With a name like Wazoo, you know we enjoy a good laugh when we get the chance. And this is the comedic story of how one small typo became a whole new product line, and how other people blindly duplicated our mistake.
We got our start hiding functional survival tools inside of paracord bracelets. As part of incorporating a ferro rod into the side-release buckle (What eventually became the patented Firestorm Buckle™), we tried to design a scraper that would tuck sideways across the end of the buckle, secured by a Ranger Band.
It needed to be small, ergonomic, and have a “dummy cord” hole so it couldn’t be dropped or lost. We handmade some test pieces out of metal to dial in the shape. Existing strikers made of stainless steel dull easily, and the carbon steel ones will rust. So we tested every material we could get our hands on in hopes of finding a new material that might hold a strong crisp edge for scraping, without the common downfalls. We introduced the outdoor industry to Zirconia Ceramic! It’s over 10 times harder than steel and will not rust, or dull, and it is now coveted as the best ferro rod scraper material on the market.
Wazoo couldn’t justify the expense of drafting software at the time, so I (Nick) doodled up the dimensioned part in photoshop instead (I’m sure there’s a lesson in here about having the right tool for the job). I overlooked the fact that my dimension line stopped prematurely. The 13.5mm dimension should have continued all the way to the end of the part. Whoops!
When the shipment arrived, we found 2,000 totally custom ceramic scrapers that were the “wrong” size. They were too long to fit on the bracelet buckles. As a company in our first years of operation, this was a substantial financial mistake that was totally my fault.
Luckily, Dustin took it all in stride because we pride ourselves on improvising. We had a pile of parts we had to find a use for, so we got creative! Using our favorite climbing knot, the Alpine Butterfly, we eventually combined these ceramics with a Ferro Rod Toggle and leather cord from our Bushcraft Bracelets™ and our first fire starter necklace was born!
A functional accessory with an odd white dangly thing as the centerpiece. It felt daunting trying to sell a decorative necklace (not originally intended to be decorative) to a bunch of burly outdoorsmen. But it functioned surprisingly well, looked unique, and was like nothing anyone had seen before, so we put it out there to see what would happen.
Fast forward a few years and we had retired our bracelets but the necklaces had become an iconic staple in the outdoor and bushcraft communities.
The innovation and success of this product did not go unnoticed. There were multiple companies and individuals duplicating our original ceramic pendant shape. I can’t help but laugh at the irony that they paid money to reverse engineer a mold for a shape that was nothing but a mistake to begin with! We contacted a few of these companies to share this story, but for some reason, they didn’t find the humor in it. 🤣
In 2016 we decided to branch out with some new pendant designs, ones that were actually designed to be decorative pendants! We drew up (in a better program this time) 3 new pendants inspired by an arrowhead, a bear claw, and a Mauri hook.
(Vector outlines of Wazoo pendants from April 2016)
After getting samples in-hand for testing, we found the curved edges of the claw and hook made it harder to use as a scraper and the pokey bits would snag clothing and straps every now and then (not ideal by any means). We were so torn with these designs because they looked cooler, but weren’t as functional - a balance that we, here at Wazoo, are very picky about.
By this time, our silly original shape had become pretty iconic within the industry, being worn by our friends, some pretty prolific celebrities, and multiple industry influencers. Giving up that shape would be like giving up years of years of history and heritage.
We debated launching them on Kickstarter to gauge interest before cutting any current product lines or running full production batches. But as we were deciding what to do, the ceramic manufacturer we were using burned down and went out of business. 🤦♂️
After finding a new manufacturer for our parts and getting our current product lines back on track, we continued toying with the idea of expanding the line of fire starting necklaces.
We opted to give the new pendant shapes a shot on Kickstarter and began the long process of planning. Strangely enough, as we were putting together our timeline for the project, our prototype designs started popping up on the market through other sellers. Seeing people sell designs that I personally drafted up, but never released to the public, really caught us all by surprise. How the heck did they get a product (our product) that only a very select few had ever seen to begin with!?
Fortunately, this industry is relatively small and we’ve built some great relationships within it. So after weeks of sleuth work, we discovered that someone bought the ashes of our original factory and began cranking out parts from any molds that were still usable. It happed that our prototype shapes were part of that production.
We went into triage mode contacting any of these sellers, sharing our story and the plans to launch them on Kickstarter. We offered to buy their inventory of parts to keep them off the market until we could launch. Nearly all of these people were totally unaware and were more than willing to cooperate (Thank you! We owe you one). Nearly all… All but one in fact.
There’s an individual out there, that despite being presented a document full of direct proof of design, and despite months of countless emails and phone calls attempting to come to any sort of agreement, still refuses to remove them from the market and knowingly continues to profit off of our designs. This could be understandable if it was a stranger that didn’t know us. But this person had been a Wazoo brand ambassador for years, directly endorsing our original necklaces.
Needless to say, we couldn’t rightly launch a Kickstarter for designs if they were already available on the market. Luckily for us, we’re all about improvising and making the best of a situation!
This was our chance to out-innovate our imitators. We created a new sleek aestetic design, one with all the functional benefits of the original shape, but none of the downfalls of the other artistic shapes. You may now know it as the Spark Necklace™!
We took this opportunity to go a step further, to once again establish Wazoo as the true trailblazers in this industry. We developed a new custom quick-release clasp, meaning the necklace no longer has to go over your head to get it on and off. It also has threaded ends to allow total customization of necklace length and easy access to replace the ferro rods. We design our gear to be worn and used, so use it!
Life is what you make of it. And because we can’t fix the broken moral compass on greedy people, we have to accept that there will always be knock-offs of good products and enjoy the humor in it when we can. No matter the purchase or the industry, it’s hard as a human being to justify spending more on a seemingly similar product. But it’s on us as capable individuals to be curious, dig deeper, to understand why, and more importantly, who we are supporting with each purchase.
To everyone that has helped make these necklaces what they are and what they represent, thank you!