Cotton T-shirts splattered with blood, skulls, reapers, and baroque designs have become synonymous with mixed martial arts fashion but Hans Molenkamp isn’t feeling it.
“You can literally pick up a handful of brands that look almost identical to Affliction. These printed shirts have grinded edges and foil,” said Molenkamp. “That’s Affliction’s template. They started it and everyone bit off of it.”
Molenkamp’s company, Triumph*United, appeared to come out of nowhere in September 2007, but in truth he had been involved in the industry for some time. Molenkamp left his position as vice president of marketing at Throwdown Industries in early 2007 and wanted to launch a line rooted in Southern California’s skateboarding culture.
“I don’t wear the super tight, foiled out, ring buds looks with skulls on my shirt,” Molenkamp said. “T*U is 100 percent skateboard influenced: doesn’t have too many things going on; not too ridiculous.” In another nod to skate culture, T*U shirts retail for approximately $24, a lower price point than some brands in the market.
Having worked at Throwdown and trained and competed in muay Thai and Brazilian jiu jitsu, Molenkamp was able to establish a team of MMA influencers including veteran fighters Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, Tiki Ghosn, and hype man/FIGHT! Magazine contributor Ryan Loco. “I have pretty good relationships with many MMA stars, so it allows me access that maybe most can’t get,” said Loco, who is no longer with the company.
While T*U sponsors fighters ranging from Kevin “Kimbo Slice” Ferguson to Kendall Grove to Jason “Mayhem” Miller and even signed Ultimate Fighting Championship president Dana White as a spokesman, Molenkamp wanted to promote the company differently than the standard industry model. “Yeah, [MMA apparel companies] put shirts on fighters and trick the end user in buying their shirts. I don’t know if that’s the best thing to do because I don’t know the longevity of that,” he said.
T*U decided to focus more on the personality of the brand instead of trying to get products seen at retail expos or at fights. Loco said, “We wanted to have people check out our ads, videos and pictures and just blow their mind with how much fun we were having and how we were a family.”
Interviews and videos on Triumphunited.com feature the lighter side of the company’s select group of sponsored fighters. “It’s not often where you will see fighters goofing off at Best Buy, having fun,” Molenkamp said, referring to an unscripted video of Ghosn and “Rampage” at the store.
That family atmosphere includes athlete involvement in just about every aspect of the business from marketing campaign and design ideas to recommendations for new fighter sponsorships and it has earned the new company loyalty from the fighters it works with.
“I’m down with Hans because he’ll tell you like it is. He doesn’t care how famous you think you are,” Jackson said. “That’s the type of guy I like to do business with.”
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