A WWE Superstar’s ring gear is one of the most important parts of their character. The gear shows fans who they are, reveals a bit of their style, and, of course, everybody wants to look their best. That’s where Jonathan Davenport comes in. Davenport is a gear designer for WWE and responsible for some of the most iconic and striking pieces of in-ring gear in recent memory. Just a few of his regular clients include The New Day, Bayley, Apollo Crews, and Johnny Gargano.
USA Insider managed to chase down a busy Davenport for an exclusive Q&A where he talked about the process of designing gear alongside WWE’s stars and even disclosed his favorite piece of gear he’s ever made.
So besides The New Day, who are some of your other regular clients?
I’ve worked with Ricochet for a long time, Cedric Alexander, Bayley, Johnny Gargano, Cesaro — all those guys are great. There are a handful of others, but those are my regulars.
Is some gear harder to make than others? Is the process always the same or does it differ depending on what the needs of the performer are?
It is vastly different depending on the needs of the specific gear. I mean, you see the stuff that I do with The New Day. They basically change up their look every month and a half so they keep me pretty busy and their requests are wild! You never know what kind of thing they’re going to be asking for so a lot of times it’s taken me up to two or three weeks to design some of their stuff.
We also don’t want to do straight cosplay if we are being inspired by something in pop culture. I think that’s a little bit boring so it’s kinda infused with the influence through a lens of The New Day because they have their own palette and their own look and their own aesthetic. It all really depends on the needs of that particular set of gear.
How often are you collaborating with the Superstars on the making of the gear? Is it a joint effort or do you really take a concept and run with it?
It’s neat. What I’ve found over time is that if you keep working with the same people, you establish trust and find yourself in a vibe and you start speaking the same language. Even with The New Day early on, I would give them 10 to 15 concepts per set of gear and they would choose from those and I would keep iterating everything until I landed on the exact thing we wanted. And of course, that’s going to be three guys with the same theme, but very individual sets of gear.
It can take a while and it can be very collaborative. Over time though, now they really trust me. They’ll just tell me a theme and trust me to just go at it and do it and then I give them a first pass, they’ll have some notes, usually Kofi is the biggest noter, and then I’ll do another round of iterations and it’ll be finished. It’s kinda been that way with everyone I’ve worked with. It’s their look, it’s their brand, it’s their whole thing so they want it to be correct and represent their theme and their brand. So there will be a lot more collaboration at the beginning, but the longer the relationship goes on, you just develop more trust.
Do the Superstars keep your schedule busy or is it kinda rare that you get an order for new gear?
I kind of feel like Batman. I never know when they are gonna put up the Bat Signal. When Johnny Gargano stepped away from the ring for a while, I did two sets [of gear] for him right before he left. That was our first time working together and we got along famously. Then I remember I was at dinner with my family and the signal went up and Gargano texted me "thinking about a comeback" and to start thinking about ideas. So to answer that question more directly, people like The New Day are refreshing constantly so I always have something on deck for them. I just finished a set for them last week and just started a new set today actually.
Another guy who I’ve worked with for a long time is Apollo Crews. He’s a really cool guy, very collaborative; I actually helped him brainstorm his Nigerian gimmick and I loved that look. The whole silhouette with the scarves and the color scheme and everything … It was so good that he didn’t need a refresh. We knocked it out of the park so hard that it was like, "Oh man, I’m out one client." Now when he went back to NXT we did a refresh and a new thing but yeah, some clients are a one-and-done and they stick with that look forever and there are some that like to keep it fresh.
What I’ve learned about wrestling over the years is that sure, it’s an action show and a stunt extravaganza, but it’s also a little bit of a fashion show. That entrance is a really big deal for them so you never know who is going to do what or how elaborate it’s going to be so I keep pretty busy.
Does any piece of gear stick out in your mind as a favorite set you’ve created?
The "Dragon Ball Z" stuff out of the Booty-O’s box, that was great, that was the greatest. I think that was my first pay-per-view with The New Day and that was a lot of fun. The Paint By Numbers one with them was really fun because we were known for our wild color palettes and their gear was always super busy and over the top — especially Big E’s stuff. His sensibility is like, he just wants chaos. So his set, even when they are in a group, is always slightly busier than the others. But we pulled way way way back and we did literally two colors. It was black and white.
For me, the fun thing about that gear was that it actually worked. My training and sensibility says it has to be functional. It has to tell a real story and has to actually work so we really geeked out on the details. The set, if you look at the color key on the back, it actually works. If you colored it in, it would have made an actual illustration. So that was a lot of fun.
Are there any WWE Superstars that you are hoping to work with in the future?
The gear design community is very small and we all know each other to some degree. Some people’s gear that I really admire is Shinsuke Nakamura; he looks amazing. Asuka, who also looks awesome. Shotzi, Becky Lynch, Seth Rollins … those are all performers that look so good all the time. I’m very inspired by them and if I got the chance to work with them, I’d jump at it, but would be incredibly intimidated because I don’t think I could improve their gear.