The original publishing date for this post was 2014 – though the aesthetics haven’t changed much, as of 2016 the Shinola store has moved and is no longer located at Newburgh Street. There is however, one at Foubert’s Place in Soho.
I usually know when somewhere is brilliant that the first thing I think about when leaving a place is the nearest coffee shop I can go to write about it. I’m currently sitting in Speakeasy (just off Carnaby street) enjoying a flat white, thinking about the hour chat I just had with new local tenants Shinola [pronounced shine-ola]. If you haven’t heard about the leather & watch Detroit brand that’s probably because they’re particularly fresh to the market, having established themselves in the former-General Motors laboratory The Argonaut Building back in 2011. “When the founders saw the abandoned space through the accidentally-opened elevator doors, they knew that this was the one.“ the store manager Sam tells me, reflecting on his conversation when he was flown over to visit the home territory upon joining Shinola.
Sam speaks with a lot of passion. Despite being surrounded by watches, we’re completely unaware of the hour that flies by before the other staff turn up to open the store. When you become hooked on Shinola’s story and community involvement, it becomes pretty apparent where his enthusiasm derives from. “The name Shinola comes from a popular shoe polish way back when. There used to be a saying ‘you don’t know your shit from your Shinola’”. The founders eventually bought the rights to the name, endeavouring to sell shoe polish as a sort of homage. Since then, they’ve made an effort to give back to the community and reinvent the run down stigmas of Detroit, bringing in the renowned Swiss to train your average pizza boy into a talented watchmaker in Shinola’s own watch factory, and become part of the re-pioneering of American watch movement. Yes, the watches are made by staff which include ex-security guards and the toughest of Detroit’s pizza boys. If you’d consider that a fault by any means, then you probably haven’t taken a look at the actual product.
The classic & very American watches, which come with a lifetime warranty, are bold and carry a hand-me-down vibe. By that, I mean it ticks a lot of the boxes you might look for in watch: there’s quality; distinction from the market-leading Swiss; character and a vibe that makes you want to keep it and pass it on. Describing a watch like I just have might sound a bit creepy, but as I discussed with Sam, buying an expensive watch isn’t like buying a suit. It needs to last and go with pretty much everything you own, and who can criticise the consideration when you’re spending a hell of a lot on something very intricate but in actuality, pretty small. So going back, Shinola do tick the above boxes. And when there is a community story, it’s something you can imagine the locals of the Detroit really buying in to. I imagine when we look back in 20-30 years, you might find a sneaky Shinola watch in your local vintage store. That is, if we’re still buying vintage.
Another standout point for the Newburgh street store is the visual merchandising – those who know me personally understand I’m zealously into business & design title Monocle, which embodies a very well-curated; woody aesthetic. The Shinola store is exactly that, with the outside being enthralling enough that you have to walk in out of sheer curiosity, and the inside being encapsulating enough that you have to get your phone out and Instagram the heck out of it. But when you’re stocking leather good galore from journals to individual pen cases; shiny strapped watches; suspended bicycles and superbly cool varsity jackets, good visual merchandising should come naturally. It’s very well lit and I’m told it lies very closely with its American counterparts, presenting culture & character in the form of colourfully curated compartments to showcase the timepieces.