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Roots of Fight: Telling the Stories of the World’s Most Iconic Figures

Roots of Fight has collaborated with Boardroom on an apparel and streetwear collection that carries on the brand’s ethos of highlighting icons — here’s their story.

Leading apparel, lifestyle, and media brand Roots of Fight started with a crazy chance encounter.

In 2009, Jesse Katz was running a successful brand strategy and consulting group called Copasetic Creative out of Vancouver while helping a friend out with a project. That friend? Muhammad Ali’s longtime family lawyer, who asked Katz if he wanted to meet the boxing GOAT. Ali and his team needed branding help, Katz’s friend explained, and could use Katz’s expertise and acumen.

“When we got to Muhammad’s business, they were terribly mismanaged,” Katz told Boardroom. “They were reeling from the economic meltdown of 2008 and the timing worked out. People were basically trading hundreds of millions of dollars of brand value for $5, $10, $15 million worth of little, shitty business deals. So we gave them our recommendations and repositioned their brand strategy, licensing, and partnerships and they went with us.”

The success with Ali directly led to Katz being introduced to Bruce Lee’s family, Mike Tyson, and NFL legend Jim Brown, cutting through years of going through gatekeepers and intermediaries. For a humble kid from British Columbia, it was a thrill to work with his childhood heroes and to have these families entrusting the company with their legacies. From that incredible quartet, Roots of Fight now works directly with some of the most resonant names in sports and culture to make quality, affordable apparel they and their families can be proud of.

On Tuesday, Roots of Fight announced a collaboration with Boardroom featuring clothing and apparel that pulls inspiration from basketball and timeless streetwear. The partnership has been fostered and forged over time through a friendship between Katz and 35V co-founder and CEO Rich Kleiman. 

“Boardroom is at the forefront of a new wave of communicating and reporting from the intersection of sports, business, and culture,” Katz said. “A lot of the people that we represent were the groundbreakers in those fields, whether it was Kevin Garnett or Allen Iverson. It’s a really interesting collaboration opportunity to infuse a little bit of our ethos, aesthetic, and style into what Boardroom is doing.”

The ROF team came up with the idea of starting what he called “an anti-brand,” making a covetable product that leaned on an icon’s name or a signature moment of their legendary careers, like “Thrilla In Manila” or “Rumble in the Jungle” for Ali. Together, they aimed to capture the public conscience or cultural significance without depending on a brand name.

“The product was just going to be the icon,” Katz said. “It was just a passion project to try and help keep their legacies alive and their stories going.”

The apparel was originally made out of the back of the agency and handed out to famous friends who loved Ali, Lee, or Tyson. These early products were never meant to sell commercially but started popping up in celebrity circles despite a lack of marketing or advertising.

That began to change in 2013 when Katz’s office received a call from Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who ended up becoming a partner in Roots of Fight before signing with Under Armour a few years later.

“He said, ‘You have to do this. This is important work. You have to stop what you’re doing,'” Katz said. “‘Your agency sounds great and you’ve got really big clients and you’re making money, but it’s not doing anything for the world. This is something that’s important and can change the world in a major, positive way.’”

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Katz was reluctant to shift his focus from the agency to go into retail. After all, he was finally seeing major wins after decades of work. But he and his team began producing inexpensive vintage shirts featuring beer brands like Coors, Molson, and Budweiser to major retailers like Urban Outfitters, Nordstrom, and Macy’s and turned into a multi-million dollar licensing business, which proved that Roots of Fight could do the same with some incredible partners.

Roots of Fight prides itself on respecting and rightfully representing the legacies of legends. Through the years, this list has begun to read like a cultural hall of fame with names like Joe Frazier, Jack Johnson, Pele, Walter Payton, Babe Ruth, CC Sabathia, Ken Griffey Jr., Jackie Robinson, Roberto Clemente, Jesse Owens, Jim Thorpe, Wilma Rudolph, Malcolm X, Maya Angelou, and Rosa Parks.

“These are all groundbreakers, game-changers, and world-changers, all here not for the money. They’re all here for legacy and storytelling,” Katz said. “The interesting component that draws a lot of these people in, not only are the relationships authentic with the families getting the money directly instead of a league or an intermediary that takes most of it.”

All these icons are now under one roof, an exclusive group in which members generally knew each other, but always loved and inspired one another. Now, they’re shining a light on one another. 

Roots of Fight strives to deliver beautiful art and storytelling that the world’s iconic figures and their families will be proud of. This is done through transparency via simple contracts that ensure they’re all fully protected and get a creative say in how they’re represented and what gets put out into the world. Katz and Roots of Fight additionally strive to represent those whose legacies may be underrepresented, especially superstars from communities of color whose achievements need to be kept alive.

These days, Roots of Fight is only direct-to-consumer through one website, with 90% of sales coming from the US, connecting each of these incredible figures to their own history in a meaningful way.

“We touch on the things that are important to them and make sure that the finished product is something that makes them proud,” Katz said.

Roots of Fight is connected to a group of 500 A-list athletes and celebrities who share these products with the world and communicate their histories to young people to drive home why they’re so important.

“All of these people changed the world and did it in the face of incredible adversity, hatred, and racism,” Katz said, “and their stories are important and underrepresented. And if we can get famous current athletes and celebrities who have young fan bases to share these positive stories and positive histories, it can have a great impact.” 

This unique approach has earned the trust of some of the biggest culture-changers the world has ever seen — one Roots of Fight should be proud of, and one Boardroom is proud to now partner with.

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