By now knife industry followers know that renowned Danish knife designers Jesper Voxnaes and Jens Anso teamed up to create GiantMouse LLC. What you might not know is that a California businessman with a love of knives became the organizational drive behind the endeavor. Jim Wirth asked a simple question over beers with Voxnaes and Anso that solidified the venture, and bettered the collaboration model creatively and financially.
When Wirth turned 14, his older brother Chris gave him a small Gerber pocketknife with mother-of-pearl scales as a birthday present. He loved looking at that work of art, and yet, the knife got plenty of use too. From then on, Wirth began attending knife shows, like the former Bay Area Knife Collectors Association show in Santa Clara. He joined that organization so he could attend the meetings and learn more about the knife industry.
His love of knives—and watches—grew and he continued to attend shows, adding the New York Custom Knife Show and BLADE Show. Meanwhile, he developed a data warehouse-business intelligence firm that became an Inc. 500 Fastest-Growing Company. After a merger, Hewlett-Packard bought the company, and Wirth was set as far as his family and living expenses were concerned. He began consulting, advising owners of young businesses and angel-investing, or backing business that show promise.
Wirth had always been a fan of the work of Voxnaes and Anso, so at a BLADE Show, although he’d met them before as a customer, he was more formally introduced to the men through a common friend. Over drinks, Wirth inquired about the royalties each knifemaker was making in their partnerships with well-known manufacturers. Although mum on details, designer royalties on any manufacturing collaboration range from 3 to 7 percent, sometimes as high as 10, of net sales. There are countless variables that determine the final cut, however, according to numerous sources in the knife and product development industries, 5 percent is thought to be fair for both the designer and the factory that takes the risk on whether the product will be a success or not.
Voxnaes and Anso revealed that they had indeed co-designed some knives together. They had even come up with a potential company name, GiantMouse, because Denmark is a tiny country in a giant world and they wanted GiantMouse to be a small knife brand in a giant knife industry. Wirth asked why they hadn’t produced these knives they’d worked on. And with that question, GiantMouse came into being.
The three men determined that they would only do limited runs of folders four times a year, 300 in a standard finish and 100 in a special finish. These 100 “pirate” versions would include the GiantMouse logo with a patch over its eye. The GM2—GM for GiantMouse and 2 for sequential order—for example, is a full-size everyday carry folding bowie with carbon fiber handle scales. The backspacer, clip and pivot ring are a rich blue anodized titanium. The nested lockbar is also titanium. The 3.3-inch blade is made of Bohler M390 Microclean powder corrosion-resistant martensitic stainless steel with a satin finish and is ground to a 0.157-inch thickness. The handle length is 4.62 inches, and the knife weighs 4 ounces.
Although the folders are discontinued as soon as the 400 pieces sell out, the GiantMouse fixed-blade runs are unlimited. The GMF2—F for fixed—for example, with leather sheath, is a throwback to a Nordic work blade that can be used for everything from bushcrafting to everyday tasks. The 3.62-inch blade is made of Bohler N690 cobalt high-performance powder steel, ground to a 0.157-inch thickness and finished in a fine stonewash. The 4.43-inch Micarta handle brings the overall length to 8.12 inches. The knife weighs 4.1 ounces.
The way the designers look at it, according to Anso, is that by working very closely and combining their skills, each designer is forced out of his individual comfort zone. Integrating each maker’s ideas and style without compromising on design quality is “a difficult task but makes for a very strong design if done right.” It’s important to each man that the other is able to vouch for everything involved in the design. Both must be happy with the final result of each knife.
Anso and Voxnaes both started making knives in 1989, and they both lived in rural northern Jutland, only about 30 miles apart. They didn’t actually meet until 2005 at a small knife show. They instantly hit it off and have been close friends and colleagues ever since, explained Anso.
The two friends met Wirth at a BLADE Show when Wirth was collecting knives. “With Jim’s well-known talent for business, high ethics and passion for quality, combined with our skills and experience in the knife business, the idea of GiantMouse Knives started to take form,” Anso stated.
As chief executive officer, Wirth drew up the articles of incorporation and launched the website. He also set up the fulfillment center in Southern California. The knives are manufactured in Maniago, Italy, and Voxnaes and Anso handle all interactions with the manufacturer from approving prototypes, through test runs, to quality control of the finished knives. A final inspection is performed when the knives arrive in California. Out of a run of 400, perhaps a half-dozen will be returned because the blade is slightly off center or a flipper action isn’t as smooth as it should be. The knives are then sent to the fulfillment center where they are put in branded packaging and sent to customers.
One might figure that short runs of well-designed knives would be unaffordable because you don’t have a high number of pieces over which to spread the start-up costs. There can also be fees if runs don’t meet a minimum quantity. But the founding trio at GiantMouse committed themselves to this route because it incentivized the designers. “They’re challenged to create more designs. It’s exciting,” Wirth said. And as partners in the company, the designers share in the profits with Wirth. This both pushes the designers and rewards them for their efforts perhaps more than a percent-of-net-sales royalty would.
All along the goal has been to create exceptional knife designs, produce them at the highest quality possible and keep them affordable. For example, the maker’s list price for the GM2, in standard finish, is $325; the GMP2—the P standing for pirate—in special finish, is $375. Ten dollars from the sale of every folder, and currently $20 from every fixed blade, is donated to Save The Children. (The organization helps ensure children at home and abroad receive the heath care, nutrition, education and protection they need to grow up happy and secure.)
Wirth said that he got to go to Demark and see the operations of both designers. Then the trio drove to a knife show. “I sat in the back and listened to Jens and Jesper talking in Danish. Every once in a while, I’d hear ‘Jim,’ and I’d be like, ‘heeey.’ The only Danish I learned was something written on the radio, something like ‘the radio isn’t on.’ Now that’s what I say to them when I see them.” Wirth laughed telling the story. He seemed happy, like you might imagine a 14-year-old boy would be over receiving a beautifully designed knife.
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