If you happen to have been in the USA during the war years – hey, you never know – you’ll be familiar with Shinola (pronounced ‘Shine-ola’). It was a brand of shoe polish made in Detroit, and was so well-known that it spawned the saying ‘You don’t know shit from Shinola.’ The company went bust (that saying probably didn’t help), but in 2011 an investment firm bought the name with a view to starting up an American-based watch manufacturer – which expanded into bicycles, leather goods and clothing. Summer 2013 saw the new Shinola open its first store in Detroit.
Fast forward to autumn 2014 and the high-end Americana brand started trading at its first European location on Soho's Newburgh Street, before relocating to Fouberts Place in December 2015. Shinola has moved on from shoe polish, though it does still sell the stuff, and its products are all proudly manufactured (or at least assembled) in the US of A. The team behind the reborn Shinola were inspired by America’s Motor City, with its strong manufacturing heritage, and wanted to revitalise it.
‘It started with the idea of wanting to make a watch in the US again. It hadn’t been done for over 40 years at the scale we were aiming for, and Detroit was a clear choice for us,’ says Shinola’s Bridget Russo. She tells me that the company now employs more than 300 people in the city – many of them former motor workers who have been retrained – in a refurbished Ford car design building in Midtown.
Watches are plentiful in store. Given Shinola’s background, perhaps this is not so surprising: the company’s founders include Tom Kartsotis, who stepped down as chairman of Fossil in 2010. The watches are precision instruments but maintain a hand-finished feel; it’s hard to believe their delicate Swiss movements have been assembled by former car plant workers. Although there is a women’s range, the men’s watches (from £495) stand out – classic thick tan-leather straps, giant bezels… the kind of timepiece Don Draper would go for.
The store sells an unusually eclectic range of goods. There are bikes in the windows, candles on shelves and journals meticulously arranged on a desk. There are also small leather goods – notebooks (from £15.50), card wallets (from £70) and charming toothpick holders (£5.50; stocking filler alert) – made by Chicago’s Horween Leather Company. Even baseballs.
Why these products in particular? ‘We were inspired by things that were once manufactured in the US and that we wanted to make in the US again’, explains Russo. This rooting for homegrown talent has led to some cool collaborations, such as bikes by pre-eminent US designer Sky Yaeger (hence the starting price of £1,675) and minimalist-luxe leather-sleeved Varsity jackets created with heritage sportswear brand Golden Bear (from £355). There’s even a wonderful range of pet accessories designed by superstar photographer Bruce Weber.
Shinola takes pride in its American roots, but does it quietly, through the quality of its wares which are built to last. Watches, for example, come with a lifetime guarantee. ‘Customers will pay more for products that are well made – and that have a positive story behind them,’ says Russo. Looks like it’s time to start knowing shit from Shinola.
28 Fouberts Place
|Opening hours:||11am-7pm Mon-Sat; noon-6pm Sun|
|Transport:||Tube: Oxford Circus|
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