written by:
June 13, 2013
Originally published in America the Beautiful
as
Motor City Redux
Shinola, a new brand promoting domestic manufacturing, aims to bring cottage industry back to the factory spaces of Detroit.
Shinola manufacturing factory in Detroit

One of Shinola's 60 factory workers assembles a bicycle. Photo by: John Spinks

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The production facility is located in Detroit's Argonaut building, originally built in 1928 to house a design laboratory for General Motors. Photo courtesy General Motors.

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Yellow bike by Shinola

Shinola's creative director Daniel Caudill says, "Our long-term goal is to have everything made here. The current challenge is that since we can't [produce everything domestically], what can we make?" That would be the bicycle, whose parts are made in Wisconsin (frame), California (wheels), Colorado (spokes), and Mississippi (tubing). Photo by: Greg Vore

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Watch mechanisms are sourced from Switzerland and assembled in the Shinola factory in Detroit. Photo by: Greg Vore

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Shinola manufacturing factory in Detroit

One of Shinola's 60 factory workers assembles a bicycle. Photo by: John Spinks

Housed on the fifth floor of the Detroit’s Albert Kahn-designed Argonaut building—the original home of the General Motors Research Laboratory—an ambitious upstart called Shinola handcrafts Swiss-style watches, leather goods, notebooks, and bicycles “made by bike people for bike people.” In partnership with the city’s College for Creative Studies, an art and design school that traces its roots back to a craft society formed in 1906, Shinola aims to help bring industry back to the beleaguered city and, eventually, earn a 100-percent-American-made stamp. (The brand name may ring a bell, since the company borrowed it from Shinola shoeshine company, popular in the early 20th century.)

Employing local workers and, hand in hand with CCS, sponsoring classes, offering internships, and recruiting bright-eyed standouts, the effort is small-scale manufacturing in its newest guise. “There is so much going on in Detroit,” says creative director Daniel Caudill. “A lot of people want to see the destruction, but Detroiters are so optimistic of where the city is going and that is why we are there.”

Shinola’s next step is to introduce other products, like footwear and outerwear, and this summer it will open retail locations in Detroit and New York. It’s an enterprise that counts on teamwork and manpower—a kinder, friendlier iteration of the assembly lines of yore. “If everyone starts out with the same mission, passion, and goal,” says Caudill, “at the end of the day, we are going down the same path.”

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