Saturday, November 28, 2015

[Selling] the Illusion of the American Dream

I was a dream killer the other day when I burst the Shinola bubble for several coworkers. 

Shinola is an "upscale retailer of bespoke watches and bicycles, plus a line of leather goods and curated gift items." They present themselves as a Detroit-based company dedicated to producing American built products

But in truth, they did not rise out of the ashes of Detroit. 

The watches aren’t actually manufactured in Detroit. They are assembled there from parts made overseas by their partner, Swiss-based watch manufacturer Ronda AG.

In fact, Shinola isn't even really a Detroit company. Bedrock Brands owns Shinola. Bedrock Brands is based in Texas, and although they have no website, the privately-held conglomerate was created by the co-founder of Fossil watches, and owns other brands like Filson.

So that asks the questions, how do you feel when you learn there’s corporate dollars behind your “grassroots” heroes?

Honestly? I find it disheartening.

Shinola products are beautiful, albeit overpriced, but I'm willing to look past an upcharge when I think I'm supporting a local start-up, Americans building a quality product from quality materials... you know, hardwork and the American dream, yada yada yada. 

But in this case, it’s really just a brilliant marketing ploy. They hired expensive designers, spent millions on real estate in NYC (for their Tribeca-based retail), dropped more on fancy ad campaigns and partnered with other popular “authentic brands".

Was it worth it? Shinola's initial offering of watches sold out before they were even assembled.

It is true that Shinola has brought jobs to Detroit. It is true they are operating a watch factory out of a former GM space. It is true they they are investing in industry in this American city. I respect that. I just struggle with the image they are presenting ...and how quickly people are eating it up.

What do you think— do the practices and procedures of the company behind the products you’re buying matter to you when you make a purchase — especially for high end, "authentic" goods?

I think, if they want people to respect the integrity of the brand, then they should have the integrity to be honest about the company’s roots and funding.

And for them to present themselves as a luxury brand, operating under the tagline “Where America is Made" strikes me as incredibly phony, and like they're taking advantage of Detroit's image and situation. 

My first encounter with Shinola “in the wild” was at Eastern Market in Detroit, at a urban pet shop(pe) called 3 Dogs 1 Cat. They were selling Shinola dog collars. Starting at $70. For a strip of leather and a buckle. $70. And I remember thinking… if I was struggling in Detroit, and I was going to rob a store to make ends meet, this would be the type of place I would rob. Because, shame on you. Shame on you.

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