Just call them the new face of luxury. Shinola is no ordinary high-end label. It doesn’t call Manhattan or Los Angeles home. It doesn’t boast a decades-old history with time-honored pieces people have passed along for generations.
It has, however, redefined American manufacturing in a scene-stealing manner that could only be called sartorial fantasy. It’s the stuff of dreams for a relatively youthful company born in 2011. Founded by Tom Kartsotis, who established both Fossil Inc. and Bedrock Manufacturing Co., the name belongs to what was originally a shoe polish manufacturer dating from the late 19th century. “You don’t know shit from Shinola” may ring a bell.
Potentially inspired by the colorful history, Kartsotis acquired the name and the brand quickly established itself as a force in new-world heritage. Distinguishable for their high-end stylings, their products bear a certain nostalgic quality. All are tethered to infallible craftsmanship, the type that feels dependably rugged, reliable, and American.
Perhaps most telling is that they call Detroit home. It’s the car manufacturing capital of the United States, known perhaps more broadly for its association with Jimmy Hoffa and other unsavory tidbits. But in the Shinola-based retelling, the city shines most magnificently. It’s headquartered in the legendary Argonaut Building, which was developed in the late 1920s and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
It’s here where the magic happens. Trained artisans create each piece with attention to detail. The extensive collection of watches for men and women, handbags, jewelry, bicycles, and assorted premium wares aren’t simply mass produced—they’re meticulously handcrafted with quality materials that stand out for their intricate workmanship. While the lineup practically exudes legacy-level perfection, it’s the Shinola vision that makes the brand such a standout.
Does it begin with the emphasis on betterment? It’s a singular trait that few labels carry with such cachet. Shinola, though, shines through its innovative marketing techniques that bring Detroit and its once-again thriving community to the forefront. The company works with other heritage businesses throughout the United States in its efforts to create exciting opportunities for local workers. In this endeavor, they’ve hired hundreds of employees in Detroit and beyond, with a mission to stimulate manufacturing and make consistent job creation a reality.
The results are as visionary as they are breathtaking at a glance: smart, handsome, timeless, and versatile pieces for discerning consumers.
To achieve such lofty goals requires a product that every member of the team stands behind. It began with their state-of-the-art timepieces, all of which are created by master crafters trained by Ronda AG, the luxury Swiss watch manufacturer. Team members learn about different watch assemblies so that they’re ready to build any type of design during their tenure. They’re even outfitted in hairnets and smocks while they work to prevent contaminating any delicate materials during the process. The results are as visionary as they are breathtaking at a glance: smart, handsome, timeless, and versatile pieces for discerning consumers.
Perhaps most importantly, they offer a certain runway-meets-real-world appeal. It goes a long way in explaining the brand’s influence among many of the world’s most notable movers and shakers, including former Presidents Clinton and Obama, who both own the brand’s signature timepieces.
Always building on innovation, Shinola recently introduced its long-awaited Runwell Automatic. Offering battery-free operation, the product differs dramatically from their traditional quartz movement timepieces. They’re designed to draw power from the wearer. With every flick or gentle maneuver of the wrist, the watch’s rotor spins into action to create an energetic release that guide the hands into place.
If you’re a collector, these, along with limited-run leather bags and accessories, are the ones to watch.
Other additions to its wide-ranging collection include limited-edition works, like the Lake Erie Monster Dive Watch. While it sounds more like a horror movie title and less like a grand-scale accessory, the now-discontinued timepiece held the honor of being the brand’s very first automatic movement watch and its first water-friendly construction. If you’re a collector, these, along with limited-run leather bags and accessories, are the ones to watch.
Naturally, no upscale lifestyle company would stop there. They produce hundreds of instantly iconic products that are as relevant as they are classic. Clad in rich leathers, journals and portfolios are understated yet striking. To-die-for turntables are a welcome addition for their minimalist constructions and classy aesthetics. Clocks, writing utensils, USB ports, and even piggy banks are appurtenant to the collection at large, all artfully woven into a catalog filled with surprisingly reasonable price points.
In a city largely associated with transport, it would make sense for them to capitalize on something in that vein—and while they don’t have an automobile collection to their credit, Shinola does produce bicycles assembled completely by hand at their Detroit flagship location. While these, along with many of their other products, are made in America, many individual components unavailable on American shores are sourced from overseas.
