Urban EDC Spotlight is an original, exclusive content series highlighting those who are making an impact through notable creative work in their field.
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This conversation is between Yong-Soo Chung (YC), the Founder of Urban EDC Supply, and Jonathan Bahlatzis (JB).
YC: Hey Jon! Thanks for taking the time to chat with us today. So tell us a bit more about your background.
JB: My educational background is mainly in engineering, project management, and business consulting, but personally I have always been both a user and collector of knives and tools and have always been a jack-of-all trades of sorts in that I love learning new things. After moving to Colorado for my day job, I found that there was a custom knifemaker working right down the road from my office called Vehement Knives. I sent them an email stating that I had an old-school request. "I already have a job, but I am willing to sweep floors or do whatever work is needed if you will just let me watch you make knives." Matt and his wife Jenna wrote me back and told me to come by for a beer and to see the process. Long story short, they never kicked me out and I kept coming back more and more days per week and Matt taught me how to design and make custom knives and in return, I helped with everything from designing and grinding, to business planning, process efficiency, and trade shows.
YC: How did you get started with Kopis Designs?
JB: At my first Blade Show, I was introduced to a good friend of ours who has been designing in the industry for years. Out of all of the designs, the STK sketch was the one that stood out to him the most. He and Matt both encouraged me to make it. Over the next year, we prototyped relentlessly, all while still working a day job, helping at Vehement Knives, and trying to maintain a life haha. We went through multiple iterations with user feedback before settling on our first production designs. My brother, David then helped me found Kopis Designs officially as its own company and we launched our Kickstarter for the STK and Rift in September of 2016. The word Kopis originates from the Greek word for "to cut or strike" and was also the name for one of the swords most commonly wielded by hoplites in ancient Greece because of its purpose-built design. From the beginning, we have firmly believed that the best designs are ones that are created with the user in mind and we focus on creating innovative EDC knives and tools that are comfortable and useful in any environment, while still having visual appeal.
YC: That's a very awesome story of how Kopis Designs started! It seems like things fell into place piece by piece which is always a good thing. Speaking of design philosophy, how does a product typically go from conception of idea to final product? Where do you get your design inspiration?
JB: Thanks! We were really fortunate to have a lot of great friends and family with a wide range of expertise to help us along the way! Typically, it all starts in the sketchbook - we gain a lot of insight from regular knife and tool users as to where they feel there is a need. Sometimes it is as simple as a regular customer or close friend wanting something they can carry for a specific job or area such as a woman who walks home from work every day and wants something that fits her hands well, to an experienced outdoorsman who wants a carryable, but heavy-duty knife that can handle everything from bushcraft to food-prep. We get a lot of our design cues from classic designs that we incorporate with modern materials and ergonomics. Once we have a concept we think works on paper, we move to either hand-worked or 3D modeled and printed prototypes which we then get additional user feedback on in order to make sure that the functionality, ergonomics, and aesthetics are all where we want them. We sometimes go through this process multiple times before we get to a place where we make a production model. It is definitely a labor of love, but we think the end result is worth the time.
YC: Seems like quite a deliberate, thoughtful process. Your products speak for themselves... so definitely worth it! Could you tell us a bit more about this exclusive batch of STK's and Rift's you made for us? I'm definitely a big fan of the Battle Scar finish on those Rift's!
JB: Sure thing! Thanks! For the Limited Edition batch of STK's and Rifts that we created for UEDCS, we did custom anodizing individually on each piece by hand, rather than batching them or outsourcing the anodizing. We use a special pre-anodizing etch process that gives a very unique finish that with a lot of depth of color. We also acid-washed and tumbled the STK blades - the S35VN responds really well to a long acid dip and gives a durable finish that continues to looks great the more you use it. The Battle Scar version on the Rifts is pretty special too - it was something we did for a giveaway early on in the business, but not something we offered again after due to the amount of handwork and finishing it requires up until this project with UEDCS. Once again, a lot of time went into each of these, but the results were worth it for this very unique to this Limited Edition release.
