For many, knives are macabre objects to take an interest in. Not for Singaporean Jefferson Ho. In 2016, he left a decades-long advertising career to set up Jho Knives, a company which sells minimalist pocket knives, pry bars and other works of metal art.
“I grew up in an era where boys thought being tough and having survival skills was cool,” he says. “It’s one of the first tools that humans made, and it’s still the most useful thing to carry with you today. The knife might be villainised now, but I still respect [it] a lot.”
Ho’s digital catalogue runs the gamut from nubby knives that can fit into the palm of one’s hand to more esoteric creations like the F**h, a bludgeon that hides a thin spike within. He also sells card blades — knives slim enough to fit into a wallet — and knuckledusters, which are illegal in Singapore but popular with his American clients. Each new creation is announced on his Instagram account and often snapped up quickly by eager fans.
Jho Knives has attracted something of a cult following. On Instagram, Ho has over 10,000 followers who frequently fawn over his creations. “I’m in. Take my money,” one says about a new release. “Definitely zombie apocalypse weapon of choice for me,” another enthuses over a video demonstrating the F**h’s barbed head.
Each knife takes an average of six to 12 months to realise. Ho says that he begins the process by “imagining the product and how it will be used” and creates a sketch or computerised render. He then collaborates with craftsmen, mostly in Taiwan, to bring his concepts to life.
“These knives require quite a bit of high precision machining,” explains Ho. “It’s hard to find factories in Singapore willing to produce them in small batches, so I look for craftsmen in other countries.”
For Ho, knives serve as utilitarian tools — but that’s not to say they have to be prosaic. Many of his creations follow the adage of form over function, all clean lines and sweeping curves, but most are designed with multifunction and comfort in mind. The Blanka, for example, is a fixed blade no longer than 13 cm, and was designed to be effective at both slashing and stabbing; Ho says that it can effectively be used to chop wood and skin fish.
Ho says he enjoys scouring the internet for ideas — a vital part of his creative process — which often gives him inspiration for new products, like his range of skull-shaped paracord beads and the Cicada, a piece of metal art with smooth bevelled edges, which also serves as a worry stone.
Jho Knives has developed a loyal following, but Ho says that the majority of his customers are mainly from the USA, not Singapore. “Singapore just became affluent not too long ago, so people are still busy buying bling and toys. Tools and equipment aren’t at the top of their list,” he muses. “Most people would rather buy the latest iPhone than a $600 German kitchen knife set — if you know what I mean.”
Still, Ho is content with the niche that his business occupies. “After starting Jho Knives, going back to something like advertising feels so one-dimensional,” he says. ”Building a brand, creating products from scratch — it’s all so chaotic and abstract. But I think I’m an artist at heart, so all this feels comfortable.”
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