Shinola believes that products should be built to last, preserving a heritage of American craftsmanship. It employs skilled workers to produce high-quality products – handcrafted watches, steel bicycles and modern leather goods, calling it ‘skill at scale’. Detroit – a city in the midst of urban and economic decline – may not seem like the obvious choice of production base. But for Shinola, Detroit is the heartland of the American motor industry, with a pool of manufacturing talent to match.
The company’s watchmaking factory and bicycle workshop are housed in the former Argonaut Building, designed by Albert Kahn for General Motors and opened in 1936. Most of the watchmakers come from car-manufacturing backgrounds at the so-called Big Three – General Motors, Ford and Chrysler – and are now behind the first industrial-scale watchmaking in America since the 1960s. ‘It’s getting the best people that know what they’re doing and bringing them together to create something that’s unique in the United States,’ says creative director Daniel Caudill. ‘We’re localising and building jobs, not just in Detroit, but all across the country.’ Shinola now has US stores in New York’s Tribeca, Detroit and Minneapolis, with Los Angeles and Chicago on the way.
The brand’s watchmakers were trained by Swiss movement manufacturer Ronda to assemble Swiss-bought components into American-made movements. Shinola’s flagship watch, the steel ‘Runwell’, has a nicely engineered look, with bold black indices and a clean white dial. And, Shinola is so convinced of its manufacturing skills that all watches come with a lifetime guarantee. The brand’s ‘Where American is Made’ remit extends far beyond Detroit – and beyond watches, too. ‘Watches are one of the most complex products to manufacture,’ says Caudill. ‘If we can succeed in making quality watches, we can make absolutely anything.’
Shinola’s in-house leather factory is part of a commitment to American craftsmanship, based on quality manufacturing know-how gathered from around the US and overseas. Says CEO Steve Bock, ‘The more we can manufacture at Shinola, and in Detroit, the better. Investing in our people, equipment and facilities is essential to our long-term success.’ Custom-built leather goods machines come from Galli, a leading Italian company. Hand-checked hides arrive from Chicago’s Horween tannery. Shinola’s workers, who were taught their craft by Swiss strap-making company Braloba, make them into watch straps and other small leather goods, including pet accessories made in collaboration with dog-loving photographer Bruce Weber.
Shinola’s US-made bicycles are of custom-level quality, blending comfort, utility and style. At Wisconsin’s Waterford Precision Cycles, headed by Richard Schwinn, bicycle frames and forks are crafted in American steel. They are then assembled by a team of specialist mechanics at Shinola’s HQ – the only vehicles in Detroit to be assembled entirely by hand.
‘Black Blizzard’, Shinola’s first watch line in hardy titanium, was inspired by the homesteaders of the Dust Bowl - those drought-afflicted southern plains that formed the backdrop of John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath in the 1930s. After the farmers and the government implemented pioneering conservation techniques, the wheat fields became fertile once again, and by the 1940s workers were reaping crops. The homesteaders are considered by Americans to be the embodiment of fortitude and eventual victory in the face of hardship. All qualities that Shinola wishes to celebrate today.
Shinola has recently opened a flagship store in London’s Soho. The collection is also available from Shinola.com/co.uk, Liberty, Net-A-Porter, Mr Porter and Colette, with stores in New York’s Tribeca, Detroit, Minneapolis, Los Angeles, Chicago and Washington DC.