Have you heard of Shinola? Unless you're familiar with the American shoe polish brand, the answer is probably no. However, after two store openings in the US and its recent arrival in Europe, Shinola is a name worth knowing about. Here's the story.
Two-and-half years ago, Tom Kartsotis (the entrepreneur behind Fossil watches) set up a factory in Detroit's School for Creative Studies. His ambition was to reinvigorate manufacturing in America and where better to do this than in a down and out city with a high unemployment rate?
The brand's first project was making a collection of watches with an emphasis on quality and attention to detail. And the price? Affordable. The brand's signature style, The Runwell, retails for $550. Not bad for a watch that includes 46 hand-assembled movements, a sapphire crystal case and an American-made leather strap.
However, it's the next part of the Shinola story that really sets the brand apart from its competitors.
Many of Shinola's first employees had lost their jobs due to the decline of Detroit's car industry, but their skill and expertise didn't go to waste. The team partnered with a Swiss watch-maker to teach the staff how to assemble the movements and after a few months of training, the first Shinola watches were produced.
Beautiful bicycles, leather wallets, bags and journals soon followed and in June 2013, Shinola opened a flagship store in its home city.
Days after Detroit filed for bankruptcy, Shinola celebrated the revival of America's manufacturing industry with another bold move - the opening of a second store in New York's Tribeca. A few months later, Shinola arrived in Paris and set up shop in the city's most sought-after boutique - Colette.
There are now 75 staff working in the Detroit factory and Kartsotis aims to create jobs for 1,000 people as the brand grows. Denim, outerwear, toasters and washing machines (yes, really) are on the product launch list for 2014.
The next big thing for Shinola? The launch of a London store.
Creative Director Daniel Caudill spoke to us about the brand's success so far:
Shinola's products are already in high demand (one customer bought 30 bikes in a single purchase). How will the factory keep up with the demand?
The factory only has a certain capacity - it's matter of picking and choosing. We can only produce what we can and quality is the most important thing. We're not going to push through what we can't make.
How quickly is the brand growing. Are the staff constantly in training?
We currently have 177 employees. There are 75 on factory side. It's growing every day - every time I'm in the office - there's someone new there which is really cool. Initial training for factory employees is three months - there are trainers there all the time. They train a core group, then that group trains the next, then quality control comes in - it's intensive.
What's next on the production line?
Denim. We're partnering with a company in Los Angeles as we're trying to do everything in the United States. Our leather factory is being built now in our facility so we can make our watch straps there and then hopefully, there will be toasters. We don't want to make anything too fussy - it's not about a bunch of stuff you don't need - it's about the function and the quality.
Shinola talks about our "era of disposability". Has that made it easier or more difficult for you to succeed?
We have built our brand around products that you don't throw away. The hardest thing for us has been creating the packaging. For example, our watch boxes are handmade in the US - each one is individually numbered and we use recycled paper. Each watch comes with a leather polish to condition the leather - if it's oiled, it it will last forever. People are responding this though - the goal is to make sure our products aren't just about fashion or fads.
When you launch outerwear, how will you respond to the fashion seasons?
We have to work on the right time to go to market but we're not working on seasons right now. We're just producing product as it's ready and when we're proud of it. We're a little season-less which is nice.
When are you coming to London?
We don't have the space yet, but we've identified it and we'd really like to be in Soho, hopefully by September next year. We'll definitely have denim and outerwear, maybe even a toaster.
Find out more about the Shinola story and shop the product range at Shinola.com.