Women Bladesmiths Thrive And Continue To Shape The Knife Industry.
Women’s pocketknives? Can’t anyone buy any type of pocketknife?
Sure, but knives designed and marketed specifically for women are few and far between even among the big knifemakers.
Enter Brighten Knives, a small, upstart knife company based in Utah. Founded by Diane Carver and her daughters Kristy, Katie, and Kimi, Brighten has grown into a successful maker thanks to a strong vision and some good luck.
“We worked with [the Salt Lake Tribune],” Diane said. “They wrote an article about us because aside from being women’s knives, which is kind of a cool product, it was also a human-interest story where it was a mom and three daughters starting a knife company.
“It was unique and different. They put an article out and it kind of snowballed from there. A radio station picked up on it, and our Utah Senator Mike Lee even sent us a letter.”
All that good press, along with a Kickstarter that raised almost $14,000 (almost triple the initial $5,000 goal), and Brighten has been on a roll ever since.
The company is built on Diane’s decades of experience in the industry. She was the knife product manager for Browning for 17 years and has worked with Fox Knives, along with marketing* household cutlery for companies like Traeger.
Diane’s experience in the industry is complemented by her daughters’ work. Kristy created all the original designs and colorways of the company’s knives. Kimi has worked in product development and sales, and Katie has a background in sales and writing as well.
As the quartet designed their knives the hard question to answer was: What exactly does a woman’s pocketknife look like?
“Being in the industry for so long I know that most women, and I don’t want to generalize because there are a lot of women that carry it in their pockets, but a lot of our pants are made where they can’t even hold a knife,” Diane said. “The one thing that we did that kind of separated us was including the case. The case comes with all of our knives no matter [the product line] so that you can throw it in your purse or your glove compartment.”
Brighten has two original lines of knives: the Inspirational line and the Not So Heavy Metal Series. They all come with a case that’s roughly the size of a wallet that is easily portable. Additionally, all of the knives are available in a smaller keychain variety.
All of the blades are made from 8Cr13MoV stainless steel. For the larger varieties, the blades are between 2.5- and 2.56-inches long, and the keychain knives are between 1.6- and 1.65-inches long. The knives open with a thumb stud and feature a linerlock.
The Inspirational line is the company’s original line of knives. Each blade is married to an aluminum handle resplendent in brightly colored designs. The blades all also have a different inspirational word on the steel, words like “Faith” and “Hope” and “Brave.”
“All of the designs on the knives and cases are originally designed by my daughter Kristy,” Diane said. “I know it’s kind of unusual to see words like “laugh” and “faith” and “love” on knives, but we wanted it to be something fun. On the packaging, there’s a quote that goes along with each one. One thing we’ve seen is people like purchasing them for specific things. Our Hope knife is a breast cancer knife, and the quote on it is ‘When the world says give up, hope whispers try one more time.’”
Diane’s market research showed there was a large segment that wanted more muted colors and streamlined designs. Enter the Not So Heavy Metal line. Every color is named after a popular rock-and-roll band or song.
Diane laughed, mentioning the generational differences as her daughters recommended Green Day while she mentioned names like Purple Rain and Blue Oyster Cult.
“There was about 25 percent [of women] that said they were more of a minimalist and wanted more plain, solid-colored things,” Diane said. “We want Brighten to be the premier knife company for women and so we wanted something that would appeal to everyone. That’s how we came out with our Not So Heavy Metal line. We had a ton of fun naming the colors.”
The full-length knives retail for $29.99, and the keychain knives sell for $19.99.
As Brighten Knives has continued to expand, the press and publicity around it has swelled. YouTubers such as Neeves Knives have reached out and produced content about Brighten, as have other digital creators.
Carver said the goal is to make knives that are women-forward that take care in their design and construction rather than just slapping some pink scales on the side and calling it a day. She did speak positively about the Kershaw Chive and some of Spyderco’s knives but that she hadn’t seen any marketing directly for women from those factory makers.
There is also the Femme Fatale line of women’s pocketknives from Defense Divas which are marketed as spring-assisted self-protection knives.
