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Expert Interview: Jim MacNair from Kershaw and Zero Tolerance

Anyone who has done their 'pocket knife homework' has heard of the brands Kershaw and Zero Tolerance before. Two top brands from parent company KAI USA. We talked to Jim about his role at KAI USA and the newest products for 2021.

What is your role at KAI USA?

I am Product coordinator and Senior Designer and am in charge of the Kershaw and Zero Tolerance design team. I come up with new designs, cooperate with Research and Development, Production, Marketing and many other departments to produce the best products.

These days KAI is focusing more on their own designs. Why and how can we recognize those?

We work a lot with partners. With in-house designs, however, we show our strength as a brand and what we are capable of internally. Our goal is to make Kershaw and Zero Tolerance famous with mostly their own, original designs. Without losing what we stand for.

In-house designs can be recognized by this crescent-shaped logo

How does a knife first see the light of day?

It starts with a conversation. We get the team together and discuss the latest trends. Our own ideas and the latest info from customers and dealers from the industry are taken into account as well. After that we get to work with pen and paper. We sketch concepts and discuss them with the team. As soon as we choose a design we create it using 3D modelling software. Afterwards we get in touch with the factory to have the knife produced.

What are the differences in terms of designing a knife for ZT or Kershaw?

The difference is mainly the use of materials and the construction. Take, for instance, Toyota and Lexus. Lexus is more luxurious and has better features. Both brands, however, are seen as top-quality producers of cars and reliable. We made a lot of premium Kershaw knives. The brand, however, focuses more on offering amazing quality for an affordable price.  

Zero Tolerance is a step-up from Kershaw. That is why each new ZT pocket knife is enhanced with CPM 20CV steel. ZT knives are made to be the best in the industry. This could mean multiple things. The 0308 and 0357 were designed as robust workers knives. The best in their price range. The 0762, 0235 and 0990 are made to be light-weight but also rock-solid. Beautiful and functional. Like a fancy watch. Excellent daily tools that combine style and quality without compromising on function.

We see a switch from tough-ass folders to also elegant slipjoints like the Zero Tolerance 0235 and the Kershaw 2090. What is the reason for this switch?

I don't like to call that a switch, but merely an expansion of our range. We don't produce as many pocket knives for hard-use as we did in the past. Mostly due to sales. Small, friendly-looking pocket knives are in high demand so we produce knives that cater to those demands. Nevertheless, people also still favour the robust pocket knives like the Zero Tolerance 0308, for instance. That is why we will always keep producing these types of knives as well.

In January KAI introduced its line-up for 2021. In your opinion, which model stands out? And what are you most proud of?

That is a tough one! When I look at the Kershaw line-up, I am most proud of the Platform 2090. It is enhanced with integrated nail clippers. Unfortunately, I cannot take credit for the design. But a lot of work was put into this knife to make it as functional as possible.

With regards to Zero Tolerance: I am very proud of the 0990. The original 0999 was very cool and I wish we had produced more of those. The 0990 is smaller, more affordable and easier to obtain. I look forward to seeing that particular knife in the hands of our customers.


In which direction is KAI USA going in terms of products? Do you see the market steering into a specific direction, and will you steer that way as well?

For many 2020 was a complicated year. The demand for our products, however, is fortunately still high. We keep a close eye on the trends and which products are popular. There is, however, something I do wish to focus on. It is more important than ever that customers get a lot of value for money. We work hard on new ideas to make sure this happens.