Detroit may seem like an unusual place to set up a fresh, new, and dynamic brand, but after our visit I can safely conclude that it is a perfect match. Although outsiders generally feel that ‘The D’s’ glory has long since past, there is a strong vibe of resurgence and a creative beat which is palpable in the air all around town. Everyone I spoke to in the city was honestly excited about Shinola. Detroit is clearly a proud town that is committed to bringing itself back from the brink of vanishing from the map after losing nearly 800,000 skilled workers in the aftermath of the 2008 Financiapocalypse.
Part of this buzz is due to a creative collaboration that Shinola has in their partnership with the College for Creative Studies, a well-known industrial design school that Shinola shares the Argonaut building with. Students at CCS are masters of industrial design, and are often drafted into the auto industry straight from school. I had a chance to tour the design labs, and if the future of automobile design comes from these kids, we’re in good hands. Shinola has also provided design challenges for the students, and a number of student contributions are working their way into future products. The whole process at Shinola is fresh and integrates designers, marketing, and the assembly crew into the fold. Their facility is open-layout and encourages collaboration. I imagine this is what Google must have felt like in their early days (they even have a well stocked kitchen and serve their self-branded Shinola Cola!).
Now, to cut to the heart of the matter, Shinola is not (yet) truly a watch manufacture – in that they are not currently manufacturing the major components of their wristwatches in-house. Their cases and dials are made overseas, as are their movements (they have a partnership with high end Swiss Quartz manufacturer Ronda). Now, before you cry foul and throw your arms up in despair, let’s take a step back for a moment.
If that’s the whole story about Shinola, why are all the snobby watch Journos (I count myself as a proud member this club) paying it mind? Quite simply, because that isn’t the whole story, and the excitement stems from the simple fact that they are treading on new ground, building a totally new industry, taking the right steps to grow it sustainably and intelligently – and they are aiming their sights high.
Shinola has invested heavily in a state of the art lab, and is training new American watchmakers. Sure, assembling a pre-packaged quartz movement is a far cry from manufacturing a mechanical movement from nuts to bolts, but we’re talking about ramping up for the future. As watch enthusiasts, what we’re all going to benefit from here is a new generation of skilled workers who will be able to grow these skills as the brand evolves. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was FoMoCo (Ford Motor Company).
It would be easy as mechanical watch enthusiasts to sneer at Shinola’s new line of quartz watches, but what you should take away from all of this is that what Shinola represents is an exciting possibility and a real investment in a return to American watchmaking.
There is no question that the designers behind the first run of Shinola watches know what they are doing – they are beautifully executed, and the presentation is superb. In short, they are off to a running start. The next steps are moving from assembly to manufacture, and given their attitude and commitment to the project, we have high hopes that in a few years we will see the beginnings of completely American-made timepieces coming out of Detroit. And that is worth getting excited about.
On my trip, I was given a simple grey T-Shirt that read “Say Nice Things About Detroit.”
It should say, “Say Nice Things About Shinola.” shinola.com