Meet Billy & Ethan

A mindset for purposeful living is not just our tagline, but it’s behind everything that we do. Purposeful living is about getting outdoors, making memories and ultimately creating pieces that will accompany you on your way. WESN goods are a brand that shares these values- creating heritage-feel tools that are practical, functional and last. Some might say the dream collaboration…

We caught up with Founder & CEO Billy Chester, and Ethan Thompson- Creative Director & Head of Brand Communication, to get to know them a little better ahead of the P&Co x WESN collaboration collection launching this Friday.

Firstly, introduce yourselves, your roles & the WESN Brand- where did it all begin?

BILLY: My name is Billy Chester, and I’m the founder and CEO of WESN.

ETHAN: Hey! I’m Ethan Thompson. I’m Marketing Director here at WESN. 

BILLY: I guess it all began in Detroit circa 2016. I always say I never planned on making a knife brand — but I did have the wild idea of making a little pocket knife. When over three thousand people showed up to back my first Kickstarter campaign for that knife, I realized WESN would become more. Honestly, I never thought it would become what it is today.

What did you guys do before WESN?

BILLY: Previous to WESN, I had been working as a creative director in the non-profit space and as a freelance film director. I’ve pretty much been working as a creative for as long as I can remember. 

ETHAN: Before WESN I was working as a barber, and into some small creative gigs on the side. When the pandemic hit, service wasn’t the greatest industry to be in — and I still wanted a more creative working lifestyle. Billy’s best friend was the owner of that shop at the time, so we got connected through him. The rest is history.

Tell us a bit about the team & WESN HQ- where are you based?

ETHAN: While being a small team, we’re pretty international — which is a lot of fun. There’s a handful of Americans, a couple of Swedes, and our graphic designer is Polish. At just eight people, we’re pretty tight-knit. We do a lot of hands-on work together and brainstorm more projects than you could probably imagine. Creativity ain’t something we lack. 

WESN started in Billy’s hometown of Detroit, USA, and we still are a Detroit-based brand. However, Sweden has always been where our roots and design inspirations lie. While our primary warehouse and office are in Detroit, our creative HQ of recent has become Stockholm, Sweden. That’s where Billy and I are both based, alongside most of our marketing team. We’ve got a small creative space near the centre of town, and you never know what kind of wild project you might walk into if you ever come by to visit. 

We found a really nice quote on your website about Billy’s friend gifting him a knife- can you tell us more about this?

BILLY: It’s a true story! Back in 2009, a friend of mine gifted me a SOG Twitch ii. It was a small, tactile pocket knife that I carried with me every day for years. It really wasn’t that cool of a knife, and it never fit in with the rest of my daily carry or personality. I actually couldn’t find any pocket knife that fit me — and that was one of the biggest inspirations &  why I wanted to make our first knife, the Microblade.

Can you tell us where you find inspiration for new designs?

BILLY: Inspiration comes from everywhere. Sometimes I’ll just see the shape of something and it inspires me. I have a sketchbook full of these kinds of designs — shapes evolving slowly into physical products. Each has its own purpose and story. For product names and backstories, I’ve taken a lot of inspiration from my family and Swedish heritage. You might not know it, but most WESN knives have Swedish names. The Allman (Every-man in Swedish), Samla (To gather), Henry (my Swedish grandfather), and Bornas (my grandfather’s farm).

Talk us through the process- the design process, how do you select materials & field test the products?

BILLY: It always starts with a defined product goal — what is the purpose of this product? After we have that, I then focus on visual aesthetics. This is a unique approach when designing a product that puts so much emphasis on function, but I find that this helps WESN stand out in the crowd. After I land on a visual design, I then dive into function. Things like how it feels to use for the task at hand, and how the product performs overall. At that point, we decide on materials. Utilizing what suits the product best for the use case behind that specific product. 

ETHAN: We’ve found the greatest field test is the test of time. Before any WESN product hits the market, we’ve carried it and used it daily. Making revisions where needed, and experiencing the product until we’re confident it’s ready to go out. 

What criteria does a knife need to meet to become a WESN good?  

