Beginning in 2011, Detroit has long drawn negative attention since the near obliterating financial collapse over the last five years of its crippling bankruptcy. Typical adjectives and stereotypes that have synonymously become associated with the city now are: unemployment, urban decay, ghettos and social blight –amongst others. However, while Michigan state Governor Rick Snyder was declaring a state of financial emergency in Detroit, Tom Kartsotis of Bedrock Manufacturing Company, LLC decided to “steer into the skid” when he conceived the idea for Shinola.

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Everyone at Shinola believes in products built to last, hence the focus on handcrafted domestic production. That belief can be found in every individually numbered product Shinola turns out of its facility; an effort to hold to their lifetime guarantee. “Making an investment in a purchase, that something you’ll have for a lifetime, whether that’s a bike, or a watch or a leather good; we hope to convince folks that you can do this, you can make just about anything that you dream up in the United States,” Heath Carr, CEO of Bedrock, reaffirmed.

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Yet more than simply a company or brand, Shinola’s products – quickly expanding to include notebooks, leather bags, office supplies and clothing – are a tangible phoenix rising from the ashes of a city formerly well-known for its manufacturing heritage. Steve Bock, Shinola CEO said, Detroit is the prototypical American dream: the underdog rebuilding against adversity, a story that resonates with many. A story, that also continues to foster Shinola’s rapid success.

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In 2014, Shinola announced the openings of both their in-house leather factory, as well as an in-house dial manufacturing facility – signs of its continued significant growth. Known as a community-minded city, Detroit helped inspire Shinola’s partnerships with other domestic manufacturers such as: Edwards Brothers Malloy in Ann Arbor, MI for their paper products, Hadley-Roma in Largo, FL for their leather straps and Waterford Bicycles in Waterford, WI for their steel bicycle frames.

The high quality of sourced material and craftsmanship allow all of Shinola’s products to hover the fine line between luxury and asceticism. Their watches in particular – seemingly delicate, but robust and bright stainless steel, encasing 46 to 52 individual parts of fine Swiss-made movement, held together by sturdy premium in-house leather make up the $550 Runwell watch; Shinola’s original and flagship model.

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Joseph DeBono, VP of Manufacturing at Hadley-Roma, admires American made quality, “as a teenager I lived in Europe, when we used to see something over there ‘Made in the USA’ we knew that was quality. And that still stands to this day.”

Another testament of collaborations with unmatched quality: Shinola’s leather goods, specifically the Signature Briefcase – supple Horween Essex leather, houses a smooth canvas interior with multiple stainless Southern California made zippers and hardware, stylishly stitched to transport important documents or a 15” laptop at a cost of $950, all the while supporting American craftsmanship.

In an effort to bring jobs back and lower the present unemployment rate of 12.5%, Shinola currently employs roughly 350 workers, with 150 in manufacturing. Placed on their website, “our company relies on collaboration with our partners.” A subtle nod of respect, for the domestic and international cooperative community, not to mention work environment Kartsotis, Carr, Bock and others have invested in their employees, training and overall venture.

“There’s a big difference in just how you think and talk to and about people; whether you think people work for you or with you. I can go buy the fanciest machine that they make, but if my guys aren’t any good, I’m still going to make junk,” said Arnold “Skip” Horween III, in accordance with Shinola’s business practices.

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The name “Shinola,” used to belong to a failing shoe polish company during the early 1900’s. Today it stands as a symbol of the American dream, taking a chance, pushing forward and making quality products by hand. If Shinola is any representation of the city of Detroit, it seems like things might be looking up.

Story By: Christopher Ho
Images By: Shinola