DETROIT — This year marks a decade since Shinola's inception. Within just a few years, the Detroit watchmaker gained popularity just as the city declared bankruptcy, creating a brand identity that many consumers found compelling: embracing a city's struggles.
In that time the luxury design company, mainly known for its watches, has rapidly grown from about 50 employees and two stores in 2013 to 400 employees and 23 stores across the country in eight years. It also has some high-profile fans, from former President Bill Clinton, who is said to own several Shinola watches, to "Green Book" director Peter Farrelly, who yelled, "Shinola watches! Unbelievable! They're saving Detroit!" during the 2019 Oscar awards ceremony.
Shinola also has been criticized for capitalizing on Detroit's struggles, and making and selling luxury watches in a city where most residents can't afford them.
Now, the company — with its somewhat new CEO who took over just before the pandemic kicked in — is looking ahead to the next decade, refocusing on core products like watches, and expanding to sell other products, like eyeglasses, which it makes with a vendor in Los Angeles.
The connection to Detroit, though, remains the same.
"It's about storytelling," said Tom Kartsotis, founder of Shinola. "We built a watch factory in Detroit and people are interested in that. We are remaining trying to be a storytelling watch brand that I think can be sizable. I think that we have a lot of room to grow there."
Kartsotis said he believes Shannon Washburn is the right person to lead Shinola into its next decade.
Washburn, a Texas native, took over as CEO in November 2019. She's been with the company since its early days, joining in 2012 after a long career at Fossil, another Kartsotis-founded watch and leather goods company.
Shinola CEO Shannon Washburn stands in the Shinola Woodward Avenue location in downtown Detroit on Monday, June 14, 2021. Washburn took over as the CEO of Shinola in November 2019 after leading the company through the pandemic. She's now focused on growing the brand through the launch of an eyewear brand and licensing partnerships.
Washburn already has notched some successes.