Jay Ross’s online persona is primarily defined by his humor, his artwork, and of course, his clothing brand Bangarang. The clothing is a mix of fight life, street style, and pop culture, defining the way fighters, combat sport enthusiasts, and martial artists alike dress. It’s wild, eclectic, clever--from metal pins with a woman dripping in sweat proclaiming MUAY THAI MAKES ME WET to a rashguard compiled completely of JiuJitsu memes to a crop top of a big open mouth with juicy lips and a mouthguard that says SAVAGE to his newest drop--a t-shirt with hands in prayer position, wrapped and ready to fight, with both middle fingers up. The front says PRAY FOR MY ENEMIES.
In person, Ross is just as funny, but in a quiet, under-your-breath kind of way. A man who is focused on growing his business and brand, he doesn’t post very many photos of himself, beyond his Instagram avatar. He wasn’t hard to spot though, as we made our trek over the Williamsburg Bridge. Wearing the PRAY FOR MY ENEMIES t-shirt and Bangarang’s “Mick” Bomber Jacket, which proudly states EAT LIGHTNING, CRAP THUNDER, Ross was good-humored as he posed for photos in the rain.
“I’m usually the one behind the camera,” he says with a grin as he adjusts his jacket. “I’m not used to being in front of it.” Ross had recently photographed fighters from Evolution Muay Thai on the Brooklyn Bridge and found himself being shot on another NYC landmark within a few weeks. However, it’s important to him that Bangarang represents New York City.
“The designs come from me and I'm a product of New York City,” he says. “I was born here and grew up here. I feel like I make designs I would wear myself and that’s what makes it authentic. If I am authentic to myself, then the product will be good. That’s what I hope anyway. I want to represent the City as best I can. Also, we print a lot of black-colored clothing and New Yorkers love black.... It’s my favorite shade of color.”
Many of Ross's "models" are fighters and martial artists. He realized that much of the clothing geared to their subculture wasn't what necessarily fit their style.
“The role I play in this is to fill a void in a place that’s empty," he says. "I see a lot of brands doing the same things and making the same choices for what they think people want to wear. That’s great for people who are into that style. That stuff never really fit my vibe. I wanted to create a brand that people would want to wear outside the gym and not look like a Nascar or a pile of barbed wire and battle axes. Something in line with the current streetwear aesthetic and not specifically made for gym use.”
Partnered with Zach Lipari of the acclaimed and rapidly growing Superare Fight Goods, Ross sees their working relationship like, “Zach is like the record label and I’m signed to it. I create a bunch of stuff and the ones he likes go on the album. A lot of stuff goes unseen or put out on social media like a mixtape. Basically he’s P. Diddy and I’m Biggie Smalls! Sometimes he says switch up the colors or tells me he needs a particular item for the shop but as far as the creative side, it’s all me. Zach designs his Superare products, which has a premium-high end aesthetic and he’s focused on that. We originally were going to name the brand "Cherry Bomb" but it turns out that’s a very obvious name for a company, and 4 billion other companies use that name, so it’s impossible to trademark. Zach had a second name in mind, which was Bangarang. It's from the old Disney movie "Hook", where the character "Rufio" is ready for battle. It's a war cry... for Disney Pirates…”
Before getting involved with Disney Pirates and practicing martial arts, Ross has long been embedded in the street culture that illustrates New York. Clothing and urban fashion has been something he has been working on for many years.
“Before Bangarang, I had another clothing brand with my boy and hip-hop artist Kritikal," Ross reminisces. "It was going well for awhile, but our lives started going in all types of directions and things slowed down with the brand. Part of it was a lack of motivation on my end for the designs. The company was based around weed and Jordans, and I wasn't necessarily passionate about those things. I think that’s an important lesson I learned. Don't start a clothing brand that doesn't reflect your lifestyle. I was way more into watching fights and training Muay Thai, as well as movies about martial arts and fighting."
"My ultimate goal for Bangarang is to be one of the first brands that come to mind when you think of martial arts. To be the Kith or Hundreds of the martial arts streetwear world. I want to bridge the gap between martial arts shirts and mainstream taste. In the way that many of the OG skate brands transcended into pop culture and took skate culture beyond the outskirts of society, like Thrasher, Supreme, HUF, DC, Anti-Hero, Santa Cruz, and the like. I really admire how they turned their brands into icons and would love to collaborate with any of them. I would also like to make more custom jackets and other stuff outside of t-shirts. It’s fun to see these things come to life after starting as a sketch.”
Ross currently trains out of Evolution Muay Thai in the city and attests that has helped him develop his brand even more. “Being into martial arts and having trained some of it, I have an inside view of what makes it cool. I can get inside the mind of a person who could potentially wear a Bangarang tee and what that person would want to tell the world about who they are, because I am one of them. I also want to steer those people in a new direction to create this unique aesthetic. Martial arts has made my life better--I’m anti-social by nature and one of the things that’s great about the gym is that it forces me to interact with people. Being in an environment that’s physically active and exhausting breaks down my walls and I can be more outgoing. I've met a lot of cool people there and became their friend.”
Despite working a full-time job and training, his focus is on growing Bangarang and having it reach as many people as possible. The goal is to continuously inspire himself and others in the martial arts community.
“My inspirations aren't specific," he says. "Sometimes an idea comes from a stupid joke I make. Sometimes it comes from a feeling. A lot of it comes from movies or music. As far as drawing and coming up with ideas, I've never had any mentors, I've only had competition. My inspiration has always been, if someone is really good, I wanted to find a way to be just as good or better in some way. I've been a mentor before. It feels good to help someone learn how to do what i do and pay it forward. It's especially rewarding to mentor a kid who shows promise. I get to be the Mick to their Rocky."
"The most exciting part is when a design that started as just a rough idea that I typed on my phone while randomly watching a movie or making a joke to my friends, grows into a sketch, then to a finished design, then to a physical product, then people are wearing it and it’s a popular design, they're taking pictures in them and some well-known people are digging the shirts. It makes me feel connected to the world when I, so often, feel the opposite. The most difficult part would maybe be when I think something is dope and people aren't really feeling it. It's like studying for an exam and you get a D-, even though you tried hard.”
Not too concerned with his legacy, Ross only cares if people will remember his clothes.
“I don't think I will be remembered down the road," he says with a laugh. "But if I could pick something, I guess it would be that as a teenager I was a lost and broken soul, and I became something good much, much later in life. So if a loser like me can do it, so can you! #loserswinning! As far as the work I've created, I hope its stays relevant and cool as long as possible until one day years in the future, someone's grandkid pulls one of my shirts out of a box in the attic and they say, ‘cool vintage shirt' and they wear it to school and become the cool ironic vintage martial arts kid.”