Stand outside Tomer Botner’s apartment in Florentin, an iconic neighborhood in South Tel Aviv, and you can clearly see the names of the banks on the sides of the glistening towers of Rothschild Boulevard, just a few minutes’ walk away. This neighborhood is worlds away from the shiny Rothschild area, unique in character, and in something of a battle with itself over its identity. It is ironic that amid this backdrop, Botner has developed a product that could not only settle the confusion surrounding his neighborhood in relation to its functional, swanky neighbors, but could also settle the silent tension and concern that lies within it.
Botner provide a has created a brand and a product which is uniquely Tel Aviv not by looking to the world of technology as is the norm in this hi-tech city, but by revisiting one of the most common products used in the kitchen: knives, with his brand, Florentin Kitchen Knives.
Florentin Kitchen Knives is a product uniquely Tel Aviv, and even more, uniquely Florentin. The knives carry the slogan “Hand made in South West Tel Aviv.” The original samples were made by craftsmen each sporting a unique skill in the neighborhood in which Botner lives and works – the blades, the handles, the covers, cases, accessories….
Young designers in cities around the world have taken to neighborhoods such as Florentin, and led to their transformation – in New York, Brooklyn has seen a design revolution in recent years, in London, the area of Hoxton has similarly changed.
In Florentin, hundreds of skilled craftspeople continue to go about their daily work – it’s fascinating to stroll through the streets and see what’s going on. It’s also incredible to know that in a Western City, it is possible to get custom, handmade items so competitively priced. The incredibility of this fact, however, is lined with an inevitability that eventually prices in Florentin will rise, the shops will change, and most crucially, the craftspeople will have to stop working here – perhaps not just as a result of it becoming too expensive, but as a result of international competition and a lack of demand for their skills.
Botner’s product embraces the area in which it is designed and made. It gives the craftspeople the opportunity to collaborate on the future together. There is the potential for Florentin, a unique neighborhood in an incomparably creative city to become a center for industrial design, fashion design, and culture. It could recreate the major success of Brooklyn where in the past ten years, designers have flooded the area and large warehouses have been converted to create more space for craftspeople. An image of quality, creativity, and locality has been created. Florentin could so easily be the same – those who live here and those who work here could work together to keep their neighborhood – and create an area with its own character which people aspire to be part of. Just as Neve Tzedek draws tourists to walk its narrow streets, and the ‘White City’, to admire the architecture, Florentin could draw tourists to streets of galleries, workshops, and creative spaces.
Botner’s beautiful knives are a local product in a world where everything comes from so far away. In recent months, in order to keep up with demand and to keep the quality of his knives high, Botner has had to relocate the blade manufacture to the USA – perhaps the skilled craftsmen needed for this vital element already disappeared from Florentin, and perhaps his success could bring them back. Aside from that, the knives are 100% Tel Aviv, 100% Florentin.
In the old Florentin, as in the old London, the old New York, you would receive a product customized for you. Today, you buy a knife out of a box and have to search for the one which is comfortable for you. Florentin Kitchen Knives turns back the clocks and allows the customer to not only design the knife, but have a knife which fits their body. Of course, not everybody comes to the workshop for a fitting (tens of knives have been sold online to as far afield as the US and Australia), but in the sense that you can, the clocks are turned.
It would be amazing if more projects such as Florentin Kitchen Knives emerged in Florentin and brought about a renaissance in the area to create the kind of creative community which so many other cities have created. Slowly it might be happening. In the meantime the knives will continue to be made, and discerning buyers from around the world will come to Florentin to buy not only a knife, but into an idea and a vision.
You can read more about the area, an area of Tel Aviv that is off-the-beaten-track, but fascinating in our guide to Florentin.
This article is part of our new series Israel Stories, special features focusing on people who are following their dreams and creating something unique in Israel. If you have an idea for an Israel Story, or would like to write one, please contact us