KI International, a company where we get our gi's from, donated us 2 brand new karate-gi's for the tournament, and Nate and Makoto received them based on their excellent performance. Congratulations guys, and thank you, KI International!
The line of gi most of us wear is called "Mugen" and is becoming one of the most popular choices around the world. This particular line is popular because of its high quality and low price. 2 gi's donated by KI International were 2 different types: "Orange Label" is of lighter material, and "Yellow Label" is of heavier material. Other than the material and the color of the label, I believe they are identical. They also carry "Black Label" which is in between the above 2 for the weight of the material.
Since most of you buy your gi at the dojo (and we pretty much only sell Mugen gi's) you may not know the difference between different brands, and if you're happy with what you got you may not have to know. But since several people had asked me about differences between them, I'm going to write what you may need to know when choosing one and my opinions about various types.
How to choose one for yourself? There are several criteria when choosing a gi:
1. Material - light/medium/heavy, cotton/mix
2. Brand - KI, Tokaido, Shureido, Hirota, Tokyodo, Tokon, Juka, Adidas, etc.
3. Cut - traditional/tournament
This is the most important aspect, in my opinion. Do you like a light and soft material that allows you to easily move around with, or do you want a heavier material that keeps some space around your body and makes snappy sound when punching? A gi you can buy for $15 is made of a very light, flimsy material. Mugen Orange Label is heavier than those, but still considered to be of lighter material (or perhaps light/medium). Many people choose lighter gi for Kumite, heavier gi for Kata, and some actually do switch their gi when competing in Kata or Kumite tournament. I personally like medium weight since it works fine for any occasion: Kumite, Kata, daily training, long seminar, etc. Some prefer heavier gi for cold weather and lighter gi for hot days, but I sweat a lot so I need my gi to absorb enough and not to stick to my skin.
Cotton 100% has been the traditional and favorite choice of all, and any poly-mix material was considered to be a cheaper/lesser quality - until a few years ago. Now some brands offer "light but crisp" or "fast drying" type of material, which usually is not 100% cotton. I bought one of these in Japan (from Tokyodo) and this one rocks! I now use this one for competitions only; you see my gi with the US flag on the chest, that's the one. This is so light but does not look or feel flimsy. Some dislike the texture of poly-mix materials, but it doesn't bother me at all.
I have owned about a dozen different brands. Many of them Japanese brands and highly regarded as the "best", while some others from Europe or America that are less known among Japanese karate people but are in pretty good quality. The differences most of the time are in the quality/durability of the material and the quality/craftsmanship of stitching/construction. As long as you buy one of these brands listed below you're safe. Of course there could be many that are not listed here; in that case, buy it at your own risk! I recently bought one called "Butoku"; the material was too light/soft despite it claims to be medium weight, and the craftsmanship was somewhat poor. I think I'll sell this one at the garage sale soon!
KI (Mugen), Tokaido, Tokyodo, Shureido, Hirota, Tokon (Kamikaze), Juka, Arawaza
There are mainly 2 types of cut/patterns: traditional cut and tournament cut. Traditional cut usually has shorter jacket, longer sleeves and legs, narrower sleeves and leg opening. Tournament cut became popular, I believe, in the last 15 years or so, and has longer jacket, shorter and wider sleeves and legs. Being a short guy, I always have to cut the sleeves and legs off, but some brands had very short sleeves that I did not need to cut. Even among the tournament cut there are variations between brands. Some brands provide measurement charts that you can check and compare with your current gi, but ultimately, you have to test it on yourself to make a decision.
Karate gi, as any cotton clothing, shrinks big time, so caution when buying one. Size 4 in one brand is not the same as that of another brand. In most cases you will end up shortening the sleeves and the leg hems (especially if you have short limbs and/or if you order a traditional cut), which most dry cleaning/alteration stores can do for you.
WARNING: DO NOT cut the sleeves before you wash/dry a few times or you may end up with a short sleeve jacket and shorts once they shrink.
It comes down to your personal preference. I recommend Mugen gi for the quality and price, but I personally don't wear one because it does not fit me well for some reason. It may be that I owned a wrong size, but I have seen on some other people, too, that it didn't appear to be a good fit. My personal favorite for a long time was Tokaido (medium weight, tournament cut) which I bought some 10 years ago that still looks decent. As I mentioned above, my favorite now is Tokyodo (super light weight called "Athlete 2", tournament cut). These Japanese brand gi's cost over $150 a set (in Japan; they could be over $200-250 in the US), so I suggest most of you not to invest that much unless you plan to be the fashion leader of the dojo... Instead, donate to the dojo or pay for private lessons so that you can be good at karate, not just looking-good in karate-gi!