American Fighter is known for their world class contribution to mixed martial arts apparel, with their vibrant designs encompassing stunning visual artistry and a whimsical vibe that is contagious among MMA enthusiasts. FighterStyle had the pleasure of catching up with American Fighter President Jeff Adler to discuss the popular brand’s beginnings, prominent growth, and prosperous future.
The interview began with a look at American Fighter’s beginnings in the industry, focusing on its inception in relation to former UFC Middleweight Champion Rich “Ace” Franklin. The idea for the brand originated in 2003, when Rich Franklin began fighting for the UFC. “We wanted to come up with something that people would visually be able to see on tv but have an impact,” replied Adler. In regards to the name, he responded, “I ultimately came up with American Fighter name from the movie American Pie. I took something people were familiar with at the time, and gave a twist, and it worked.” With Rich Franklin continuing to win his fights, the brand grew, adding more and more designs as they went. Adler states proudly, “That was the recipe for the successful growth of American Fighter.”
Rich Franklin is the “face” of American Fighter, as the fighter that comes to mind when the brand name is mentioned. As for Franklin’s current role in the company, Adler went on to explain: “Rich is my business partner and is equal owner of the brand. We developed it together back in early 2004 to have something for him to wear on TV that would be easy to the eye, but make a statement. At the time I had another business partner and we were just sponsoring Rich for his fights; in 2006 he bought out my business partner and he became an owner of the brand.”
As of late, American Fighter has been undergoing somewhat of a facelift, updating their signature style from clean, basic logo tees into more intricate designs. When asked about the motivation to create these changes, Adler answered, “We wanted a fresh look that was a little more modern and appealing. Since our designs changed we wanted new logos to match the lifestyle art that was coming out. The change in logo and designs has had a tremendous impact on the brand, in a good way.”
The driving force behind these logo and design changes is their recent partnership with the MMA apparel giant, Affliction Clothing. Adler had nothing but uplifting thoughts in regards to the partnership, explaining the positive impact it has had on their growing brand: “They understand fashion trends and saw AF as something that could be a huge force in the clothing industry. The basic logo tees went out for a while and now are coming back in style so we took the basic, clean look of the new logo, added clean artwork and put it all over the tee shirts which gives it the best of both worlds in what is in style and desirable today. Not only are the tee shirts updated but we are now coming out with swimwear, jeans, board shorts, headwear, accessories all for men and woman. Affliction has created more than 100 product SKU’s in just a year and more coming out.”
Affliction has played a large role in the considerable growth that the company has experienced in the last year or so since the partnership. American Fighter will continue to expand within the world of MMA apparel, and Adler attributes this growth to Affliction’s function in both production and sales and marketing of the brand, by saying, “It has been the key to the re-birth of AF and we have done more sales in 6 mos then we have in the last 6 years. Affliction is a great company with great people and our relationship with them is outstanding.”
Adler had more to say when it came to the key to their successful growth recently, naming Affliction as having played a large role in it: “The key is that we partnered with Affliction Clothing and they have helped take American Fighter to the next level and we are just getting started. We have also made the brand a higher quality product with premium materials and printing, which gives it a more fashion oriented theme. Affliction came on board in March of 2011, and with several months of planning and re-designing, AF has hit the shelves in all of the Buckle stores around the country and have commitments to other major retailers as well as being in over 15 countries and hundreds of smaller retailers in the U.S.”
In its earlier stages, American Fighter was a do-it-all type of brand, opening gyms, sponsoring fighters, and even looking to develop a shoe brand at one point. They are focusing more on the apparel line these days, as their concept revolves more around the clothing than other aspects. Adler explains the motivation behind that decision, while remaining positive about the future:
“We currently have two gyms but we are phasing those out because it’s not the direction we want to go at this point. Although our gym owners are great and have represented the brand very well, we are saying goodbye to that part of the company and moving strictly into higher end apparel. We will always support the sport and the fighters that train hard everyday.
In regards to the fighter sponsorship that we’ve seen from American Fighter in the past, Adler regards the past, present, and future of the brand in an inspiring statement, first listing many of the fighters whom have been sponsored in the past, such as Rich Franklin, of course, Matt Hamill, Sean Sherk, Tim Sylvia, Keith Jardine, Karo Parisyan, Jeremy Stephens, Jorge Gurgel, Dustin Hazelett, Rick Roufus, and many others. He went on to say: “AF is currently not sponsoring any fighters due to the resources being put into re-branding thru design development, marketing research, etc., so we are putting our resources into that. AF is now a brand for all sports and all people fighting for something in their lives, so MMA is just an arm of that and no longer the heartbeat. We will ultimately be working with athletes from many other sports.”
American Fighter is much more than just another MMA apparel brand trying to make it big. They actually have roots in other organizations that support MMA on a completely different level. The Keep It In The Ring Foundation, or Kiitr, was developed by the American Fighter team; the foundation advocates non-violence and builds character in the younger generation. After school sports, martial arts, and life skills programs are a few of the outlets available through Keep It In The Ring. Adler explains the background story of the foundation, as well as its hopeful future: “Kiitr was developed by our team to help promote the sport in a positive light. This all happened around the time where people didn’t really understand the sport and we wanted to develop a foundation that supports kids in the martial arts and mixed martial arts. Today, the sport is much more accepted and I think that Kiitr along with hundreds of other organizations educating people around the world helped bring that to light. Kiitr has donated a lot of money and time to organizations that specialize in youth and we are still around, although with the re-birth of AF, we haven’t been able to focus as much on the foundation but we are getting back to that. We are currently looking for someone with experience in running foundations to help take this organization to the next level, as we did with American Fighter. We always want to give back and will always be a part of who we are.”
The American Fighter company has also had prominent ties with military support organizations, and they still remain active within the military, via donations, fighter visits, and other types of support. Adler describes their commitment to supporting the military, and sheds some light on how the idea came about: “Rich, myself and our business manager JT thought AF would be a great fit for the military so we have supported them the whole time and they have supported us right back. We have donated a lot of products and time to our troops overseas and stateside. Rich has gone to several military bases overseas and here in the states over the last several years. He is currently slated to go to Bahrain to visit Navy bases. This will be the third one he has done in conjunction with Navy Entertainment in the last couple of years. We have involved other UFC fighters in this type of event as well and will continue to support the military forever.”
The interview ended on a confident note, prompted by the question, “Where do you see American Fighter in 5 years? 10?” Adler confidently stated with pride, “American Fighter will be a premium apparel company competing with higher end brands like Ed Hardy, Obey, Hurley, etc. We are already in the door and competing with brands like that and doing very well. We are confident that the name “American Fighter” along with the lifestyle look and the resources from Affliction, that AF will become a top premium apparel brand for the next 5, 10, 15, 20 years to come.”
Now a brand name synonymous with whimsical, clean, and vibrant designs, American Fighter is fast becoming a trend-setter in the world of MMA apparel. They set themselves apart with not only a remarkable sense of style, but also with their class and appeal behind the scenes. From ties to the military to their role in the Keep It In The Ring foundation, this is a company that people, especially MMA fans, want to get behind. With their unprecedented growth and success in the industry, fans should keep their eyes peeled to see what American Fighter does next.
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Editor’s Note: FighterStyle wants to sincerely thank American Fighter President Jeff Adler for taking time out of his busy role to speak with our writer, Michelle Goede. Adler was positive, in-depth, and timely, and it was nothing but a pleasure to interview him to gain a better perspective into American Fighter as a brand. We wish both Adler and American Fighter the best of luck in the future, and we cannot wait to see what they come up with next. Thank you.