This is as crowded as we have seen the knife market, maybe ever. Things are cutthroat. We have sub-$100 S90V blades. We have sub-$100 M390 blades. We have flipper framelocks galore. We have production knives with Moku Ti. We have custom makers releasing their own production designs—Pena, Nadeau, Laconico and more. The knife market is absolutely burning hot.
This means standing out is more difficult than ever before. When the Sebenza was released it was the only framelock in town. Now, WE Knives has released four new framelocks since you started reading this piece. Steel doesn’t really matter that much anymore. After a certain point it is all excellent and prices drop daily (as commodities are want to do). Mechanical features, while nice, are pretty quickly spread (if they are any good) and so being a framelock or a flipper isn’t really a selling point anymore.
What does sell are designs. Designs by famous custom makers are super hot right now. A while ago only megastars like Ken Onion commanded attention when they did production collabs, but now as knife enthusiasts search for the next new hotness, everyone is getting grabbing eyeballs. You made some Solidworks renders of a good looking design? Next WE collab. Designers, more than steel, lock type, or deployment method, sell knives.
But some of the best designs in the world are sold in massive numbers with absolutely no public credit given. Who designed the Benchmade Valet? Or the Gerber Fastball (answer coming soon, and review coming soon as well)? Or…well…any number of awesome production knives (and yes, the Fastball definitely counts as an awesome production knife).
Some of the best designs of the last ten years have been done by in-house folks. And yet we don’t know who they are unless something odd happens. When I found out, thanks to Nutnfancy, that Tommie Lucas was the designer of a favorite knife of mine (the Skyline), I made sure to watch for other Lucas designs. When the Speedform came out I snapped it up because it was a Lucas design. Similarly, when Spyderco announced a massive chopper designed by quasi-in-house designer Ed Schempp I bought it site and materials unseen. It could have been made of knapped flint, but I knew if Schempp designed it, it would be good.
And it comes to this point—the best reason to name and credit in-house designers is simple: money. When steel, lock, and deployment don’t grab attention, find something else to distinguish your products from others—like the designer. Some companies do this very well, like Spyderco. Some companies only make collabs, like CRKT, but a lot of companies make a lot of uncredited designs and they are leaving money on the table because of it.
The Bugout is one of my favorite knives of the past three years, but I have no idea who designed it. If Benchmade sent a press release out to me with the first sentencing reading: “From the designer of the Bugout…” I would 100% guaranteed read on. If it merely said: “A new Benchmade in M390 steel…” I might read on. For the enthuasiast crowd, naming the in-house designers would be another potential selling point. To the non-enthusiast crowd it would be some more text on a box.
If you have ever shopped at IKEA you know the experience. Who designed this desk? Oh, Hans Fleegenborg? THE Hans Fleegenborg? Right…I don’t really care about who designed some piece of flat pack crap furniture, but the fact that the designer is listed doesn’t bother me at all. In fact, even though I don’t care about the designer, it shows me that the company is respectful of work done by others on their behalf. It shows that they are responsible. So even when I don’t care, listing the designer makes me like the company and the brand a bit more.
Production companies, if you want to stand out, start giving credit to in-hhouse designers. Steel doesn’t much move the needle. Handle material doesn’t much move the needle. Give us something else to care about. People love stories and as Aristotle tells us (sort of) man is a social animal. Getting to know the folks behind the gear, their story of how that piece of gear was designed, and other “behind the scenes” stuff will give us something else to latch on to and care about. Tell us who designed our favorite carry items. It can’t hurt and it only helps.