There’s a thoughtfulness to this lineup, one that could seem like a risk to those who wonder if Shinola is left to its best watch-designing devices, with the occasional leather good thrown in for good measure. Yet staying with safe confines would merely stagnate the ever-burgeoning business and stifle imagination.
It’s the economic value of visibly luxurious goods that likely drives many purchases, but there may also be a certain thrill involved in being a part of some greater achievement—the opportunity to join the many small businesses, nonprofits, neighborhoods, and residents all doing their part to make Detroit more viable once again.
While digital success is practically required of any modern-day label, it doesn’t always translate to equivalent success for storefronts. Yet with over 30 retail stores to its name, including locations in London, Waikiki, New York, and Los Angeles, Shinola seems to have that market covered, too. At its main store launch in Detroit in 2013, it was standing-room only as eager shoppers clamored for a glimpse of the company’s most sought-after goods, including bicycles and footballs.
Each boutique boasts a few city-specific tenets that make them more of a comfortable hub to relax and wander at ease in a fun, no-pressure zone.
Each boutique boasts a few city-specific tenets that make them more of a comfortable hub to relax and wander at ease in a fun, no-pressure zone—the LA location feels suitably airy and laid-back, for example, while the polished Washington, D.C. store is set in a former Studebaker showroom that’s simply a pleasure to visit. New stores open all the time, including recent unveilings in Edina, MN, and Monroe, OH. It’s easy to be dazzled by the promise of low-key luxury before you, but you can always snag a bottle of Shinola Cola if you’re on a strict budget and want to say you shopped Shinola.
In that spirit of continuing innovation, the eight-story Shinola Hotel opened its doors in early 2019. Set on Woodward Avenue in downtown Detroit, the building took nearly two years to construct. True to the label’s form, the hotel comprises two of the city’s most historic spots: the old T.B. Rayl Co. department store and the Singer sewing machine building.
The concept is nothing if not consistent—the interior reads like a visual homage to all things Michigan, incorporating everything from locally designed furniture to Great Lakes Potato Chips straight from Traverse City. Lobby walls are covered in work by Detroit artist Margo Walowiec, who was commissioned to design unique woven panels that contribute to a homey atmosphere. Artwork from the Library Street Collective, a cutting-edge Detroit group, adds funky, contempo-cool chaos to the mix.
Artwork from the Library Street Collective, a cutting-edge Detroit group, adds funky, contempo-cool chaos to the mix.
There’s much to inspire here even beyond the 129 thoughtfully designed guest rooms and suites, all of which are equipped with industrial-chic décor and details, like mid-century modern furnishings, Rayl’s bath products, alpaca blankets, and expansive city views. Book a penthouse or loft if you want to enjoy the full Shinola experience—these upscale spaces include turntables, vinyl records (David Bowie and Miles Davis among them, natch), gas fireplaces, and Bluetooth speaker systems, to name just a few of the ‘gram-worthy accents. If you happen to love what you see, you can purchase your item of choice when you check out and take a little piece of Shinola’s Detroit home with you.
Guests don’t even have to leave the building to have a memorable time. There are restaurants and bars aplenty—seven in all—including a classic American beer hall, a fried chicken eatery, and an Italian bistro. A breezy conservatory and a plush lounge area contribute to a continuously cozy, welcoming feel. You can even rent one of their beloved bikes. Of course, it wouldn’t be a Shinola property without some breadth of retail in the mix—precisely why there are plenty of approachable on-site options to consider, like Le Labo, Madewell, and Good Neighbor, in a 16,000-square-foot space. It’s an incredibly immersive property that, in all, feels less like a traditional hotel and more like an experience.
It’s an incredibly immersive property that, in all, feels less like a traditional hotel and more like an experience.
“A true manufacturing company is built not by the things it makes. It’s built by the people who make them,” reads a wall in one of the Los Angeles area stores. In both spirit and practice, this sentiment rings true. Rendering new products at breakneck speed, creating connective opportunities for loyal enthusiasts and newcomers alike, and drawing on the past while looking to the future are all cornerstones of the Shinola brand. It’s a narrative that seems especially fitting for a company focused on both ingenuity and exclusivity.