COSTA MESA — You wouldn't know it immediately, but men's apparel company co-owner Ric Cartwright incorporates metal, water, wood, fire and earth into his soft cotton shirts and hats.
That's because FVSTR — pronounced "five star"— pulls from the five elements, which when combined represent a philosophy of balance.
"I think that clothing should tell a story," said Cartwright, chief executive of FVSTR. "It can be a conversation starter, and it can tell you a lot about the person who is wearing it."
The Costa Mesa-based company was launched about four years ago when Cartwright noticed a negative trend emerging in mixed martial arts, or MMA.
"I've always had this creative edge," Cartwright said. "I saw that the sport was plagued by this dark, sinister cloud, and as it started to project further, I saw the need for pure, clean clothing that would reflect the true vision of what the sport is really all about."
The dark graphic designs depicting skulls and other negative symbols commonly found on men's MMA shirts correspond to the aggressive, over-the-top behavior of some of the fighters.
The "dark cloud" was pulling the sport away from its original roots in honor and balance, Cartwright said.
To return to those beginnings, FVSTR designs express harmony with the elements by keeping the lines simple, but bold. These seemingly contradictory qualities — humility and power — mimic the character of a true warrior.
The company sponsors MMA fighters Brendan Schaub and Kaimana McCreadie, both of whom reflect those traits, Cartwright said.
"They wanted to be represented in a clean way, not in a way that was dark and sinister," said Kevin Darabi, FVSTR art director. "They saw FVSTR like a light at the end of a tunnel."
The company aims to promote a clean, active and positive lifestyle brand similar to that of Nike, said Darabi, who has done freelance design projects for O'Neill, Quiksilver and Hurley.
For that reason, Cartwright is careful in choosing who the company sponsors.
"You have to find the right athlete," Cartwright said. "They don't get paid for that. It has to come from the heart."
Already, company representatives have been involved in several local nonprofits and have visited the Children's Hospital of Orange County (CHOC).