While all of Brighten’s knives have a story and purpose behind their design there is one question Diane and her team get regularly: Can these knives be used in self-defense?”
“We have a lot of questions about whether these are self-defense knives,” Carver said. “Obviously, any knife can be used for self-defense in a pinch, but that’s not what these knives are designed for. They’re in a case in your bag. We are coming out with some designs for self-defense but that’s another story.”
That “another story” will feature self-defense videos made by the company featuring self-defense experts with military backgrounds. Everything is one step at a time as the company looks to grow and sustain itself going forward.
For now, the company started by a mother and her three daughters continues to grow and thrive, and make fun, exciting pocketknives for women.
Female Knifemaking Standout Audra Draper
Few women in the field are as accomplished as Audra Draper. The Wyomingite was the first woman to earn master smith status in the American Bladesmith Society back in 2000. Since then she’s made pretty much everything and, along with her husband Mike, taught countless new makers the craft of making knives.
“Back in the day it was hard to get people to acknowledge that yes, a girl can do this, too,” Draper said. “But now it’s not a big deal, people don’t react so crazy anymore and that helped, because if you’re a young girl and walk up to a knifemaker’s table at a show and tell them you want to make knives, you need them to react like ‘Sweet, what can I do to help you?’ which everyone does now.”
While Draper is as experienced as it comes, one thing has both eluded her and caused her very little concern: making knives specifically for women. She said that she just wants to make beautiful, functional knives that people will want.
She said the only key difference can be making knives with a smaller handle since a woman’s hands are usually smaller than a man’s.
“Most women that are interested in knives don’t want a woman-specific knife,” Draper said. “They just want what the guys are carrying. I’ve made some knives that I was so certain would be purchased by a woman, and a man buys them 99 percent of the time. The women are usually hunters and fishers or they want it for the kitchen. The only difference if you’re a woman or a man is maybe a smaller handle.”
She laughed thinking about the times she’d made knives designed for women utilizing materials like turquoise, and when they hit the table the piece was scooped up by a man. She stressed that knives are neither feminine nor masculine–they just are.
And for young women interested in learning the craft she had one simple bit of advice–reach out and ask people to help.
“Just ask questions. Talk to people,” Draper said. “There’s plenty of info our there now and plenty of courses to take. I would highly recommend before buying expensive equipment to take a course with an established maker because that’s going to tell them right away if this is something they want to do.”
Young Women Shining In The Knifemaking World
Raegan Lee and Karis Fisher are two young makers establishing themselves in the world of bladesmithing. Lee, an Idaho native, is just 21 years old but has been making fixed-blade knives for years from CPM 154 stainless. Are these specific knives for women? No, but having an enthusiastic, creative woman making knives will help craft what a “woman’s knife” becomes.
“I want to get into folders, specifically slip joints,” Lee said when we talked at BLADE Show West. “That’s where I’m heading. To be one of those makers that can bring three knives to a show and sell out on a lottery is a great feeling. To really be known in the community would be a huge, huge thing.”
Lee went on to say how important it is to have female makers creating knives and being mentors and examples for young artisans entering the field. She said Audra Draper was an inspiration for her.
“I think it’s extremely important,” Lee said. “I do knives most of the time, but I’m also an aluminum welder at an off-road company, and that’s also a male-dominated world. I just think there has to be one of us, and the rest of us can see [what’s possible]. The more we have the more it’ll be great for us.”
Fisher is the daughter of ABS master smith Josh Fisher. Even though just a recent high school grad, her fixed blades are stunning and show off her skill in the forge and with the hammer.
For Fisher, the biggest way to grow the base of female makers is simply by exposing more people to the craft of bladesmithing. TV shows and numerous YouTube channels have certainly helped a lot in bringing knifemaking more into the mainstream in recent years, and Fisher said that can only help.
Fisher even said that if her dad wasn’t a successful smith she probably wouldn’t even know about knifemaking.
“I think not too many people really know that knifemaking’s out there,” Fisher said. “If more people knew about it, it might be more [popular]. Forged in Fire does quite a bit for it.”
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