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Crafted Americans Feature: Freeman Outdoor Gear

Brand Name: Freeman Outdoor Gear
Year Established: 2013
Products Offered: Sporting and military knives, both fixed blades and folding pocket knives
Location: Tigard, Oregon
Mission: Design, make and deliver premium knives and gear for urban, outdoor and military activities.
What is the foundation of your brand?
The underlying idea with Freeman Outdoor Gear LLC is to be able to provide well designed, high quality US-Made products to modern outdoorsmen and service members.
I’ve had “value” products fail in the field and have felt the anger and sometimes the despair that comes from this. My goal with every product I design and build is to make this a non-issue. Outdoor gear should be made to withstand the environments and tasks for which it was intended. Period. I think this is self-evident but it bears repeating.
I am my own worst critic. I am a user of these products and I design and make them as if I were the intended customer. I design and make what I know will work and last and that is the driving force.
What makes your products unique?
After designing and developing knives for 15 years, I have a good understanding of what makes a great and useful product. Underlying that experience are these 4 drivers: Design, Materials, Workmanship and Customer Service. The design must be well thought out, solve a problem and be robust. The materials must be correctly chosen for the given application and set of trade-offs. Workmanship covers quality of work but also the unseen things such as heat treatment, machining and other processes. Customer Service is treating others how we would want to be treated and going the extra mile even when it hurts. When all 4 of these aspects come together, it delivers a unique product experience.
Where does your inspiration come from?
Knives are one of man’s oldest tools. So there is a substantial body of work to reference. Along with that comes personal experience and aesthetic drivers and allowing the form to follow the function. Natural shapes, ratios and usage conditions inspire the look and feel of each product.
A knife‘s shape should be pleasing in proportion and ergonomics and should address the fundamental need to cut or pierce things with a given effort under a certain set of conditions. So we start from the point of function, develop some possible solutions and then refine until the design is ready for the next steps of testing and refining.
What is most satisfying about your work?
The customer stories make it all worth doing. When a soldier emails to tell how he used one of our knives to complete a mission. Or when an EMT writes to tell how he used our knife to save someone. Or an elk hunter’s story of success and the knife work that followed. All these stories are personally satisfying and help to strengthen our commitment to delivering quality products.
Tell us about your process
During the product design process, I use a “spiral” development process. It’s a simple and effective method of developing products that I’ve used for the past 10 years: Design, prototype, test, refine, prototype, test, refine and on and on until the product is ready to produce and ship. Even after initial production, there is an ongoing feedback and continuous improvement loop.
It’s a spiral process because you start any design project with many questions and the goal is to try to reduce the unknown variables. So you go around and around, with the number of unknown variables being reduced as you go through every cycle of prototyping and testing. That is, once you have optimized a given variable, you don’t continually change it and then re-test it. You optimize, verify and reduce unknowns until you arrive at what to you is the optimal solution for the given product.
What is your reason for making goods in the USA?
We want to be part of the solution, however small, of rebuilding US manufacturing. Local, US-made products allow prompt control, traceability and accountability. With manufacturing in the USA, we can promptly and completely control our 4 drivers of design, materials, workmanship and customer service. If there is an issue with a material, it is traceable to a root cause. Once an issue has been traced to a root cause and identified, there is a specific person or business that can be held accountable for addressing it in a timely manner.
For example, we know the lot number for each sheet of steel that is made into a blade. We know when it was rolled, when it was blanked, when it was machined, how it was heat treated, what media it was tumbled in and for how long, what the coating parameters were and when it was assembled and sharpened. If there is an issue with a component or the final assembly, it can be quickly traced to a root cause and addressed.
Imagine this level of control, traceability and accountability when dealing with a manufacturer in China. What do you do when you have a shipping container full of bad products? Who pays for that? How do you trace the root cause when you don’t have control or complete understanding of the supply chain? Even if you did trace the root cause, how do you address the time needed to fix the problem and re-supply your customers? How do you know that the same issue won’t come up again in the future?
Starting and growing a small premium goods business is difficult enough without having to deal with all these issues. If we dealt with “throw-away” low cost items, China and others would make sense. Yes, there is obviously a need and desire for those types of products. But that is not us and it is not how we see our future.

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