Luxury Watch Brand Shinola Talks Design, Manufacturing & Growth in Detroit
by Theresa Christine Johnson on 10/10/2018 | 5 Minute Read
There is something truly wonderful to behold in a timeless product that’s made to last. It embodies something that’s classic yet trendy. It’s carefully crafted with exquisite details. It garners attention but doesn’t beg for it.
That’s what Shinola is all about.
Perhaps you’re familiar with the name—Shinola produces high-quality watches that will make even the most “I’m not a watch person” person want to buy one. The brand isn’t about fads in the world of timepieces; their goal with everything they create is to build an heirloom quality piece.
We try to occupy a space right in between fashion and luxury. We call it American Luxury—it’s approachable and attainable, but you still feel like you’re investing in something you’ll want to keep forever.
“We try to occupy a space right in between fashion and luxury,” explained Greg Verras, Senior Watch Designer at Shinola. “We call it American Luxury—it’s approachable and attainable, but you still feel like you’re investing in something you’ll want to keep forever.”
No, these aren’t the cheap watches you buy on sale at Target and end up throwing away at the end of the season. A Shinola watch has a price tag of $700 or more, but justifiably so. They start with honest materials—many of which they source from Asia, which is the only place it’s possible to get the metal components anymore.
Unlike many watch companies today, though, they bring production back to the United States. Shinola’s home base is their factory in Detroit, Michigan, where all of the assembly and quality control takes place.
“We do it all in-house,” Greg mentioned. “Like with the leather bands, all of them are sewn, cut, glued, and painted in the building. We have to source things from other countries, and we still rely on our Hong Kong office quite a bit. But we try to do things here when we can.”
Would it be cheaper to outsource elsewhere? Sure. But Shinola prides itself in creating jobs right here in the United States, and it’s a big goal of their business model. Plus, having design and production happen domestically makes operations more efficient.
“In my past experience, you get a prototype in, and you have no information on why it’s not exactly what you wanted,” said Greg. “There’s no information there.
“Here, they can prototype things the same day and you can problem solve the next. The prototype is right there on your desk, and you can make changes to get it where you need it, right away.”
Of all the spots in the United States they could have set up shop, Detroit makes a lot of sense for businesses inspired by craftsmanship. A city of manufacturing with deep ties to the automobile industry, Shinola’s American-made ethos fits in perfectly.
“Detroit is having a bit of a moment,” Greg admitted. “There’s a ton of energy here right now, not to mention all the cultural roots that were seated in the early 1900s which are still here. There’s great museums, great music, and an arts culture which is alive and well here.”
It’s not entirely easy—after all, most people hear “Detroit” and envision a city of urban decay and a massive decline in population. “It’s a love/hate city,” confessed Greg. “The transition with everything’s that happening is inspiring. At the same time, a lot of manufacturing left and created a huge loss, and we’re still trying to fill that hole.”
Despite this, Shinola has thrived. In addition to watches, they sell products like leather goods, jewelry, hand-assembled bikes, and they’re even gearing up to launch a hotel. They may be known as a watch brand, but they’re just as good of a place to purchase a briefcase that will last for twenty years.
Naturally, those who have a deep love for all things Detroit buy from Shinola, whether it’s city pride or supporting a local business. But their next big hurdle is to grow beyond Detroit, beyond Michigan, and to find a national audience.
“Why would somebody from Anywhere, USA buy our products?” mused Greg. “They might not give a shit about Detroit, but are they into quality, honest products you won’t have to throw away in a few years?”
This has led the team at Shinola to do some serious reflection as they look towards the future of the brand, and they’re excited to evolve. They never have nor will do flash-in-the-pan trends, but he recognized the importance of keeping things fresh.
“Up until now, we’ve been going with our gut and doing what we think is cool,” admitted Greg, “but now we’ve done a bit of consumer testing, and we’re tip-toeing into the world of growth.
“Still, we don’t want to sacrifice the classic nature of our products. I want our products to look as good twenty years from now as they do today.”