Sunday, April 12, 2015

Making Detroit grit chic

Making Detroit grit chic

Talk about good timing! From bikes to watches to much else besides, an up-and-coming company is making a go of it in what might seem an unlikely place. Our Dean Reynolds gives us an up-close look:
Steve Bock heads up a company called Shinola, but it's not the shoe-shine Shinola your grandfather remembers.
"We're a very unique company," he said. "We really want to be very authentic, very transparent. And we don't want to go where the rest of the herd is going."
Not running with the herd is one thing. But hanging your corporate hat in Detroit -- the largest American city to go bankrupt?
Why Detroit?
"Why not Detroit?" replied Bock. "Detroit has turned out to be a phenomenally successful decision. Clearly it's had tremendous issues and nobody should diminish all the challenges it has had. But it has turned out to be a fantastic operation."
That operation turns out high-end wristwatches, purses, wallets, and very nice bikes -- all of them emblazoned with the Shinola logo, and the word "Detroit" proudly displayed.
"What we are trying to do here is build a business that has legs, that will keep going for decades and decades and decades," Bock said. "Business has been really phenomenal. We've been very lucky. The product has resonated from day one."
The company has seven retail stores, including one in London, England, and many more are slated to open later this year. That's good news for the 300 people who work at the Shinola plant -- jobs that would not have existed without Shinola.
Nicole Comer is a hand setter. "It's a great job. I enjoy being here," she said. "I'm proud to be here. I'm proud to be a Detroiter. So working with a company that decided to put Detroit's name on their brand, obviously they're proud of Detroit, too."
Dean Reynolds asked Titus Hayes, a customer service repair technician, "This, I guess, was probably a really prized job?"
"Yes, yes," Hayes said. "People are fans of the company. And they're just proud. It's a lot of pride inside the company. Everyone loves the story."
Maybe not everyone.
Jon Moy lives here and writes the Four Pins lifestyle blog. "I think that their marketing materials and their press materials, I think, are heavily predicated upon sort of the stories and struggles of black Detroit. Using that, and those stories and their faces and their bodies in a way to sell unabashedly premium and luxury goods is, I think, at best problematic," he said.
Critics point out that the goods are only assembled here (the real craftsmanship is performed elsewhere), and that longtime residents of Detroit don't really need $600 watches or $2,000 bikes -- even if they could afford them.
Steve Bock says the company gets that.
"We have to be very careful with how Shinola is perceived in Detroit," he told Reynolds. "It's not what Shinola is doing for Detroit; it's what Detroit, frankly, is doing for Shinola."
He's hoping that, in the right hands, grit can be chic.
And speaking of grit, the new Shinola has resurrected that old brand of shoe shine.
And because of that, we should probably educate the younger set about the time when Shinola was compared to something else, as a way to spot an intellectually challenged individual.
How did it go again? "You don't know s--- from Shinola."
No wonder Shinola is only too happy now to be tied to something else.

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