For Shinola, the time is now as it re-creates its brand

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

LAS VEGAS — If Shinola has any brand resonance these days, it’s most likely from the phrase: “You don’t know [expletive] from Shinola,” a World War II-era insult referencing the shoe polish manufactured by Shinola-Bixby Corp.

But the brand is back on the scene and in a big way.

Founded in 1907, the original Shinola (pronounced SHINE-ola), has been defunct for decades, but the nostalgic name and trademark rights were plucked out of has-been brand obscurity a few years back and applied to a modern-day range of retro-inspired, made-in-America products, including bicycles, leather journals and now handsome wristwatches that retail from $495 to $725.

After a 2,500-piece test run online in March (which, according to a company representative, sold out in eight days), the watches are set to make their bricks-and-mortar retail debut shortly before Father’s Day at Barneys New York, whose local stores include those in Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, South Coast Plaza and the Grove.


The collection includes two men’s watches: a traditional round-cased style called the Runwell (which retails from $550 to $675) and a chunky square-cased model called the Brakeman ($625 to $725). There are also two women’s models with thin bands: the Gomelsky ($495 to $595) and the Birdy ($475 to $525).

From the front, the watches look like a slightly hipper version of something your granddad might have worn, kicked up just a notch with an Army green dial here or a hazard orange one there. But it’s what’s on the back that’s novel: Along with the brand’s name, lightning bolt logo and a serial number are the words “Built in Detroit.”

All of Shinola’s timepieces are made in the Motor City using movements assembled there from Swiss parts and watch bands made in Florida of vegetable-tanned leather from Chicago-based Horween Leather Co. (The cases, crystals and watch hands come from China.)

Shinola’s chief executive officer, Steve Bock, in Las Vegas a few days ago to show the collection at the 2013 Couture jewelry and watch show, said the brand’s Detroit back story had proved popular not only stateside but also abroad when the timepiece debuted earlier this year at a watch show in Basel, Switzerland.

“People responded phenomenally,” Bock said. “Detroit as the underdog [and] rebuilding against the odds is a powerful story, and the American story of resilience and triumph over adversity really seemed to resonate internationally.”

The watch works occupy 30,000 square feet of space in Detroit’s Argonaut Building and, when running at capacity, will be able to churn out 1.2 million watches a year. Future plans include expansion into footwear and apparel.


For now, the company’s other made-in-the-U.S. merchandise offerings are limited to bicycles (the three-speed Bixby, $1,950, and 11-speed Runwell, $2,950), assorted leather bags ($65 to $595) and linen-covered journals ($10 to $20), all of which are available through Shinola’s website. (The bicycles are also sold at bike shops, including L.A.’s Golden Saddle Cyclery.)

Bock said those items will be among the offerings in stock at the two Shinola standalone stores scheduled to open in Detroit June 27 and New York City July 1.

With a smile, Bock pointed to another item he says will eventually be sold — small, round tins of Shinola shoe polish. Call it Shinola 2.0.