A brand is not an exclusive club.
A brand is not a lifestyle.
A brand, let's all remember, is a method by which companies part you from your money. Those companies, and the folks that they hire to manicure their brand, want you to think that a brand is something more than a sales tactic, but in the end, it is not. It is one of a million ways clever people get you to pay more for something than it cost them to make it. That's it.
The intersection between the clean, folksy, "authentic" and perhaps more than a bit twee brands and the enthusiast press is a dangerous and swampy ground to find yourself. Its a mess. It is a cesspool of bullshit. And it is place that was bound to occur at some point.
The enthusiast press is taken with the idea of finding the really good stuff, the authentic stuff, the original, pre-hipster not-cool-because-someone-said-so-but-cool-because-it-is-great stuff. This is a very hard thing to do without being swayed by the brand peddlers out there. I can tell you it has happened to me. I try very hard to be brand agnostic. I'd review a knife or a light from just about anyone, but the pressure to adopt brand language and brand message is intense. The James Chapter Knife review was an experiment in how strongly I could resist the branding. I think I did an okay job of calling that knife like it is.
But in my virtual travels throughout the gear world part of the internet I can't help but stop and marvel at the brand enthusiasts. Rolex as a million of these people, obnoxious wealthy a-holes who think that the essence of being a cultured person is wearing a $10,000 watch that looks like a gold hockey puck. Reading classics--pffft. Appreciating great music--ha. Its a Rolex that makes you cultured or so they will tell you. I am reminded of Beethoven's most Beethoven-y quote (which I will paraphrase for humor purposes): "There are a million Rolexes, but only one Beethoven."
Then there are the folks that enjoy the tactical brands. Folks that talk about rucks and Spartan races and go bags. I saw one such product being reviewed where the reviewer said that the minimalist, MOLLE-clad hyper expensive bag "changed his life." Let's be clear folks. Having a kid changes your life. Starting your career changes your life. Getting married changes your life. Getting a $150 bag that you paid $380 for doesn't change your life, unless it forces you to have an epiphany that you wasted a bunch of money. I take that back. It is entirely possible that a bag could change your life, but that's more of a sad commentary on your life than it is on the quality of the bag. I imagine that these are the same folks that use their Medfords exclusively as a package openers for their Direware customs that just came in.
Let's not forget that purveyor of intelligence testers--Best Made. Between their photo trips to Patagonia to eat food made by Francis Mallman and their beardy models, they sell axes, enamel cookware, and Sebenzas over MSRP. But what are you buying when you buy one of their axes? No, I mean besides the crooked grained "hand selected Appalachian hickory" handles that are painted to cover up their defects. You are buying brand. Are their tools better than Gransfor-Bruks stuff? No. Are they twice the price? Yes. So what is that magic sauce? Beardiness, Mallman, and a heaping helping of brand.
Brand is the production equivalent of the "story" associated with custom gear. For all of the esoterica associated with handmade knives, I am at a loss sometimes to understand why these things are so sought after. Here is the story I want from a custom maker--I got your order, I made your thing to the best of my abilities, I finished the project ON FUCKING TIME, and I mailed it to you quickly. That's the story I want. Save the rest for when Best Made picks up your designs and they need some ad copy.
We enthusiasts can be taken in by brand or by story. Let's be a little wary of the bullshit and a little less Instagram addicted. That's just my opinion though, so comment below if you disagree.