Shinola Expands its Detroit Manufacturing Space

Shinola brings leather making in-house with a new 12,000-square-foot studio.
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Detroit-based watch and bike maker Shinola has steadily grown since its inception in 2011 and the latest news is the expansion of its in-house production facilities to include leather manufacturing.

Shinola has expanded its space in Detroit's Argonaut Building to include leather manufactuirng. The company sources most of its raw materials from tanneries in Chicago, Maine, and Pennsylvania. Photo courtesy of Shinola.

The company currently works with contract manufacturers in Florida, Missouri, and Minnesota but rising demand outstripped supply. The new factory is housed on the same floor as Shinola's watchmaking facilities and creative offices in the Argonaut Building, a historic structure architect Albert Kahn designed in the 1920s.

Italian company Galli S.P.A. custom made the machinery in the 12,000-square-foot workshop based on specifications needed to produce Shinola's designs. Photo courtesy of Shinola.

"A lot of good things happen when you can develop products right where you produce them," says Jen Guarino, VP of Leather at Shinola. Photo courtesy of Shinola.

Reasons for bringing manufacturing in-house are twofold, says Jen Guarino, VP of Leather at Shinola. "Demand was so high for our watches; another is that we wanted to be able to innovate. When you're able to be right next to manufacturing, you're able to try things a lot quicker."

A single watch band passes through the hands of nearly a dozen people during the manufacturing process.

Shinola will initially focus on making straps for their watches and add journal covers and wallets to the Detroit production line this summer. A handbag line is in the works.

"There are a lot of things that we could and should be making in the United States," says Guarino says. "Leather goods, particularly, because you can still get good leather in the States and really helps when you can get your raw materials in the country."

Producing a watch band is a multi-step process. Leather is brought into the factory, slimmed down in a process called skiving, then layered together, cut into shape, heat-pressed together, then stitched. The last piece is attaching the watch face to the band.

Manufacturers in China supply 88 percent of U.S. demand for leather goods and Guarino believes there's an opportunity for Stateside manufacturing to fulfill some of the need, but only if production increases. "Handbags are a 13-billion dollar industry," she says. "Even if we were going make supplies for our own demand in the industry, right now we could fulfill 16 percent of domestic demand. One of the reasons the U.S. isn't making things here anymore is that the industry has contracted so intensely. When the businesses went overseas, factories closed and the industry stopped being taught. We lost the talent and we lost the factories."

"In doing somethng like [leather manufactuirng], money doesn't buy everything," says Guarino. "You need people who know how to do the job." Shinola predicts it will have a workforce of 60 people in the leather studio by the end of 2014.

A single Shinola watch band passes through the hands of about a dozen people and the company is training its workforce to produce the pieces. Shinola currently employs about 50 people in its watch and leather studios, 25 of whom came from the auto industry. By the end of the year, Guarino estimates that the leather studio will grow to a workforce of 60. "You have to become a guardian of the trade by passing it along," she says.


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