Watching Shionla’s videos introducing and documenting the production processes of their carefully manufactured watches, bicycles and leather goods – all made in the USA – one wants to instantly own each of their pieces. One wants to touch the soft leather cover of their notebooks, smell that hot-off-the-press-scent. Hear the clock hands of the watches ticking on ones wrist. Ride Shinola’s bicycles into the fading sunset light. This brand definitely knows how to transmit a feeling, create a sense of experience. It spreads positivity and in everything Shinola does they place great value on aesthetics. But not only that. The label creates designs to last, life-long companions to be passed down to the next generation. Who wouldn’t want to own such a piece?
Founded in 2011 with less than ten employees Shinola decided to partner with Swiss watch brand Ronda AG, which produces the hundreds of single components a watch is made of. Shinola’s employees, who formerly constructed cars, assemble Ronda’s pieces in a manufacturing hall in Detroit. Trained by the Swiss experts they are understandably proud of being part of the process. ‘People are going to buy watches that we made. This is a big deal to me’, says one of the workers. The partnership with the Swiss watchmakers results in top-notch quality. ‘To put it simply, we have partnered with the best of the best’, says Daniel Caudill, Creative Director of Shinola. ‘We started working with Ronda AG to help us build our state-of-the-art watch factory from the ground up.’ At the time of the company’s founding no other American company had produced watches at scale for over forty years.
Shinola has grown rapidly over the past three years and is now the employer of 230 people. Building jobs and creating an inspirational and enjoyable work atmosphere is important to the brand. Every employer is vital in the process of creating quality products and they know about their importance. ‘Here I feel part of something’, says one of the watch assemblers with pride. Using ‘steal, leather and labour’ Shinola highlights the glory of manufacturing as well as the beauty of industry. On their website Shinola states: ‘For generations, the automotive industry has produced many skilled craftspeople, including leather makers who have made everything from steering wheels to seats and headrests. We’re proud to tap into Detroit’s long history of manufacturing, as we believe there’s much more to come.’
‘Detroit is a global icon onto itself’, Daniel Caudill says. ‚To us, the city is extremely unique. There are a lot of incredibly talented people, and it’s something you experience when you hear the local music, eat the local food, and see the local art.’ Shinola beliefs in the future of Detroit which was not so long ago the embodiment of industrial decay. ‘The city is on the rise again – it’s a creative melting pot like New York in the 80’s or Berlin in the 90’s’, Caudill says euphorically. ‘We are fascinated with Detroit’s deep manufacturing history but even more so with its future. In terms of Shinola, we are creating jobs in Detroit – in fact we are creating industries. For us it’s amazing to be a part of this movement.’ Caudill is convinced that the way for Detroit is forward and what lays ahead is promising. ‘In Detroit, there’s a spirit of greatness. There’s a spirit of optimism. There’s a spirit of style.’
To add to the greatness of Detroit Shinola launched the #SayNiceThings campaign at the beginning of this year. Every #SayNiceThings post on Twitter or Instagram was written on a paper embedded with seeds. The seed papers were then planted throughout Detroit to support the Green Alley Project, a regeneration programme designed to turn alleys into urban oases. More than 1,100 nice things will grow in Detroit thanks to Shinola’s initiative that lead users to post positive messages such as ‘There is something to learn from everyone and everyone is beautiful in their own way’ or ’#SayNiceThings and love unconditionally’.
The campaign spreading positivity, hope and a good mood is a nod to Detroit’s past. Say Nice Things About Detroit was originally created in the 1970’s by Emily Gail, a small business owner in downtown Detroit. At the time many businesses were closing their doors and negative sentiment was on the rise. With the hopes of inspiring her hometown to greater things, Ms. Gail decided to take the simple action of encouraging people to say something nice.
Highlighting the unique sense of style, history and passion of the city of Detroit Shinola also teamed up with fashion photographer and filmmaker Bruce Weber. The collaboration explores the beauty of manufacturing, while capturing the spirit of Detroit. Weber’s vision includes a varied group of locally cast individuals photographed alongside supermodel Carolyn Murphy. ‘My first visit to the city of Detroit was last October and my initial impression was one of pure surprise and quite infectious in spirit,’ Murphy says. ‘I had preconceived notions of a place that would be desolate and rundown, but to the contrary I found that there were tiny gems of architecture and the people of Detroit were welcoming and warm.’
The Detroiters photographed by Weber are from a wide spectrum of experiences and represent Shinola and the brand’s values. The project is a celebration of the city through the lens of an American icon. ‘It’s about the creative energy and getting to the heart of what Detroit means to the locals’, says Caudill. ‘With this campaign, we are excited to celebrate the community that surrounds and inspires us – we are proud to be here. The creative energy in Detroit is very real. Workers are being drawn here by the opportunities and companies are being drawn by the skilled craftsmen.’
‘Detroit is a sleeping giant that has suddenly waken up,’ Bruce Weber describes the city. ‘I feel a real sense of optimism has grown here.’