The demise of Detroit has been widely documented, almost to the point of nausea. I grew up hearing a similar song in Cleveland. If you live there or are from there, it makes you want to fight even harder. I can understand how Detroit feels; that underdog spirit is what makes me fly the Cuyahoga flag high every chance I get.
What’s crazy is what is really going on in the Motor City. There’s a beginning of change and some pretty astonishing things are happening. The road is long, but the desire to rebuild is there. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens to this great American city.
A few years ago Steven Alan (the man) introduced me to a few guys who had an ambitious plan to start making watches, bicycles, leather goods under the long mothballed shoe-polish brand Shinola. As much of the product as possible would be made in America, that’s what they told me. Made in Detroit to be specific. To say I was intrigued was an understatement. They asked me to come out to Detroit a few years ago (early on in this process) to see everything, but as I often do with brands I wanted to wait a bit and wait and see what was going to happen. It’s easy to talk the talk, it’s hard to actually make these kinds of things happen.
After time things progressed and the watch assembly was up and running, the bikes were in production and leather goods were becoming available. What I heard as talk in a meeting two years earlier had become real life things. It was time for me to visit and see with my own eyes what was really happening. What I saw in Detroit at Shinola was exactly what they talked about, though in action in real life. They are assembling watches with Horween leather bands in a super clean and modern facility just a large glass wall away main company offices. (Incidentally, the parent company of Shinola also owns Seattle-based Filson that is a client of my firm Paul + Williams; full disclosure and all that good stuff.)
I told my dad about what Shinola was doing and he was astonished. “Making watches in Detroit?” he said. “What?”
“I know” I said. “It seems crazy but it’s for real.”
Though along the way there have been some skeptics. Some are concerned of the fact that the watches are quartz, and that they are made from Swiss parts and only assembled in the U.S. These are valid points, but I think when you look at the pricing and the aesthetics of the time pieces there’s a ton of value built in. This is not even considering the fact that they are really put together in Michigan with a Horween strap.
What Shinola is doing is an ambitious undertaking and the amount of investment up until this point must have been huge. When’s the last time you heard about a company that has gone to the great length of opening a manufacturing facility of this complexity, training workers and simultaneously building a brand as developed as this? Let me tell you, I follow this stuff closely and I don’t see it very often. Honestly, I’ve never seen anything the likes of this. Shinola has put a lot on the line, and for that I have immense respect for the brand. This is just the beginning too, who knows what this can become.
It’s my view that what Detroit needs is more thinking like what is exhibited at Shinola. To recover, Detroit needs to embrace the unconventional ideas and its own inner-weirdness. It needs to start projects that draw out the skeptics (some city governmental integrity wouldn’t hurt either). That’s what in my mind will lead to a strong economy and bright future. [SHINOLA]
Some of the many small leather goods. This stuff is really nice. Every Shinola product has a unique numbering embossed on it —from watches to bikes to notebooks— creating a nice little extra something. After not too long I really got to liking this detail. An example is pictured below.
The Hill-Side x Shinola shoe shine towels to go with the shoe shine cream and brushes — a direct nod to Shinola’s past.
The Shinola bikes are made from steel frames (manufactured in Wisconsin) with disc brakes and internal hubs using Shimano components. The bikes are well made and handsomely designed. If you live in NYC, this would only work if you never leave it locked up outside on its own. Knowing crazy bike people, some are going to scoff at these; that’s for sure. The prices are not exactly cheap, but there’s no denying you are getting a lot of bike for the money. I’d ask to have some branding removed — the chain guard specifically would be quick to go. On the whole, I like these guys though.