By Jordan Newmark | 22 May 2019
It’s the driving force and presiding ethos behind Scramble Wrestling Gear, a burgeoning brand for affordable and high quality wrestling apparel based out of The Garden State.
“Wrestling is a mind game,” states Scramble co-founder Stephen Kolankowski. “You can beat someone before you even get on the mat with how you look. Me and buddy used to say, ‘If you look good, you feel good, you wrestle good.’ That’s a big thing to us. That’s why our slogan is ‘scramble in style’.”
Passion, Experience and Style
From colorful singlets to padded leg sleeves, Kolankowski is taking two decades worth of experience in the sport from youth wrestling to competing as a 3x varsity starter at Passaic Valley High School to being an assistant coach at three different high schools in his home state of New Jersey and putting it all into his passion project of providing fashionable swag that is comfortable and durable enough for the everyday wrestler. And Skramble’s prices won’t break the bank.
“I saw bigger companies out there charging a ridiculous amount for things that wrestlers need everyday, especially wrestlers who are in high school.” explains Kolankowski. “If you are a wrestler, wrestling is your job. You can’t have a side job. I tried to do that in high school, go from wrestling practice to a job and it was miserable.
You’re exhausted from practice and then to try and go do 5 hours at a job?
It was pretty crazy. That was one of the main reasons I started the business was to not only give affordable gear to the well-off wrestlers out there, but to the everyday wrestlers. You don’t have to be a state champ or be a top tier wrestler to have nice things that are quality and affordable.”
Scramble Was Born Out of Need
The journey to being a small business owner started in April of 2018 with a message to a friend, fellow wrestler and coach, Chris Lantz. Four months later, the pair who had been coaching wrestling together for the past five years created the @scramblewrestling Instagram account.
Two months later, they were selling stickers for $1.50 a piece and then came a t-shirt. At first, all sales were through direct messages and Venmo, but as account grew they started an online store www.scramblewrestlinggear.com. Nowadays, the shop offers over 30 products like their most popular leg sleeve knee pad to full sweatsuits, compression shirts and shorts, singlets for men and women, MMA fight shorts, and a backpack to name a few.
“Wrestlers judge what other wrestlers are wearing,” affirms Kolankowski. “And shoes are definitely something they judge them by.
When we were making a bookbag and in the process of getting samples and finding a good design, I have a couple people who I trust their opinion and they won’t tell other people what we’re doing and I asked them what would they change and they said, ‘I want a strap on the outside to show off my shoes.’ And I’m like, ‘You’re going to hang your shoes (these are high school kids) on the outside?’ And they’re like, ‘Yeah, I want everyone to see my nice shoes.’ (laughs) Yeah, I guess that makes sense.
For me, I want to keep my nice shoes in the bag because I don’t want them to get ruined, but they want to hang them outside for everyone to see what they have.”
Scramble’s quick success is in no small part to both the power of social media and Kolankowski’s knowledge of it. The Instagram account has steadily gained traction, currently at 28.5k followers, with its unabashed love for the sport like posting highlights of mat returns and takedown technique videos- it’s a celebration of wrestlers wrestling at all ages.
And for those who support Scramble, Scramble supports back with reposting of pictures of wrestlers in their Scramble gear on their feed or in their stories, frequent giveaways, and Kolankowski is quick to answer questions about the products.
Winning In Style
“We had a kid in Alaska who had won state’s, their season ends at the beginning of December, so he had won state’s and he was wearing the kneepads and I posted the picture and it got something like 4,000 likes,” tells Kolankowski.
“I DM'ed him and he was like, ‘I got almost 900 followers from that picture.’ I have no problem putting kids on our social media for supporting us and in return us supporting them. It’s the best high in the world seeing something you produced on a kid in a video or somebody sends me a post of a kid on a podium first place, third place, fifth place - whatever, but they’re wearing something that I put my heart into and they’re enjoying it.”
Beyond the hoodies and headbands, the 30 year old third grade teacher who moonlights as an sports apparel guru is a true-believer in wrestling’s ability to mold a person into a stronger one physically and mentally. “What I found out with wrestling is, what I put into the sport I got back,” affirms Kolankowski whose most trying season was his sophomore one where he cut from 130 pounds to 112 to make the varsity roster.
“I realized after that if I could do that, I can do anything in life. If I could go through two to three hour wrestling practice, there’s not many things harder than that while cutting and wrestling for a varsity spot.
When I was coaching the kids, I would always tell the kids that wrestling is not for everyone, it takes a certain mental toughness and it takes a certain type of person to do wrestling.”
The Future Is Scramble
The sky’s the limit for Scramble as they’ve done custom orders for several New Jersey college club teams, sponsored their first wrestling tournament in North Carolina, and sponsored a couple MMA fighters, but, first and foremost, Kolankowski is enjoying the ride putting out products he’s tested and stands behind.
“We’re looking to throw a bigger tournament in the summer, make it a nationals tournament,” offers Kolankowski. “We’ve done clinics, I’m looking to do more clinics as well. I’m looking to do anything, but I don’t want to spread myself too thin. I want to establish the gear. I’m not in any rush. I’m still young, God forbid, I’m not going anywhere. I plan on disrupting the industry for awhile.”
Check them out at Scramble Wrestling Gear and follow them @scramblewrestling on Instagram.
All images sourced from Scramble.com