Knifewear owner Kevin Kent started selling Japanese knives out of a backpack in 2007 on his bike while working as a chef in Calgary. Then Knifewear’s Knife Store opened in 2008 and in the 14 years since opening has expanded to 5 locations across Canada. The company specializes in carrying high quality Japanese knives that are not found in any other shop in Calgary. “For 20 years, I’d worked as a chef and I was making very low wages – poverty wage or just above poverty wages – basically all of my working years in different restaurants, and it just didn’t seem fair to me. . . . When we started this business, we thought, ‘If we can’t pay people enough money to get by, why are we doing this?’ We felt we shouldn’t have to condemn our staff to poverty to have a business,” says Kent.

Knifewear has committed to not only paying a living wage in Alberta but are also a part of Living Wage for Families in BC and are a certified Living Wage Employer in Ontario. In addition to paying a living wage, Knifewear also treats retail working as a career. Kent explains, “This is an industry that’s known for people leaving to go find something better or stopping at a retail store and saying, ‘This is my job until I find something I want to do.’ Instead we turned that around and said, ‘How can we make this an actual career for people?’” As such, Knifewear provides a regular schedule, profit sharing, a health spending account, paid sick days and a long service leave which gives employees a 3 month paid holiday after 10 years of service.

Kent adds, “We keep people employed permanently, full time, all year, so they can have the same paycheques week in and week out.” He believes that a flaw with the hourly living wage is that is doesn’t account for slow seasons where hours may be cut. At Knifewear there are periods of time where the stores are overstaffed or understaffed, but Kent comments, “I think the benefits of having a living wage for my staff is that they stick around for a longer time, we’ve got more longevity, we’ve got more engagement, so our staff treat customers better. If you come into any of our stores, you’re going to be greeted, you’re going to be engaged by an employee. If you’ve been there before, likely you’ll see the same staff each time you’re in, which I think is great for customers.” 

Knifewear is clear proof that caring for employees by providing a living wage and equitable employment practices leads to much less turnaround. At the moment, Knifewear has 3 employees at the retail level who have been with the company for 10 years or more, and a large portion of their employees have been working for Knifewear for over 5 years. Kent says, “We think our staff should struggle less, so we think they should have one job. So, when they come to work, they’re not thinking about their next job or tired from their previous job. They’re not stressed about how to make ends meet, because we pay properly.”

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