In 2023, Detroit-based Shinola will celebrate its 10th anniversary of selling the first “built in Detroit” wristwatch. Customers purchased the original Shinola Runwell timepiece in 2013 at the seminal Shinola boutique in Detroit’s Midtown, formerly known as the Cass Corridor. The company was born with the goal of “creating 100 manufacturing jobs in Detroit,” and the Shinola brand — a revitalized American brand name that long ago made shoe polish — officially opened its current downtown Detroit headquarters in 2012 with an entirely new U.S. watch factory on the fifth floor of the historic Argonaut building. The tall brick structure was originally built in 1928, but, like much of Detroit, it became dilapidated after years of inner-city decline during the latter part of the 20th century.
Shinola invested in the historic Michigan automotive city during a key moment in the remaking of Detroit’s former glory and importance as an economic center. Currently, more than 400 people are employed there. In 2019, Shinola added a hotel to its portfolio of products and services. A beautiful concept and lifestyle destination, the hotel seamlessly integrates with the warm approachability of Shinola’s watches, leather products, wearables, and a near-endless assortment of distinctively designed games, comforts, and curios.
Returning Classic Horological Expertise To The United States
Wristwatches (along with clocks) continue to make up the majority of what Shinola manufactures. The core of Shinola is the design of men’s and women’s timepieces for the casual luxury consumer, coupled with the bold promise of building those watches in Detroit, where the company is headquartered. No company had been assembling or producing components in America at any scale prior to Shinola, and the resultant skepticism was to be expected. But 10 years later, the company has kept its promise; as of 2023, the company employs about 80 people in its watchmaking department alone. Shinola has succeeded in the most important goal as a timepiece maker: to develop an authentic watchmaking culture in-house that is inspired by the people who comprise the heart and soul of the organization. In the near future, Shinola will increase the complexity of the watch movements it is able to assemble in-house, which will further refine the sophistication of the timepieces that proudly bear the brand name.
Since 2012, Shinola has produced over one million timepieces and more than doubled the size of its original watch production team. It has also invested in human resources by training and promoting its watchmaking department team members, many of whom have been at the company since the beginning. The goal is not only to increase the number of watches that can be assembled in Detroit but also to expand the sophistication of manufacturing techniques in order to develop products of increasing quality and beauty. For anything it doesn’t currently make, Shinola works with carefully selected top suppliers from around the United States and internationally, which is not unlike the process followed by larger brands in the luxury space.
A major area of pride at Shinola is the leather workshop where, among other goods, Shinola produces watch straps in-house. The team of about 30 artisans starts with an assortment of high-quality leathers that are carefully sourced, largely in the U.S. The leather is then processed and machined into high-quality Shinola watch straps, which come in a dizzying array of colors and sizes and are also sold individually for use with other timepieces (including the Apple Watch). These straps are an excellent value, thanks in no small part to the collective skill of the artisans involved.
Products Built With Pride By Shinola In Detroit
Shinola’s original business concept was to return manufacturing jobs to the U.S., and the city of Detroit was chosen for its headquarters in large part because of the local history and resilience of the people. The growth of American steel manufacturing in the late 19th century and, later, the automotive industry, transformed much of Detroit and surrounding cities into a serious center of wealth creation, and indeed, by the 1950s, Detroit was among the world’s wealthiest cities. But in spite of the exceptional architecture and spaces imagined in some of America’s most optimistic moments, Detroit began to fall into disrepair over the following decades.
Yet Detroit’s legacy persevered, largely because of the rich cultural investments of the last 100 years and the enduring manufacturing pride of the people who call the city home. This tenacious spirit, coupled with the vision and involvement of companies like Shinola, has allowed Detroit to undergo an urban renaissance in recent years. Shinola’s presence in the city represents a notable return of American manufacturing to the city, and its factory has played host to U.S. presidents, celebrities, and fashion icons. The message here is subtle but powerful: Detroit is once again a desirable hub for manufacturing and design jobs in the United States.
Shinola has proven a point about what is possible in Detroit, namely, that the city is not only business-friendly but that it has both the people and the mentality to continue to build great things. Politically speaking, the investment of large business leaders like Shinola into both high-end retail and industrial expansion projects is necessary to reinvigorate many parts of America’s traditional manufacturing heartland.
There is an obvious sense of pride among the employees at Shinola, and the simplest evidence of this is the Shinola watches found on their wrists. These timepieces are the tangible result of countless hours of work, by themselves and their peers, and it is a major part of the Shinola team member experience. Shinola watches bear the fingerprints of its employees across all departments, and that many of the workers hail from Detroit brings added meaning to the brand’s “built in Detroit” ethos.
A Luxury Brand Celebrating Stories Of American Ingenuity
Shinola represents a new kind of American luxury brand. It’s a company with the purpose of transforming American nostalgia and manufacturing ingenuity into a product you can wear, feel, and share. The United States has always been a young country in comparison to Europe and its Old-World maisons that pull from local history to develop acclaimed styles beloved the world over. Is American culture and history now ready for the same designer interpretation? Shinola certainly thinks so.
Cities like Detroit undoubtedly have lavish histories filled with powerful personalities who built and invented great things. Gone are the days of Michigan ship-building, and gone is the heyday of the American car industry when manufacturing was the lifeblood of the region. What Detroit faces, like many noble cities around the world before it, is a journey of reinvention fueled by rediscovery. Beautiful secrets are everywhere, waiting to be discovered. For example, the Argonaut building that houses the Shinola headquarters was once an important automotive technology laboratory. Numerous revolutionary technologies such as car air conditioning and aerodynamic fins debuted decades ago in the same spot. Today, the creative minds at Shinola are harnessing the power of proud American history and its relics for a generation that is hungry for them. Shinola seeks to interpret the spirit of made-in-America ingenuity and a bright vision for the future that has always fueled this creative drive.
Shinola is dedicated to celebrating the stories of traditional American product design and manufacturing ingenuity. The products and wristwatches made by Shinola each encapsulate a tale of American brilliance and pride. Each watch is meant to last a long time, thanks to the use of durable materials and a solid build quality that communicates dependability. A similar product philosophy exists in each Shinola product, which are all individual stories about American design and craft.
One of the next steps for Shinola is taking the story beyond the United States. Shinola currently has nearly two dozen brand boutique stores in the U.S., with another 10 stores planned to open in the near future. Shinola has further plans to take its brand name and products internationally. Shinola’s success in the United States is directly related to how each of its stores, products, and experiences uphold the core values of the brand. According to the former CEO of Shinola, those values can be articulated as “quality, determination, hospitality, humility, and joy.” Anyone, anywhere, who upholds these values may very well also be a fan of the brand. To continue celebrating 10 years of Shinola Detroit, and to explore the current collection, visit the Shinola website.
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