By Jordan Newmark | 13 May 2018
When one finds a product emblazoned with the phrase “Made in U.S.A.” or “100% American Made”, there are a litany of positive, hyperbolic attributes that used to and, maybe, still do jump to one’s mind.
Attributes like integrity, toughness, durability, ingenuity, and quality.
Those phrases are supposed to mean supporting hard work that’s held to an even higher standard and it’s supposed to give a US citizen a jolt of pride.
And there’s a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt in Maine whose made this ideology his brand’s ethos- Pete Roberts of Origin USA.
“If you strip away your own egos, your own political views, it does feel good to say, ‘Hey, this was made in America,’” said Roberts. “We’ve all came from somewhere else. Our grandparents, our great-grandparents established this place and made it work for us.
They had their hands and they had daylight to do what they did and you can dig into that. I made a decision live or die, this is what we’re going to do. I will leave competing to everyone else, I want to change the gear in the game.
Knowing that it hadn’t changed in 500 years, knowing the kimono was still a made out of cotton. When I got back, I made it my mission. Called my buddies up, we got out our chainsaws, cut down some trees, and built a factory. And been pushing ever since.”
Like a Paul Bunyan who knows lapel-chokes, Roberts on a return flight from Abu Dhabi - where he competed in the submission wrestling world championships - devised the direction he wanted to take his company in as well as his life.
The original 7000 square foot, timber frame factory they built in the foothills of western Maine was where Roberts and, his instructor/partner, legendary BJJ black belt Andre “Dedeco” Almeida would see their dream gi created.
Drawing on their decades of experience in the sport, Origin USA’s gis were designed to their specifications focusing on both technique and technology.
“We know how to compete and train and we knew how the gear felt,” said Roberts. “At the World Championships, you compete then you come back into the bullpen. You sit there, wait for your next match, and that could be 5 mins or 45 mins.
As you’re sitting there, you’re cooling down, you’ve got this cotton jacket on and it’s holding all your perspiration in, it cools your skin, you’re cold- then you get called out to fight. Then you go through this whole thing again. It’s just like, ‘This sucks. This gear sucks.’ It’s like wearing a trashbag.
Who wants to go compete in a trashbag? I was like we need to make a multipanel pant that will stay tied around your waist as you compete and train. Then we developed new textiles and researched the fibers we wanted to use, so as you’re training your gear is drying. It never really gets wet. It wicks away the moisture.
When the moisture goes to the outside of your garment, we wanted it to shed. We created these different types of weaves that would do that. We went all in.”
At 39 years old, the University of Maine alum is synthesizing his decades worth of knowledge as a top athlete and as a designer-for-hire into his passion project, which opened an over 20,000 square foot factory this past August only a few miles from the old one. “I always say bite off more than you can chew then find a way to chew it,” said Roberts who is attacking the idea of perfecting gi-making with the added problem of making them entirely in the US.
Clearly, Roberts is well past the game that most brands play - slapping their names on gis made in Pakistan or China - as he is obsessively overseeing the manufacturing of Origin USA’s apparel at their factory in his home state.
Made from Scratch
“We weave, we cut, we sew, our compression textiles are made right here to our specs, we get the raw goods in- we really make everything from scratch,” said Roberts. “Dirt to shirt, field to finish, raw to ready. We make it from scratch.
We make those raw materials into performance fibers. I think the most important thing is we found the old timers who worked in these industries of weaving, yarn, dyeing, pattern making, cutting, and sewing. We found them and they helped us see through this process. It’s a true vertical factory. It’s a pretty amazing place, actually.”
Beyond reinventing the kimono, Origin USA launched a lifestyle apparel line with manifest destiny in their mind. Whether it’s a tanktop or a gi pant, Roberts’ products will carry the same craft and unique guarantee.
“Believe in progression is one of our company’s taglines,” said Roberts. “Progression of the sport, progression of the game, progression of the gear. With our apparel line coming out, we start to make that shift from subculture into the grey into the mainstream with one thing that none of those other brands offer - because they say it’s insane - that’s 100% made in America.
Without compromise. We’re going to chase down Under Armour, choke them from the back, before [Under Armour CEO] Kevin Plank even sees us coming.”