Shinola Detroit–or Not

New York Fashion Week has always iconically represented the cutting edge creativity of top designers and young up and comers. Designers who have houses that design primarily for men have been left out of the party. The launching of New York Fashion Week: Men’s, this July, resolved that battle of the sexes.

As I watched and read about the debut, from the sidelines sadly, I planned to write in this blog about the designers who had the most innovative designs. But I was captivated by one interesting bag! Doing a bit of research, I found that it was designed by Shinola from Detroit, one of the events sponsors.   So….I stepped off the runway to check them out.

First, I was really intrigued because the company’s mission statement states that they are resurrecting the idea of American manufacturing in Detroit.   I am a huge fan of  Bellucci and Gucci, but I have to support the home team.   After doing a bit of research,  perhaps their statement should have been assembled in Detroit, rather than made in Detroit.

Looking at their website, I was impressed by the achievements accomplished by a company that was a start up in 2012.  From bicycles and dog accessories to watches and high end leather goods, the company seemed to be leaking creativity in every direction.

Delving into the company’s history, I found that far from being an inexperienced company rising from the ashes of Detroit like a phoenix, the founder and owner is Tom Kartsotis, the founder and CEO of Fossil, a company known for developing an empire selling cheap Hong Kong watches.  He teamed his parent company, Bedrock Manufacturing with a Swiss company Rhonda AG which created quartz watches to launch the Shinola company.  Interesting sidenote, the name was purchased by Kartsotis from a old time shoe polish company.

Maybe Kartsotis should have been more careful about his brand name.  Playing off the Shinola shoe polish, WWII banter included the phrase, “he doesn’t know sh**, from Shinola” meaning someone was really stupid.

In my hometown in the Northwest, Shinola is pronounced Shy-no-la, and it is a term we used to mean someone who is trying to pull one over on you.  Maybe the company is aptly named. However, to be fair they do make some upscale bikes that have durability and well-crafted construction. Regardless, of the actual origin of their products they are bringing new growth to the Detroit area and creating much needed jobs.

When Shinola claims to be embracing the ideals behind Detroit manufacturing, we should sit up and take notice.  Henry Ford began the concept of  assembly line manufacturing to create inexpensive cars for the masses.  Even today, more exclusive cars have portions assembled by craftsman.  Shinola’s watches are assembled in an assembly line, with quality testing relying on two watch maker craftsman.  Shinola also makes bikes.  They also are strictly assembly line with parts from other parts of the United States and Asia.With an average manufacturing cost of $50–$500 to $1200 seems a bit expensive.  Although consumers should be aware of mark-up when considering an expensive purchase, it is the nature of the fashion business and not an exclusively a mark of Shinola’s business.

Their leather goods, while fairly high end, are also not made in Detroit– but they are made in America.  Maybe the true hero of this story is Horween Leather Company.  Founded in 1905, they have been making quality leather goods.  From start to finish combining old world tannage techniques and modern applications, they create  the finest leather for baseballs, footballs, mitts, shoes, bags, and other accessories.  Truly an America success story and a great example of what we should value.

Kudos to Shinola of Detroit for manufacturing in the United States. They are a larger employer in a town that badly needs more job.  But they do capitalize on American’s love for Detroit and all it stands for.  Washington D.C.  may the political hub of the U.S., but for many Americans with its gritty history, Detroit stands for the heart of America.



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