YC: Awesome! I'm really happy with how these turned out. Okay, so I gotta ask - can you show us your pocket dump? What do you carry as part of your EDC?
JH: Great to hear and thanks! Sure thing - I generally tailor my EDC to where I am going to be - light and discreet when going to formal meetings, heavier and more robust for wilderness, and somewhere in between for in the shop or around town. Today's pocket dump is the latter. In my opinion, a good knife is the most important item anyone can carry, so I always start there. There are some misconceptions out there that knives are strictly carried as weapons - and there are of course knives with that purpose - but, in reality, a knife is a critical tool for everything from opening a package to freeing yourself from a seatbelt in an emergency. I am carrying one of our own custom Wharncliffes with a double thumb ramp, liners, linen micarta and a custom ambidextrous sheath from Skinbender Leather Works. I am also carrying a satin STK as my backup knife/multitool. For a flashlight, I have a Foursevens Preon in my Skinth belt pouch, along with a Leatherman Charge Ti, Fisher Bullet Space Pen, and bit driver card. I also carry a Mini ML-X on my keys along with some duct tape and some other backup items. A lot of people have recently moved to phones for keeping time, but I still love having a dependable watch. I have a definite appreciation for the expensive ones out there, but for me personally, nothing beats a simple Timex Weekender Chronograph as it has all I need and I won't lose my mind if I break it. I also have a Tuffwriter Precision Press pen with Vehement Knives Apocalypse Wash finish, a custom Zippo, and a Zeroz wallet. I usually have a backpack with me for the rest of my EDC, but that would probably be a few pages of writing to go through that one!
YC: Wow, looks like you're fully prepared! That's amazing. It's kind of cool to carry one of your own designs, isn't it? Jumping topics a bit - what has been your biggest challenge growing the Kopis Designs brand?
JB: Definitely is. I have a wide range of other maker's knives though too - I especially carry a lot of Vehement Knives that I was either able to help create or were made for me by my mentor there, but another maker once told me that it is important to carry your own knives so you learn their strengths and weaknesses and always be improving and I took that to heart. To your second question, for us, the biggest challenge growing the brand is that there are not enough hours in a day haha. Both my brother and I both have day jobs and we work some long hours. Kopis is a labor of love though, so we dedicate our nights and weekends to development, production, and media and we believe that the hard work pays off in the quality and attention to detail in everything we do from the photos we take to the knives and tools themselves. We have had a great response to what we have created, so keeping up with demand can be a challenge, but it is a good one to have and we have some great mentors and supporters. We believe in organic growth and we would rather produce smaller, but increasing quantities each year, rather than try to mass produce and risk the form, fit, or finish that we have been careful to cultivate.
YC: Organic growth is always more preferred in my opinion as well. When you try to force growth, it can cheapen the brand and lose its appeal among your audience! So what's next on the agenda? Any traditional flippers on the horizon?
JB: Totally agreed. We actually have a number of upcoming special projects coming up that we are very excited about. We are currently manufacturing the next two fixed blade model runs based on feedback and response from this year's Blade Show - an EDC/Utility style blade and then a self-defense model that was very popular. As far as a flipper/folder, we are a bit further out in the development phase, but we have initial designs complete for what we think is a very unique design that was actually based on one of my first design collaborations with Vehement Knives. I don't want to give too much away, but it will be a hybrid model with a classic design (think bolsters), but a modern styled blade and more robust build and a unique shape. We are hoping to have the prototype done at the beginning of the new year and finalize and begin the first run by summer. This is one of those projects I get excited about, just picturing haha.
YC: That's amazing - I can't wait to see what that flipper will look like! Thanks for sharing your story with us Jon. This has been a fun! Anything else you'd like our audience to know about Kopis Designs or about yourself?
JB: Absolutely - it has been great getting to chat! Thank you and the Urban EDC Supply team for taking the time to speak with us! Also, a big thank you to everyone who has supported Kopis Designs since we started this journey. It has been a wild ride and we look forward to continuing it going forward! Please check us out on Facebook and Instagram to keep tabs on what we have going on and to see upcoming projects. Thanks again!
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