Getting to know what makes Shinola tick.
i’m standing on a factory floor spying over a worker’s shoulder as he meticulously places numbers on a watch face. He is so still, and the assembly floor is so quiet, that I slow my breathing to match his so I don’t interfere. Suddenly, like a clap of thunder, Fred Flintstone’s voice bursts through the intercom: “Yabba dabba doo!” I laugh as workers start filing out for the day. As far as factories go, this one’s pretty cool.
Shinola, maker of watches, bikes and leather goods, launched in Detroit in 2011 to create jobs in a city that was on the cusp of an important and much-needed rejuvenation. Since it started turning out its first watches, the company has done more than add 500 jobs to an ailing economy; it has insisted on doing things its own way. “Building a watch factory in the United States at scale doesn’t make sense,” explains Daniel Caudill, Shinola’s creative director. Despite the higher costs to train a team to assemble watches in North America (rather than, say, Asia), the company maintains an optimistic philosophy: Keep as much of the process as possible in-house. While certain components, like the movement and watch hands, are imported, the timepieces are assembled by hand; leather accessories are designed in the same Detroit workshop that turns out samples, and some smaller leather goods, like a gorgeous envelope-shaped cross-body bag, are also produced there. The small team that started it all has also remained constant: Six of the original 10 assembly workers are still with the company; some have new roles as supervisors and team leaders.
While a tour of the factory reveals a lot about the company’s optimistic approach, its retail stores—including its first Canadian outpost, which opened in Toronto this summer—keep that buzz going. While you can shop for all of the brand’s star products—like its customizable watches, super-slick bikes made on-site and luxe leather accessories—at the Detroit flagship, you can also settle in at the house coffee shop for a pour-over or plug in to answer emails while you have lunch. There’s even a popup space where local entrepreneurs are invited to sell their wares. (When I visited, there was a florist selling superchic cacti.) “Sometimes I’ll come multiple times a day,” admits Caudill, who has helped shape the vision for the retail experience, which emphasizes a sense of community above anything else. It’s a welcoming space that makes you feel as if you’ve arrived home after a long trip. The Toronto store may not serve perfectly brewed iced tea or pressed sandwiches, but it does have a set of oversized leather loungers that make you want to sink in and stick around for a while. n
Coat, top and trousers (Kenzo x H&M), bra (Carine Gilson), tights (Wolford), earrings (Ara Vartanian), rings (Dior), ring (Jules Smith), ring (Janis Savitt), ring (Spinelli Kilcollin), necklace (Tiffany & Co.) and shoes (Jimmy Choo)
Leather shopper ($745), bicycle ($3,695), leather cross-body ($495), and stainless-steel and leather watch ($720). All at shinola.com.
A worker assembles a Shinola watch. Above: A look at the Toronto store at Queen and Ossington