It’s not unusual for fashion companies to release a watch line. The Shinola company has many products ranging from bicycles to leather goods to even a line of pet products. They tout themselves as an American-made watch brand and make simply designed and elegant watches.
The Shinola brand started in 1877 as a shoe polish company in Rochester, New York. It lasted nearly 100 years before going out of business in 1960. Tom Kartsotis, founder of the Fossil Group (1984-2010), founded the new Shinola Company in 2011 with the investment company, Bedrock Manufacturing. A year later he used his passion he gained for watches while working with Fossil to start a new line of watches under the Shinola name. His goal was to create a high-end American watch brand to compete against Swiss brands at a lower price point.
Shinola began production and released their first watch in March 2013. They made 2,500 watches at the price of $550 each. They offered two sizes, the Runwell Limited Edition 47mm–which sold out in one week, and the 40mm–which sold out in two weeks. Shinola didn’t stop there and released their second watch in October 2013. This was a Wright Brothers Limited Edition watch to reinforce the American ideal. In September 2014, they released a women’s limited edition watch, The Lattice. They enlisted the help of fashion designer Ocsar de la Renta to design an elegant feminine watch based off of de la Renta’s jewelry collection. Shinola was designing and producing watches at a scale no American watchmaker had done since the late 1960s.
The secret to their fast production is their factory located in Detroit, Michigan. Their factory is located on the fifth floor of the Alfred A. Taubman Building at the College for Creative Studies. The building has enough space to finish the assembly of half a million watches a year and is manned by over 400 employees–most of whom are local Detroiters from the auto industry.
Shinola has always claimed and advertised themselves as an American company and a true supporter of Detroit. The company’s tagline would advertise their watches as “Where American is Made” and is branded on their caseback with, “Built-In Detroit.” However in 2016, the Federal Trade Commission found that certain Shinola watches were made entirely of foreign parts. This was in direct conflict with their claim that they were “built” in Detroit. Shinola amended their statement by saying that their watches are built in Detroit with Swiss and other imported parts. Through this controversy, they continued to promote themselves as a Detroit company.
The Shinola watch company has faced a lot of other criticism over the years. Many have accused the company of using Detroit as a marketing tool. In A Metro Times article, they commented that Shinola had “seized scrappy Detroit’s comeback story,” which some view as capitalizing on Detroit’s poverty. Others take issue with Shinola’s promotional material saying that there is an alleged exploitation of Black culture and a perpetuation of their “white savior” image. On the other side of the controversy, others say that Shinola cares and has helped Detroit become a cleaner and safer city to live in through providing jobs for the local economy.
Though there is some controversy with Shinola’s dubious marketing campaign and their claims of being 100% Detroit, they do have the support from their customers who love their watches. These include former Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, former president Bill Clinton who bought 14 Shinola watches and called the company an American success story, and former president Barrack Obama. In April of 2016, Obama gave the prime minister of the UK, David Cameron, a custom Shinola men’s watch with the seal of the president of the United States engraved on the caseback.
Today the Shinola Company is still producing watches and other goods and have boutiques in 14 cities across the United States, Canada and the UK. They have expanded their watch models to include several styles for both men and women. Shinola is sticking with their Detroit ethos and have continued to add jobs and bolster the Detroit economy.
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