Shinola, known for its built-in-Detroit watches and bicycles, is setting its sights on Chicago for a new factory.
The company intends to open a Shinola eyewear plant on the South Side of Chicago by 2017, a spokeswoman said Thursday. Further details were not yet available.
Shinola has other connections to Chicago, too.
The company opened a store in Bucktown in late 2014 and works with storied Chicago tannery Horween (which also makes straps for the Moto 360) for its watches, journals, pet and other leather goods.
Its branded shoe polish — a reference to the quip that inspired its name — is made by Chicago supplier C.A. Zoes Manufacturing, which began production in 1905.
Shinola continues to expand across the United States, according to President Jacques Panis. The company has 14 stores and expects to reach 23 by the end of the year, bringing with it a message of production that benefits local economies.
Shinola reached nearly $100 million in sales in 2015, up from about $60 million the year before.
Panis will be in Chicago on April 6 to appear at The Exchange, a Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce event featuring a panel about social impact companies, with Flowers for Dreams CEO and co-founder Steven Dyme and Blue Plate Catering CFO Calvin Gin. Blue Sky editor Andrea Hanis will moderate.
Panis explained how his company's local identity affects how it does business.
Q. How do Shinola's social-impact principles impact your workforce?
A. If we can provide people with great jobs, great working environment, 401k participation, healthcare benefit, we believe that that can shift the opportunity to the generation behind this workforce as well. People in our organization now have the opportunity, unfortunately, to move — I say unfortunately, because we want people to stay in Detroit. But people are now able to move their families outside of Detroit and put their kids into better school systems.
That implies generational change. These children are now given an opportunity for a great education at an early age.
Q. Shinola's messaging centers on being built in Detroit, but how does it fit into the Midwest?
A. Midwestern people appreciate quality. They appreciate craftsmanship. They want to know where their things come from. It started with the food movement and has now trickled into consumer goods. We're seeing consumers in the Midwest — and, quite frankly, on the coasts — really respond to the brand. We would not be where we are had we not been in the city of Detroit to start. Anchoring ourselves in the middle of this country has been vital to where we are today.
Q. What makes Shinola a Midwestern company?
A. Manufacturing. Look at Chicago. Chicago was an incredible manufacturing hub — and still is. We have worked with, for example, Horween in Chicago and they make incredible leathers right there in the city. We make our shoe polish in Chicago. The Midwest is, I would argue, the backbone of manufacturing for this country.
Q. Speaking of your providers from Chicago, how do you choose who to partner with?
A. We look for partners that are like-minded, that understand our mission and are on a similar mission. If they're making products in Chicago — or in the U.S., for that matter — it implies that they too are hiring people and creating jobs here.
Q. You've gotten flak for using parts made abroad. How do you reconcile that with this identity of being from Detroit and from the Midwest?
A. We've been completely transparent about where everything that we build comes from. It's front and center on our website. You can see where all the parts of our watches come from, where all the parts of leather goods come from.
We're not in the business of nitpicking and spending time focusing on where the parts come from. We're in the business of creating jobs here in the United States.
Q. Do you think Chicago could produce a company like Shinola?
A. We talk about manufacturing in the DNA of Detroit. Manufacturing's in the DNA of Chicago. There's no reason that things can't be made in Chicago, and I think Horween speaks to that.
There are some manufacturers in and around Chicago who are doing incredible things. There's a pretty rich and vibrant community of machine shops and guys who are making small parts, precision parts for the aeronautical industry, for the Department of Defense.
Q. What are your tips for manufacturing entrepreneurs?
A. A lot of times, people think they have the next greatest product that's going to be made. You need to get out there and talk, and you need to share your ideas, you need to brainstorm and collaborate with others.
Making things is not easy, making them in the United States is not easy. Finding that right partner is critical to having a company that can make things at scale here in America.