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May 9, 2024

Hear her roar: Tigress is Australia’s first women’s only fightwear brand

Tigress Fightwear is paving the way for women in grappling sports, with the first collection taking inspiration from '00s feminine icons like Legally Blonde, Mean Girls and Britney Spears.

  • Words: Jade Woollacott
  • Pictures: Janella Lim
  • Graphic: Mikaela Balacco

Janella Lim had never heard of Brazilian jiu-jitsu until 2020, when her cousin needed someone to train with during lockdown. Now her entire business is built around the sport.


Tigress Fightwear


Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ), mixed martial arts (MMA), Muay Thai and other wrestling and grappling sports are heavily male-dominated and the fightwear market reflects this.

But Janella says grappling sports like BJJ aren’t about brute strength, they’re about technique, and – as somebody who says she was never considered ‘sporty’ and was always picked last in PE – that drew her to the sport.

“The focus is on how technically good you are and not how strong you are, and that’s why I really loved it,” she says.

Tigress’ entire ethos is supporting women and empowering them to celebrate their femininity and strength in a male-dominated space, and to do it sustainably.

Janella was sick of wearing all-black men’s and unisex apparel that didn’t fit quite right, or other athletic brands that weren’t made to withstand the rough and tumble of grappling sports.

Janella channelled her inner Elle Woods with this collection.

Tigress’ first collection, Y2K, is largely inspired by the 2001 film Legally Blonde. Janella says she wanted to be Elle Woods — a pink beacon in a sea of black Harvard suits. Something she resonated with when she was rolling in a sea of black on the mats.

“I wanted to have something for women that made them feel 100 per cent them and celebrate them and says to them that I love who I am, and I go into this sport celebrating the fact that I’m super, super feminine, I love pink and I’m going to kick your butt,” Janella says.

“I wanted it to be iconic and I wanted the first collection to be as nostalgic when I look back on it.

“So, Y2K was what I chose because it was colourful, you know it connected to Legally Blonde, it connected to Mean Girls, it connected to Britney Spears and all of those just like iconic femme, ultra femme, pink vibes.”

Janella says she wants to celebrate all women in every identity and is always looking forward with new ideas for future collections that reflect “every kind of vibe”.

“I don’t want it to just be very feminine, I also want it to be as inclusive as possible,” she says.

“I want to have colourful pieces and I also want to have toned-down pieces.”

When Nicole started Brazilian jiu-jitsu she was the only girl at her gym. Now she’s a role model to other women who have taken up the sport. This picture: John Tsialos

Tigress launched with a size range of extra small to extra-large but is already expanding beyond this to accommodate more people and be as inclusive as possible.

Janella designs everything, does media, communications and marketing, runs the business herself and in some special cases will even personally deliver an order.

Nicole Alexander found Tigress’ Instagram page and placed an order just two days after it officially launched in April and messaged Janella to see if it would come in time for the competition she was competing in that weekend.

Janella was so excited she drove an hour to personally deliver it to Nicole’s door.

“It was actually the most difficult drive ever, but I remember how happy she was to have met me,” Janella says.

Nicole is now one of Janella’s ambassadors along with Taylor Dziego, and brand-new Sydney recruit Maab Ch.

Nicole in action. This picture: John Tsialos

Janella wants her business to be as sustainable as possible. All of Tigress’ packaging is reusable, recyclable and plastic-free. All tissue paper, mailer bags and shipping labels are compostable and, aside from the New Zealand-made tissue paper, everything is made in Australia.

Because Tigress is still small and costs are high, the apparel itself is produced in China. But Janella has been selective in employing a company she has built a relationship with and whose practices she can be confident in.

A lot of her products have already sold out because to avoid wasteful mass production, Janella is only having a limited range produced at a time.

Tigress is still a budding business and Janella is working at finding a balance and managing her time. She is still at uni, completing her final year of a secondary teaching degree and is currently on placement in Clare. Meanwhile, she is working at another school in Adelaide, running her business and still finding time to actively train in BJJ.

She says she doesn’t measure her success in profit margins.

“I think I connect a lot of the success of the brand not through like monetary value, but to the fact that we’re in demand because there are women here in this sport who are, you know, who want to stay and who want to excel at it,” Janella says.

“I want to build a community and I want women to get behind it and be supportive of it and it’s, you know, inclusive of everybody.”

By those standards, with the number of women she says have already reached out to her,  Tigress Fightwear is already measuring its successes and, it’s safe to say, is a force to be reckoned with.

You can shop Tigress’ Y2K collection online, or head to their Instagram to find out more.

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