America at work
This Luxe Lifestyle Startup Is Bringing Jobs Back to Detroit
Kim Lachance Shandrow | December 30, 2016

Shinola may be best known for handcrafting luxury watches, wallets, and bikes. But of all the things the Detroit-based lifestyle goods startup creates, it’s most proud of creating jobs. More specifically, American manufacturing jobs in the Motor City.

“The goal of Shinola was always to create world-class manufacturing jobs in the United States,” Shinola president Jacques Panis, who leads the company’s product development and strategic brand direction, told Free Enterprise.

Staying true to its goal of keeping American jobs in America, the company — owned by Dallas-based Bedrock Manufacturing — has created more than 600 U.S. jobs in all since it started in 2011, approximately 380 of them in Detroit.

“And not just any jobs,” Panis said. “Good, long-term jobs,” several of them held by former vehicle factory workers.

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When asked “Why start up in Detroit?” — a tough city blighted by crime, poverty, and unemployment — Panis, the featured speaker of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s 2016 Corporate Citizenship Conference, answered with the question: “Why not Detroit?”

“When we got there, we immediately fell in love with the city,” he said. “It all ties back to the people of the city and the manufacturing in the DNA here.” And in the belief that Detroit’s legacy isn’t history. It has a bright future, too.

watchmaker

As Panis tells it, Shinola’s unlikely Motor City success story started with a gamble. “We designed and pre-sold a limited edition watch before we even knew if it [was] possible,” he said. “And then we sold out of all 2,500 [watches] in eight days.”

Springboarding off of that first big win, which it took as a good omen, the company soon began to explore other product lines that could lead to new hand-assembly jobs.

“We saw that bikes became a possibility, so we launched them next,” said Panis. In a nostalgic nod to the past, not unlike origin story behind its name, the company markets its premium men’s and women’s bicycles as “the latest luxury vehicles to come out of Detroit.”

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“Built in Detroit” is indeed the motto Fossil Group, Inc. founder Tom Kartsotis launched Shinola under five winters ago. The proud maxim is emblazoned on the hundreds of thousands of classic-yet-modern-looking wrist and pocket watches Shinola has since produced at its 485 West Milwaukee Street watch factory. Shinola transformed the 30,000-foot space within the landmark Argonaut building into a state-of-the-art assembly facility, where Swiss watchmaker-trained employees hand-piece the premium timepieces together.

Two miles to the south of the watch factory sits Shinola’s sleek flagship store. The gem of Shinola’s 13 brick-and-mortar locations scattered throughout the U.S. is located in a 96-year-old automobile warehouse on 441 West Canfield Street in Midtown.

Outside of America’s borders, the company’s wares are sold in high-end boutiques as far flung as Marseille and Singapore.

What Shinola doesn’t produce locally in Motown, it partners with manufacturers in Ann Arbor, Mich., Chicago, and Waterford, Wis. to create, further extending its commitment to domestic manufacturing.

For all Shinola has contributed to Detroit — including boosting the local economy and restoring a sense of purpose and pride along the way — Panis prefers to think of it the other way around.

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“We like to say that Detroit has contributed to us,” he said. “From the moment we got here, the community welcomed our ideas. Everyone we met with asked, ‘How do I help?’ and gave us a giant Detroit bear hug.”

As for what’s next, Panis said Shinola is breaking into the hospitality business. In 2018, the company will open its first hotel. Where? Where else but Detroit, where it all began.