Why Shinola brought bikes and watches to Motor City

Shinola bikes are all specialty orders, handcrafted precisely to their riders. Photo courtesy Shinola
Shinola bikes are all specialty orders, handcrafted precisely for their riders. Photo courtesy Shinola

When bike and watch craftsmaker Shinola opened up its Detroit factory in 2012, it was about more than just producing premium made-in-the-USA goods; it was about re-inspiring a community. For so many decades, the Motor City had been the hotbed of American industry, and even after its recent economic decline, the minds behind Shinola saw an opportunity to tap the city’s hardworking and skilled potential. The result? A 30,000-square-foot factory in Detroit’s College for Creative Studies, the first American specialty watchmaking operation in 40 years, and a unique homegrown bike assembler.

Shinola is the brainchild of Tom Kartsotis, the founder of Fossil watches. After seeing the watchmaking craft fade from the American psyche, he decided to reintroduce the art through a new company, and Shinola was born. Bikes and leather goods followed suit, fortifying the new American brand.

Though Shinola has received its share of flack for moving into Detroit after the city’s financial woes had set in, the brand is looking to make the city its own, hiring 90 percent of its employees from within city limits. So what does it take to become a successful homebuilt brand? GrindTV took a second to find out from the guys and gals over at Shinola. Here’s what they had to say.

While the bike frames are welded in Wisconsin, the fine details are perfected in the Motor City factory. Photo courtesy Shinola
While the bike frames are welded in Wisconsin, the fine details are perfected in the Motor City factory. Photo courtesy Shinola

Why did Shinola decide to establish itself as a "Made in America" brand?
Because we don’t think American manufacturing ever failed for being too good. We're reinvigorating a storied American brand in a storied American city. Shinola is about a community of people—not just employees of Shinola, but all the partners we have in the USA that are supplying us with leather, bicycle frames, paper and linen for our journals, all the various big and small components; [there are] too many to mention. For instance, at Waterford Precision Cycles, where our bike frames are made, they have been able to hire additional welders. All of it adds up.

Why did you guys decide to set up shop in Detroit?
Where do you go to find people who are used to assembling product and small componentry and who are willing to work? Detroit. It has a strong manufacturing legacy, an abundance of industry, innovation, and skilled talent. Since our inception in 2011, we currently employ 309 people, with 84 people in watch manufacturing, 50 people in leather manufacturing, and 10 people in warehouse and distribution. We have five dedicated bike people, as we call ourselves, in assembly and sales.

How has the community benefitted from Shinola moving in?
Shinola is a small part of this incredible movement in Detroit. People have been working for decades in this city to make it what it is today. We're part of the community and doing everything we can to play a positive role in the current movement of revitalization of the city.

What has the community response been like as a whole? Are you guys involved in any other community initiatives?
We are humbled by the support we've received from the community. Having both our corporate headquarters and watch/leather factory housed within the College of Creative Studies, we are relying on an open and collaborative interaction with CCS students through Shinola-sponsored classes. So far we have worked with students on programs that range from graphic and interior design to product and craft. These hands-on workshops provide students with real-world experience and direct access to our creative teams. We believe the integration of local creative talent with our manufacturing operations will enable us to produce consumer goods that are beautiful, meaningful, and built to last.

We understand the watch concept, but where did bikes come from?
The founder had an amazing vision to add bikes to the mix, which in hindsight is absolutely brilliant because our bikes complement the good design and American craftsmanship of the watches.

How would you classify the bikes you guys are bringing to market?
We would fall under the category of urban bikes.

What separates Shinola bikes from other city bikes of today?
The classic design, the American craftsmanship, and our attention to detail.

Just a few of the pieces of American-born Horween leather stretched to make Shinola's bike seats and leather goods; photo courtesy Shinola
Just a few of the pieces of American-born Horween leather stretched to make Shinola’s bike seats and leather goods; photo courtesy Shinola

What type of feedback have you been getting from the bike crowd?
The reception has been terrific. We've also seen tremendous response from people outside our hardcore bike world. We are reaching a customer who is not a typical bike-shop customer, who appreciates the style and the totality of the Shinola story. We currently have Shinola stores in Detroit, New York, [and] Minneapolis and are soon opening in Chicago, L.A., and London. When the customer is exposed to the entire brand story, they see how the bikes fit into our overall commitment to design and craft. I am sure some of our customers don't expect to see bikes in our stores, but when exposed to them in the context of the Shinola story, they "get" how they fit in and end up buying them.

As a relatively new brand, in which directions are you looking to grow?
We are growing quickly. In 2013, we assembled about 55,000 watches. This year we're on target to produce 150,000 watches. Not to mention, we have those new stores opening.

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