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(Published: 2013-11-25)

Once upon a time, Detroit was a vibrant manufacturing hub known as “Motor City.” American-made muscle cars (a.k.a. “Detroit Steel”) rolled proudly off the assembly lines and hit the road with a rumble of bravado. In the 60’s, a “Detroit slide” meant changing multiple lanes at 90 m.p.h.

All was well in Motor City for many years, until the Arab oil ogres squeezed the energy pipelines and drove the price of gasoline into the stratosphere. Complacency set in and the industry fell under the spell of bad brand management, stagnant design, and deteriorating quality. Then the Asian dragons Honda and Toyota came down from the mountains breathing fire into the competitive landscape.

The once-great city fell into a deep sleep. Factories closed, crime rates soared, and two-thirds of the population fled the city. Like the straw house in “The Three Little Pigs,” the city collapsed. On July 22, 2013, Detroit filed for bankruptcy--the largest municipal collapse in US history. Today, 78,000 buildings sit abandoned, 40% of the streetlights don’t work, and the streets are overrun with stray dogs.

Now comes the happy ending, (or at least the beginning of it), where a wealthy entrepreneur disguised as a white knight rides into town to spark a renaissance, one job at a time. His name is Tom Kartsotis, and he’s best known for founding Fossil, the popular accessories brand. Kartsotis had this crazy idea to launch a Made in Detroit line of product, marketed under the name of the defunct shoe polish brand, Shinola.

After liquidating his Fossil holdings, Kartsotis created Bedrock, a venture capital firm whose mission is to invest in U.S. based manufacturers. Shinola Detroit was recreated as a Made in America accessory company; the first products created were watches, bicycles, and leather goods.

The company aims to disrupt the luxury watch market by offering an industrial chic quality watch that would normally retail for $2,000 from an established made-in-Switzerland brand—for only $600. As with many luxury watches, Shinola’s parts are produced in Switzerland, but the timepieces are actually assembled by newly trained American workers in the company’s 40,000 square foot facility in downtown Detroit. Their goal is to make 500,000 watches a year, each reading “Built in Detroit.”

Capitalizing on the grittiness and toughness of Detroit, the Shinola Runwell is a top-of-the-line bicycle that features a Tour de France-worthy electronic shifting system, hydraulic brakes, and built-in lights powered by the wheels being pedaled. The bikes, with leather seats and handmade frames, are from Wisconsin’s Waterford Precision Cycles. Priced upwards of two thousand dollars, they hark back to an era before American bike production fled to Taiwan.

Shinola’s betting big on Detroit’s renaissance and doing its part to bring American made precision manufacturing back into vogue. Their new watch ads boldly state: “Someday they’ll call Geneva the Detroit of Switzerland.” Now there’s a happy ending to a grim fairy tale.

For more info visit Visit their NYC Tribeca store, or watch this CBS video clip:

Shinola Runwell Watch

Shinola Runwell Bicycle

Robyn Waters is president and founder of RW Trend, LLC. She is the author of The Trendmaster’s Guide: Get a Jump on What Your Customer Wants Next, and The Hummer and the Mini: Navigating the Contradictions of the New Trend Landscape. Learn more about Robyn at All Rights Reserved.

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