Shinola refers both to a brand of wax shoe polish that was manufactured in the early- and mid-20th century, and to a 2011 company which specializes in watches, journals, bicycles, leather goods, cola, and, as a nod to the former Shinola company, shoe polish.
The original Shinola brand was founded in 1907 and gained popularity during World War I and World War II as an effective shoe polish. The original trademark was filed to USPTO (United States Patent and Trademark Office) in 1929 and registered in 1930 by '2 IN 1-SHINOLA-BIXBY CORPORATION' (NJ, USA).
In 2001, the name, Shinola, was acquired by Bedrock Manufacturing, a venture capital firm based in Dallas, Texas. The management at Bedrock Manufacturing chose the name "Shinola" when the World War II era colloquialism, "You don't know shit from Shinola," surfaced in a conversation. Unexpectedly, the joke generated a serious discussion about restoring the Shinola brand.
Today, save for a few exceptions and technicalities, every Shinola product is made in the United States of America. At the time of the company's founding in 2011, no American watchmaker had produced watches at scale since the late 1960s, with U.S.-based watchmaking relegated to select specialty companies.
The decision to base the company in Detroit derived both from a desire to make watches in the United States and from a strategic decision to anchor operations in a unique city with an established and unshakable reputation as an industrial leader. The city of Detroit also serves as differentiator in the marketplace.
The company's headquarters and watch factory are housed within the College for Creative Studies (CCS) on the fifth floor of the Alfred A. Taubman Building in Detroit, a former automotive research lab. Shinola's occupation of the CCS space at first occurred by accident when Bedrock officials, seeking a manufacturing site after resolving to rebuild Shinola, visited the College and the elevator unexpectedly opened on the fifth floor, which was vacant at the time. They decided to transform the 30,000 square feet of vacant space into their watch factory and company headquarters. To build out the watch factory, the company partnered with Ronda, an independently owned Swiss movement manufacturer. Ronda also brought in expert watchmaking veterans to train Shinola's watch assemblers, all of whom had no prior experience in watchmaking. Currently, the factory has the capacity to produce 500,000 watches a year.
Shinola's first watch was released in March 2013. Produced in an edition of 2,500 and available in two sizes, The Runwell Limited Edition 47mm sold out in one week, with the last 40mm watch selling out in under two weeks. The watches sold for $550, and approximately 35% of the sales came from Michigan.
In October of 2013, Shinola released their second limited edition watch, The Wright Brothers Limited Edition watch, the first watch in the Great Americans Series, which was released in conjunction with a limited edition bicycle. The watch was produced in two sizes, 40mm and 46mm, with each size available in a limited edition of 500. Purchase included a leather-bound coffee table book about the Wright Brothers, as well as enrollment in The Foundry, the brand's collectors club.
In September of 2014, Shinola released The Lattice, a limited edition wristwatch created in partnership with Oscar de La Renta. The 36mm women’s watch was manufactured in Detroit in a limited edition of 250. Purchase included a hardcover book created exclusively for the project which complements the timepiece by offering an in-depth look at Oscar de la Renta and his work.
In 2014, Shinola released The Black Blizzard titanium wristwatch in 48mm and 42mm as well as the next Signature Series limited editions watch, The Henry Ford Pocket Watch. The company also produces a number of different watch styles on a non-limited edition basis, including The Birdy, The Gomelsky, The Runwell Chronograph, The Runwell Sport, The Runwell Sport Chrono and The Brakeman.
Shinola bicycles include two flagship models, The Bixby and The Runwell. Both bikes were designed by Sky Yaeger, formerly of Swobo, Spot, and Bianchi. The chromoly steel frames and forks are made by Richard Schwinn's Waterford Precision Cycles in Waterford, WI, with complete assembly taking place at Shinola's flagship retail store at 144 W. Canfield Street in Detroit.
In addition to The Bixby and The Runwell, Shinola produced two limited edition bicycles, including the The Wright Brothers Limited Edition Bicycle and The Shinola Runwell Di2 Limited Edition, as well as a one-off Twinn Tandem bicycle and brass-plated Runwell bicycle.
Shinola makes journals in partnership with Edwards Brothers Malloy, an Ann Arbor, MI-based company. The journals come with paper, soft linen or hard linen covers, with a price point of $12-$20 for a linen covered journal.
Individually, Shinola sells watch straps. leather straps that come from Hadley Roma in Largo, Florida and the Horween leather from Illinois, and rubber watch straps made in partnership with Stern Manufacturing of Staples, Minnesota.
Shinola's leather goods and leather watch straps are made using leather predominantly supplied by the Chicago-based tannery, Horween, which has been in operation since 1905. The tanning of the leather takes months, using a process that showcases the natural beauty and characteristics of the leather. Shinola leather watch straps are made by Hadley-Roma in Key Largo, Florida, while most of their leather goods are produced by Eric Scott in Ste. Genevieve, Missouri. A partial list of Shinola leather goods includes iPad and iPhone cases, wallets, portfolios, backpacks, and more.
Shinola also recently opened its own leather factory in Detroit, and has begun manufacturing leather watch straps under the leadership of Braloba, a Swiss-based, family-owned company. The leather factory is equipped with custom-designed machines produced by Galli S.P.A. The company will also begin producing small leather goods and accessories in-house.
Shinola Pet is a collection of American-made dog beds, toys, leashes and collars, produced in collaboration with photographer Bruce Weber, known for his ad campaigns for Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, Pirelli, Abercrombie & Fitch, Revlon and Gianni Versace, as well as his work for Vogue, GQ, Vanity Fair, Elle, Life, Interview and Rolling Stone magazines. Shinola Pet supports the Michigan Humane Society and the Best Friends Animal Society in their mission to raise awareness about rescue organizations and to save pets by finding them homes. A portion of the pets toys are produced in partnership with Empowerment Plan, a Detroit-based charity organization that employs local women who are living in shelters, training them to manufacture sleeping bag coats for the homeless.
In addition to the Shinola website, Shinola products are available for sale at flagship stores in Detroit, New York, Minneapolis and London, as well as fine retailers across America and the world. In the coming year, additional stores are scheduled to open in Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington D.C. Willys Detroit, a sister store to Shinola, is a home for distinctive American brands.
Shinola installments in Detroit
In 2014, Shinola gifted the city of Detroit with four clocks, installed at Cobo Center, Eastern Market, at the corner of Milwaukee and Cass (in front of the College for Creative Studies), and at the corner of Cass and Canfield, where Shinola also opened an off-leash dog park in partnership Midtown Detroit, Inc. in 2014.
In popular culture
In the 1979 film comedy The Jerk, the character Navin R. Johnson (played by Steve Martin) is tested by "Daddy" (Richard Ward) on whether he knows the difference between shit and Shinola before leaving home.
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- Doesn't know shit from Shinola
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