurial endeavors because they invert themselves and are gentle, sometimes technical creatures despite their weight and strength.
Thanks to Nelson at Inverted Gear for taking the time to talk.