While women in combat sports are finally starting to get their well-deserved props, the industry still has ladies fucked up in many aspects. One of which being their swag-but Juliana Cardona is putting an end to that.
“There’s all of these misconceptions and stereotypes on what you have to be as a woman in combat sports and I just wanted to erase all of that.”
From an early age, Cardona was inspired by her mom’s passion for fashion. The Colombiana moved to Miami with dreams of taking over the legal game and got her associates degree in criminal law. When working as a legal assistant wasn’t fulfilling Cardona’s creative steez, she started her own fashion blog highlighting her style posted up on the streets of Wynwood.
After getting married to a martial artist, Cardona found herself spending more and more time at the Muay Thai gym her husband opened, sparking an itch that led her to collab a love of fighting and fashion.
“I’ve been with my husband since 2001 and he’s always been into Muay Thai and opened up a Muay Thai gym a couple of years ago. Once he opened it up, I had to be involved as a supportive wife, so I would go and help him out and do all of the billing, etc. I had a little health problem, but once I got out of that I was able to start training.”
After a bad car accident and several jaw surgeries, Cardona has to be careful while training but it hasn’t stopped her from training day in and out while working a 9-5. Becoming a student of the sport felt less like work and more like fate.
“Honestly, I just fell in love with Muay Thai. I fell in love with the whole gym feel, it’s not like your regular gym, it’s a family. You build this bond and I guess punching and kicking each other makes you love each other more.”
Let’s face it, feeling comfortable and stylish in your workout clothes is important, especially when you’re spending two plus hours training a day. When Cardona noticed that more and more women were signing up for classes and the lack of gear for women in combat sports, she knew it was time.
“Once I started to go more, I started to kinda feel like ‘man there’s really not a lot for girls in Muay Thai?’ In Muay-Thai there are so many cool shorts but I didn’t want to wear skulls or have everything in black and red or have a cage in the middle of my shirt. I kept complaining to my husband that there was nothing cool for girls and one day he told me to do something about it.”
Cardona spent over eight months doing her homework on various brands and learning more about the industry. While the representation of women fighters in major combat sports promotions has increased, industry-dominating brands like Tapout and Affliction still cater to the male market.
“I kept researching other apparel and fight gear companies and thought they all had the same feel. I kept thinking in my head that there had to be girls out there like me that love combat sports but probably can’t fight, are girly, wear heels and weren’t willing to dress like boys at the gym. Fashion is such a huge expression everywhere, why not bring it to the gym? Not all girls want to wear the same shirts as the guys or black hand wraps.”
Similar to other industries, women in combat sports are often placed into patriarchal categories and not given the same elasticity as their male peers.
In MMA for example, the light shined solely on Ronda Rousey for years, insinuating that every other woman was inferior and that there wasn’t room for other successful female athletes to stand next to her.
“At the time, I had a lot of girls at our gym and we’re all really close. A lot of combat sports gyms have girls but they’re not close and I even had a girl tell me ‘This is this first time I’ve come to a gym and didn’t feel like I had to compete against other girls straight off the bat’. I’ve always wanted that feel in the gym.
I wanted girls to get here and feel like we can all help each other, not that they had to strive to be the top queen of the gym. That’s how we got the ‘Girl Gang’ concept. When a new girl would come in, I would introduce them to everyone, so everyone felt like it was a family. I really wanted that girl gang feel, it’s all of us together. If one of us makes it, all of us make it.”
A girly-girl at heart, Cardona took inspiration from the eclectic walls of Wynwood and her girl gang at her dojo to cook up dope pieces inspiring a brand that went live online in May of 2017.
Hand-wraps used to protect tender hand muscles are at the core of the online shop alongside tees, tanks, sweaters, patches, and buttons. Girl Gang Wraps drip with neon colors and images of rainbows, cookies, unicorns, or the good ol’ finger telling you to “fuck bad vibes.”
”I just thought that it needs to be colorful, it needs to be girly, and unapologetically feminine but with a twist of I’m still a fucking badass.
Building a brand while having a 9-5 and helping run a Muay Thai gym ain’t easy, and with the help and empowerment of her girl gang, putting in the extra hours just seems right.
“My brand is so new, I need to grind. I have to be up at 2:00/3:00 in the morning writing down ideas.”
As the sports industry and society continue to make strives for equal representation, us ladies will always have to grind. In just little over a year, Cardona has established a slick brand motivating girls inside and outside the gym, teaching femmes all over the world to love, support, and empower each other. It’s imperative that we know how to curve the sexist standards society may throw our way.
Whether it’s in a cage or an office, women don’t have to stay in any boxes made for them. We can be smart, sexy and still knock a busta out.
“As cute I wanna be, at the end of the day, I still wanna kick ass!”