Detroit: Shinola

A luxury brand that manufactures watches, bikes and leather goods.

The Shinola Building inside the Argonaut Building

The Shinola Building inside the Argonaut Building


Shinola was an American brand of wax-based shoe polish that was available from 1907 until 1960 and gained notoriety during World War I, when a disgruntled young soldier was said to have shined his commander’s boots with feces. The rumor led to the popular colloquialism, “You don’t know sh*t from Shinola.”
In 2011 the company purchased the Shinola name from the defunct shoe polish company.
The Shinola headquarters and manufacturing facility are located in Detroit inside the College for Creative Studies within the historic Argonaut Building, now known as the A. Alfred Taubman Center for Design Education, where General Motors invented the hydraulic automatic transmission and countless other innovations. “We looked at a lot of cities in regard to where to put this watches factory and build the base of this brand and Detroit was a natural fit. It has a manufacturing heritage that would lend a degree of authenticity to Shinola products,” states Daniel Caudill, Creative Director at Shinola.


Space at Shinola is an open environment where people have their own area and glass walls divide the watches factory from other offices, customer service, and shipping. The impression is of one unique team. “It’s really important for us not only in our stores but also office spaces to feel comfortable, warm, and inviting. We wanted an open atmosphere so that we are one team that shares the spirit of togetherness,” adds Caudill.


In a recent interview with Forbes, the company confirmed that it expects to produce 45,000 watches this year, and up to 500,000 annually by 2014 2015, with an average price of $600 per item.
“We have an amazing partnership in our watches factory with Swiss company Ronda. They take part in training our employees,” says Caudill.
Besides watches, Shinola also sells $2,000 custom-built bicycles and leather goods, all with an American pedigree. “We do everything we can to make our components here in the US,” states Caudill.
It’s also producing limited edition watches under licensing agreements with other brands, such as Ford Motor, which plans to sell a Shinola-built watch to commemorate next year’s Ford Mustang’s 50th anniversary.


The location provides Shinola with the unique opportunity to collaborate with College for Creative Studies students in Shinola-sponsored workshops, including design courses on watches, bicycles, and leather goods.
“We are really excited to be part of this new group of small companies which are manufacturing in Detroit, and thanks to the collaboration with CCS we have the opportunity to train future people, future talents who come out of the city,” concludes Caudill.

Photo story. The City of the Factories

Big or small factories, small activities or gigantic production buildings, everyone follows their destiny. This fate, in a city like Detroit that has voted par excellence to be a role model for industrial cities, finds itself to be a city where new touristic tours are organized around a new form of ruins. Ruins that don’t have time to become debris; those are the remains of a way of thinking, a way of doing business pressured by a future that becomes modernity and a new way of interpreting work.


Published in the hard-copy of Work Style Magazine, Fall 2013