Hugo Worsley of Allday creates high-quality kitchen knives with blades hand-forged in Japan and handles made from upcycled plastic waste. Here, he explains the thinking behind the strategy.
What's your career background?
A. ‘I've always been involved in the food and drink industry. My parents worked in hotels so, growing up, I was always in that environment. I worked as a chef when I was 17 and 18, in hotels in London and Scotland. That's where I got the buzz for food. I was completely taken with it and went on to study for four years at the École hôtelière de Lausanne in Switzerland – it's the oldest hotel school and an amazing education, but it's intense. You're cleaning bedrooms, working in the kitchens, in the bars and restaurants. There's a Michelin-starred restaurant on campus that you work in. It's pretty epic. You eventually move into management roles – finance, HR, marketing.’
How did you get the idea for your restaurant?
A. ‘When I graduated, I got into the one-year New Entrepreneurs Foundation program [run by the Centre for Entrepreneurs] for business owners in the UK. On the course, I met another fellow called Jake and the two of us were the only ones who were really interested in going into the food and drink industry. We decided to start a French restaurant called Canard. We did it for three years and we had sites in [London's] Peckham, Paddington and Tooting Market. French restaurants in London were either very expensive or very cheap. We thought that there wasn't really much in the middle – but it turns out that the middle market is a difficult place to be in! It was a hectic dive into the world of running your own business at a young age. We closed down before lockdown.’
How did you decide to work with knives?
A. ‘I was looking for opportunities coming out of Covid. More people were cooking at home and with that came a need for better cooking equipment. Because I'd been working as a chef for so long, I had maybe 10 friends reach out, asking me where to get a quality blade at around the £100 mark. But it didn't really exist. There's such a disparity between £30 supermarket knives and £200+ knives. And, if you're not a professional chef, it could be unattainable. So I started developing my own prototypes.’
What's the concept behind Allday?
A. ‘We sell knives in batches of 150 or so every three months. It takes three months to make the blades in our forge in Sakai, Japan – an amazing fourth-generation family forge. And then, for our handles, we use plastic waste materials. I'd worked in kitchens and knew there were issues with plastic waste, so it was a no-brainer to use recycled materials for the handles. What I wanted to do was also create a story for every batch, working with a different illustrator.’
Where do you source the plastic from?
A. ‘Each batch focuses on a different industry that has its own plastic waste issues. The first batch used plant-pot plastic for the handle. Coming out of lockdown, there was a big issue with plant pots, because lots of people had purchased plants for their homes. But black plastic can't be recycled, because it can't be detected by recycling facilities' machines – so it would either get incinerated or end up going to landfill. For the second batch, we worked with vegetable delivery business Abel & Cole. It had issues with milk cartons on its dairy farm in Wiltshire in the UK, and asked if we'd like to take them for our knife handles. Through that, we told the story of working with this amazing family dairy farm and using their plastic waste. And, for batch three, which sold in September 2021, [I used] plastic fishing nets. Ocean plastic is a huge issue. I [worked] with a plastic collector [in Scotland] named Julian, who lives on the coast and has two PhDs. I [worked] in this lab for three weeks and [cleaned] the beaches of plastic. Then I [made] the handles for that batch of knives out of it.’
Is your business model based on the time it takes to craft a knife or to build hype?
A. ‘A bit of both. Because of the constraints of how long it takes to make the knives, I stuck to that framework of “I have three months”. I've looked to brands like [clothing brand] Paynter Jacket, which is excelling in its space and doing incredible things. I got huge inspiration from its model of batch sales, because it's such a great way to build a brand and get followers on Instagram really involved in the process. But it's not something I want to do forever. There'll always be an element of batch sales – maybe mini releases every so often – but are we going to have like batch 15, batch 25? I don't really think so.’
So, where would you like to take the business?
A. ‘I'm looking to build the world's first customizable knife platform, where you can choose both your blade and the materials in your plastic handles. I'm also in talks with a forge in Sheffield. I'd like to bring manufacturing over to the UK, because it's much better for the environment and they have the ability to do it in much larger quantities than they can in Japan.’
Hugo's influencer marketing tip
‘I haven't spent a penny on marketing so far,’ Hugo says. Instead, he's stumbled upon a clever strategy for drumming up hype. ‘If you can get them on board emotionally, that's a complete game-changer. I'll go to chefs or people who work in the food space [and] have a million-plus followers and say: “Why don't you send me your plastic kitchen waste over the course of the week and I'll make a custom knife handle out of it?” They absolutely love this and they tell all their friends and post [the knife] all over their Instagram. Rather than paying an influencer £1,000, you're giving them a product that they've been really involved in making, and it's a part of them.’
This article was first published in Courier's 100 Ways to Make a Living. To purchase a copy or become a subscriber, head to our webshop.