Walking the Walk | Shinola


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.

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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]



The Factory:


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The office looking into the factory.


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.



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Comments on “Walking the Walk | Shinola

    Mike on May 13, 2013 11:10 AM:

    I love the clean face of the Shinola watches. Love the green Argonite 1069. Quartz – whatever, it’s still a handsome timepiece. Congrats to Shinola.

    vanderleun on May 13, 2013 11:27 AM:

    Nice company. Good products. Excellent effort.

    But alas, when it comes to reviving an entity like Detroit and the region around it, projects like this won’t cut it.

    What cut it was and still is industry on the level of:

    Scott M B Gustafson on May 13, 2013 11:42 AM:

    I just read about this company last week and it is great to learn more about what they are up to. These watches are beautiful and I hope to have one on my arm before too long.

    Jason K on May 13, 2013 12:11 PM:

    thanks for the update on shinola. out of curiosity, what is the name of the private company that owns both filson and shinola?

    Jake on May 13, 2013 12:14 PM:

    Hey Michael,

    Great piece.

    Are they selling those leather iPhone cases yet? I couldn’t seem to find on the website, but they are surely sweet and a much more interesting alternative to the J Crew ones.


    Jim O on May 13, 2013 3:41 PM:

    I am from Detroit and have a first edition watch on order due in July and looking forward to it’s arrival.

    Many products are not available due to just starting up, I think many more will be out by the Fall.

    The private company is Bedrock Manufacturing.

    Yes Detroit is getting better but it will be a long process.

    Michael I hope you enjoyed you visit.

    herman on May 13, 2013 5:55 PM:

    Great great post, so inspiring love the watches now isnt this better than that axe store

    kiya on May 13, 2013 7:37 PM:

    This is cool but was hoping to hear that it was actually a small business, not a brand owned and started by a multi-million dollar corporation.

    RKW on May 13, 2013 8:25 PM:

    I should make a comment here, due to exemplary customer service. About a year ago, I sent an email to Filson complaining about Asian production of some of their goods, which were in years past, always US made. I received a very polite, and concerned email, and the Gentleman responded with the same concerns. He said Filson was doing everything it could to bring as much manufacturing back to the US as it possibly could. I own a lot of old Filson stuff, and now have a few newer (US made) items as well.

    The one that is just a shame, is Woolrich. I purchased 2 coats from them last winter, not US made, for my wife and myself. The wool is obviously not the traditional old Woolrich fabric, and we had to re-sew almost every button. Not only that, I never have been able to zip the jacket without needing Houdini to unzip it. Remember when Woolrich was a quality company? Filson is making sure they never make that same mistake.

    SJW on May 14, 2013 7:44 AM:

    “…when you look at the pricing and the aesthetics of the time pieces there’s a ton of value built in.”

    I would say that anyone who writes that hasn’t really studied what’s available in the watch market.

    Phil on May 14, 2013 11:00 AM:

    “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.”

    Dude, I know you have rust belt roots, but you need to get the fuck out of New York and stop taking your stupid Italian fashion junkets if you want to have any hope of speaking authoritatively on this shit. You sound like a fucking idiot.

    Michael Williams on May 14, 2013 11:36 AM:

    Phil, I wish I could speak as eloquently as you do here.

    Jacob on May 14, 2013 1:28 PM:

    Beautiful looking watches, the pictures above show a very timeless style. I wouldn’t normally buy a quartz watch (prefer automatic mechanical), but in this case, I am willing to make an exception to support a US manufacturing start-up. Hopefully they will add an automatic to their line at some point, maybe after they get some momentum.

    Any attempt to manufacture in this country, be it bootstrapping individuals starting companies or corporate entities reviving brands is worthwhile to me. We need all of it and we are not really in a place to be picky anymore.

    mat on May 14, 2013 5:57 PM:

    Clinical is the word that pops to mind, the process and finished product.

    If you’ve got nothing good to say don’t say anything at all also comes to mind reading some replies

    COLDASLIFE on May 14, 2013 6:14 PM:

    unnecessary shots at Michael. You wouldn’t say it to his face either. I hope you’re industry and you do have the balls to. I mean, Williams is at everything.
    You’ll be on the cover of WWD or some trade bullshit with your face smashed in.
    find me. Its obvious.

    Gary on May 14, 2013 10:39 PM:

    You could say they know their shit from …. I bet they’re real tired of that joke around that office

    vanderleun on May 15, 2013 12:45 PM:

    Sadly, Detroit will no longer be able to attract the kind of ethnic mix it needs to make a revived and meaningful industrial base viable. This is about the scale it can hope for but even then it won’;t get the kind of numbers of endeavors that it needs.

    Gari on May 15, 2013 10:56 PM:

    I really like this Shinola watch good face size and easy to read. And I cant get over the cleanliness of the office and factory great stuff

    Professor on May 17, 2013 9:36 AM:

    Like Vanderleun pointed out ala Mr. Seger, the city was built on mass produced products that “every” American could find a pricepoint that agreed with their budget. $550 watches and $2950 bikes are not reality for the Majority of Americans, and thus waiting for a revival of the city based on these luxury goods is going to be a long wait. Nice looking stuff too, but not likely to be found in my home in the foreseeable future.

    Scott M B Gustafson on May 17, 2013 10:30 AM:

    Corvettes and Cadillacs are not for the majority of Americans either and yet they are key products of the Detroit automotive industry. They are the cars people aspire to when they are settling on a Chevy Malibu instead.

    I bought an iPod a long time ago – actually have bought three over the years, and I am sure I spent more than $550 combined. Today they are all paperweights. While a watch fulfills a very different function than a music player, it has a usefulness, longevity and beauty that makes its price insignificant in comparison. The same could be said for all the mobile phones I have owned which are useless relics sitting in a box in my closet.

    With the plans to shrink Detroit because of depopulation (http://is.gd/1iitOf) , maybe the city will be fully bike-able in the near future. I spend more than $2950 a year on gas and insurance. If I lived in a city where a bike and a bus pass (for winter) covered all my transportation needs I would not hesitate to buy an excellent bike too.

    Mass production dropped the cost of products but in it frequently drops quality as well. Few things are made to last these days, and even fewer are made to age gracefully. If you read this blog and don’t know that ACL stands for quality and represents products to last a lifetime you must not pay close attention.

    Jeff Emery on May 18, 2013 8:19 PM:

    I get so tired of going around the country to malls and retailers and seeing the exact same merchandise for sale in the same chain stores. Places like Shinola exist, but the average guy isn’t going to find them if it weren’t for ACL. Thanks for bringing them to us. The iPhone case they have is very cool, but I don’t see it on their website. Do you know if they are selling them?

    Jono on May 20, 2013 8:47 AM:

    I second Jeff’s comment above – it’s tough to find items like these. Great post and thanks for bringing these unique pieces to light for the rest of us to enjoy.

    doane on May 20, 2013 12:44 PM:

    leather color selections are a breath of fresh air

    cork grips on May 22, 2013 10:36 AM:

    As a self-proclaimed ‘crazy bike guy’ I’m not scoffing at the $2-3k price of a fully built Waterford seeing as their frames start at $1.5k, albeit fully custom. Go Shinola!

    Dana on May 24, 2013 11:13 AM:

    I really like those watches, and I want one! This is a great story and a great product, thank you for telling us about it. As far as I’m concerned they already have me as a customer just waiting with my debit card in hand….too bad they’re sold out at this moment.

Comments are closed.