BILLY: Premium materials, beautiful design, and functionality. Besides that, there are a few key design features that are consistent throughout every WESN good. We always offer a titanium model, as we feel it's the most suitable material for our knives. 

ETHAN: Every knife we make has gotta be able to be passed down. Besides being extremely durable, the design has to be timeless as well.

What do you both do in your spare time?

BILLY: When I’m not working with WESN, I’m usually spending time with my wife and two kids, travelling to new places or exploring our own backyard. Other than that, I’m also a film director. I spend a large portion of my spare time between family and work writing and working on fiction films. I have a long-term goal to direct feature-length films. 

ETHAN: If I’m not spinning vinyl or seeing gigs, I’m eating something good or trying to book a cheap flight. Travelling is a big passion — and I’m a firm believer that the best way to get to know a place is by eating your way around. Otherwise, we set up a barber chair in WESN HQ so I can keep the trade alive a bit. If I find any more spare time, I think nothing beats the experience of getting immersed in a good film.

We feel that you hold many of the same values as us- one of those being creating goods that will be passed down through generations- why do you think this is important?

ETHAN: Creating goods that last for generations was the biggest core value WESN was built on. We have this internal saying; “Repair, don’t replace.” Consuming less, better quality goods that last isn’t only better for the earth, it’s better for you. And a legacy for whoever you’ll pass your goods down to. 

BILLY: Exactly. I’ve always been attracted to brands that have this value. I’m a bit of a minimalist and have been for as long as I can remember. There was a time when my closet was less than ten items. At that time, I realized the value of quality. When you truly use your stuff, if the quality is lacking, it never lasts. I set out to make quality a core of who I am, and the brands I buy from. Many brands have been making goods that are truly quality for a long time. It really isn’t hard to make a product that will last a lifetime, but it is a commitment. We hold ourselves accountable for this by offering a lifetime warranty on every WESN product — but we’re so confident in our product that you should never need to use this. 

Are there any other values that you think we share? What was it that made you want to work with us?

ETHAN: I think P&Co and WESN’s values align a lot. Ever since I first found P&Co on Instagram almost 10 years ago, I was specifically drawn in by the unique design aesthetics and brand experience. At the time, not many brands drew me with such strong storytelling and visually as P&Co. As committed to quality and longevity we are, we’re also big believers that storytelling is an art form. The way P&Co has told their story, through photos, through design, and of course in your product, is beautiful. I’m not sure who wouldn’t want to work with such a brand. 

Is there anything you can tell us about the collaboration? Any initial designs etc?

ETHAN: I can say this is the most excited we’ve been about a collaboration, and if you’re reading this, we genuinely believe you’ll love what we’ve cooked up. We didn’t want to just stick a P&Co logo on one of our products and call it a collab, it’s been a hands-on process of creating something truly unique together. 

We’ve taken our most popular knife, the Microblade, and redesigned it from the ground up — trading its frame lock mechanics for a UK legal slip-joint design. This is something brand new for us, and we’re so excited to unveil everything about it in due time. 

BILLY: We’ve had thousands of requests for something of this sort over the years, and this collab is the perfect excuse for us to execute it. Excited to work with some more heritage materials we usually don’t use at WESN, and of course with the P&Co team. 

For those who are unsure, how can people use their P&Co x WESN knife? Where do you take yours?

BILLY: It’s simple, take it everywhere. The use cases are endless. You’ll realize that when you start carrying a knife… Just not on an airplane, you’ll regret that. 

Ethan: Mine hangs on my keychain, and because it’s always on me, I end up using it every day. To open packages, cut something, slice food… fidget. And I definitely have accidentally taken mine through airport security a few times (can confirm, not so fun).

What’s the future of WESN looking like? Are there any exciting projects on the horizon?

Ethan: More than ever is in the WESN pipeline. This year is our sixth brand anniversary — which we’re definitely planning an exciting way to celebrate. Right now, we’re making our newest knife, a fixed blade, in Sweden. That’s a first for us, and it’s been exciting to be so directly involved in the manufacturing journey. 

BILLY: Otherwise, we have a few amazing collabs in the works and some new products coming later this year. Maybe another new knife too. The future of WESN isn’t boring, we can say that much.