Factory Tour: Shinola

Monday, June 16th, 2014

By Patrick Sisson
Photographs by Doug Comb

Shinola’s Detroit headquarters at the College for Creative Studies is a study in minimal, retro design. Handcrafted Americana—the showroom/trophy case presenting the company’s immaculate bikes (designed by a former Bianchi employee), or the expanding leather-goods workshop draped in colorful sheets of Chicago-made Horween leather—meets a sleek look forward.

Watching focused workers on the shop floor assembling timepieces, it’s hard not to be caught up in the enthusiasm. And, since Shinola is often cited in the phoenix-like stories spun about Detroit’s future, it’s also difficult not
to consider what’s next. Part of that answer, according to creative director Daniel Caudill, is toasters. With worldwide expansion currently underway, including planned 2014 store openings in Chicago, Minneapolis, London, and Washington, DC—complementing recent placement in Paris’s chic Colette as well as new Berlin offices—appliances may seem secondary. But it speaks to the wider vision and the wave of resurgent American craftsmanship that Shinola set out to ride since its founding in 2010.

“Eventually, Shinola will have a whole product range, all predicated on US manufacturing,” says Caudill, a former global product designer at Adidas, who notes that jeans, outerwear and shoes are slated for release this year.

When the core story is as much about the process and the people involved, the goods just need to maintain a straightforward, timeless aesthetic. For Shinola, timelessness means “stripping away what you don’t need” and representing American style without being too “heritage-y.” Caudill cites Donald Judd as an influence, as well as a Marfa road trip that sparked ideas on branding and store design. He also draws inspiration from the likes of Prada and Ralph Lauren.

“The way Ralph Lauren has one continuous message across all categories and platforms—they’re so consistent,” he says. “It’s inspiring.”

In many ways, Shinola’s ambitions suggest an anti- new-economy spin on those marquee brands’ aspirational stories. “Luxury in the United States is about quality,” Caudill says. Evidently, that also can apply to toasters.

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