Shinola Detroit is a luxury lifestyle brand which specialises in watches, bicycles, journals and leather goods, amongst other items. Founded in 2011, its name is a nod to the former Shinola shoe polish company that was manufactured in the early and mid-20th century.
Luxurious Magazine met Daniel Caudill, their Creative Director, to talk watches, bicycles, luxury lifestyle, and their shiny new home based in the heart of Soho, London.
LM: How long have you worked at Shinola, and what drew you to the brand? When was Shinola Detroit founded, and please give our readers a little background history to the brand.
DC: I was a stylist in Los Angeles, and was doing a lot of brand and consulting work when I got involved with Shinola. I was introduced through a friend and we started talking about what the look and feel of an American-based watch brand would be. It just started from there, and was very organic. I’ve been with the company since the beginning.
We are makers of watches, leather goods, journals, and bicycles. We were founded in 2011 with the goal to make high quality products, and to make them right here in America. We started by partnering with Ronda, a world-class watchmaker based in Switzerland, to help us build a state-of-the-art watchmaking factory in the College for Creative Studies (CCS) in Midtown, Detroit. We then began training Detroit locals on the delicate process of movement and watch assembly. We have also opened a leather factory in the same facility, using traditional labour-intensive methods as well as modern hi-tech custom made Italian machinery. We are expanding our Detroit store from approximately 4,500 to 11,000 square feet. We have opened a watch dial manufacturing facility in the store and do all of our bike assembly there.
LM: What is your goal?
DC: Our goal is to make a product that you’ll want to wear for 10, 20 or even 30 years. To me, quality isn’t a price point from $5 to $500,000 – it’s about well-made things that are timeless classics that last.
LM: What luxurious item could you not live without?
DC: Our leather Runwell Backpack.
LM: What makes Shinola and Detroit so special when it comes to producing and delivering luxurious items?
DC: Shinola is unique in that it combines many aspects important in creating this very distinctive brand. These include a modern design, quality of the highest degree, great value, and where possible, all the products are made or assembled in the US, and most often in Detroit. I think it’s the quality of our products that really sets us apart. We have a lifetime watch guarantee, we really stand behind the product wholeheartedly. We want to make products we’re proud of. Important to the concept of Shinola is to bring more of the manufacturing capability for all of our products back to the States, and Detroit is where we want to situate those facilities.
We made the decision to move to Detroit because of its great history, deep manufacturing roots and amazing creative talent, and have never been disappointed – it’s a great city to be based out of. It was just, where is assembly and manufacturing the strongest in this country? — it’s obviously Detroit.
Manufacturing is a part of the culture here, and has been for multiple generations. This city and the people did everything possible to try to help us with the building of this brand. They opened their arms with nothing but the desire to help us succeed. It was really just about building that factory somewhere that made the most sense, because it’s really about the people; that factory is about people. Without people you don’t really have anything.
The goal is to really create a high benchmark that everything has to live up to. We’ve created products where there’s form and there’s function. That’s the standard that we’ve built. The design philosophy is in the same place. Everything has to be held up to it, which is not an easy task.
LM: Tell our Luxurious readers more about your international presence in London’s contemporary Carnaby Street in the Soho district.
DC: It’s on a great corner on Newburgh Street in Soho. We identify locations and stores based on the beauty of the raw space and the community we are surrounded by. Soho is a vibrant and culturally significant area with a strong sense of community, an ideal location for our first store outside of the US.
We opened the store last October – this is our first international store. It’s really the gateway for our European expansion and, along with the launch of our international e-commerce platform, this was an exciting next step as we further establish our presence in Europe. We are also in Selfridges, Liberty, Colette and Le Bon Marche in Paris, AP&Co. in Zurich, on Mr. Porter, and we will soon be opening new doors in Germany and France.
LM: When was the first Shinola Detroit watch produced? How much does it retail for?
DC: Our first goal was to build this watch factory in the United States and to bring watchmaking back to this country. Everything can be done at scale and is done in this country. We launched with the Runwell, which is our iconic watch. It starts at £475. We’ve since added colours, sizes, and we’re doing a Runwell watch with a textured leather strap, midnight blue dial and rose gold case. The line built out from there, and we always evolve it. Starting with an iconic piece allowed us to build a brand and establish a language of what we stand for.
When you hold one of our watches and understand how it’s made, the value is exceptional. The components that go into our watches are amazing, and the quality control just amplifies that. I am very proud to stand behind our product. The movement parts are Swiss and assembled in the United States. We can’t make everything here – it’s impossible. Our goal is that if we can’t make something in the United States, we seek out the best makers in the world, regardless of location.
LM: The Shinola Detroit bicycle has two flagship brands – the Bixby and the Runwell. Tell us about them both, and what was the inspiration behind their creation?
DC: Our bikes have a level of quality and attention to detail that appeals to both a male and female customer. The unique thing about our bikes is that they are made in America. The goal was to figure out how to make a cycle in the USA. All Shinola bikes are hand-assembled in Detroit. Where it makes sense to buy components in the USA, we will do it. The reality of component manufacturing dictates that we buy some parts from Asia, simply because they are not available from any other source.
The 11-speed Runwell is great for a ride through the city, commuting and errand running. It’s inspired by the enduring French style of Porteur bicycles, first used by newspaper couriers in Paris. The Bixby is a 3 speed and has that fun, easy style that a cruiser bike implies. The way the steel frame and fork are designed, it’s perfect for comfortable urban rides. With the success of the Runwell and the Bixby, we added a simpler model to our bicycle family with only one speed, at a more accessible price point. Like all Shinola bicycles, the Detroit Arrow features a hand-built Waterford frame, high quality components and custom-level touches that make for an incredibly smooth, comfortable and responsive ride.
LM: What other types of luxurious products does Shinola Detroit make?
DC: Our product categories currently include watches, bicycles, leather goods, journals and pet accessories, so there is something for everyone. We’re always working on expanding into other categories. We just launched our Fall 2015 men’s leather collection, Shinola’s inaugural collection by co-Design Directors of leather accessories Richard Lambertson and John Truex. The collection includes a drawstring duffle, a backpack, totes, technology cases and briefcases. It’s all handcrafted from American leathers, designed from our Detroit studio.
LM: Who would you say is the specific target audience for the Shinola Detroit brand?
DC: Everyone. I spend a lot of time in our stores and what’s amazing is the different types of people that love the brand. The demographic is so mixed—rather than being defined as young or old, male or female, a Shinola fan is someone who really appreciates quality products and is interested in where something comes from. People who are like-minded about good quality. It varies from people who are saving up to buy a watch to people who have three or four. Both see the value and quality in the watch. In that sense, I love how democratic the brand is.
LM: It seems there are some very exciting times ahead for Shinola Detroit. What can the luxurious readers expect next from Shinola Detroit?
DC: There’s a lot of things that we want to do in a lot of ways, and there’s a lot of exciting things that we’re working on that are predicated on manufacturing. We just introduced two new watch movements. The Rambler GMT, our first dedicated travel watch, and the Moon Phase Dial for tracking lunar phases. And soon we’ll be adding a music element to Shinola – we’re introducing a new category with turntables, speakers and head phones. It’s part of our collaboration with Third Man Records, Jack White’s record label. Together, we purchased the building of our flagship, where he will open up his second Third Man Records store.
For more information on Shinola Detroit, visit www.shinola.com.
By Jamie Ndah