Shine On Shinola

Celebrating 10 Years

When Tom Kartsotis, founder of Shinola, chose Detroit for the company headquarters, it was with the belief that in this city — a city that helped build a nation — the brand could lay claim to its own version of the American Dream. Like a homesteader setting the cornerstone of a new foundation, Shinola introduced its first watch, the Runwell in 2013. Now, on the crest of that 10 year anniversary, Shinola has emerged as a design brand with an unwavering commitment to crafting lasting products — from watches to leather goods to eyewear and even a hotel.

In a story that deserves to be told again and again, the company’s arrival in Detroit was shadowed by the fact that executives had yet to settle on a name for the brand. As discussions on the topic grew heated, a leading team member exclaimed, “You don’t know sh*t from Shinola.” From there, Shinola Detroit quickly became known worldwide as an American manufacturer that stood for quality and innovation.


Based in the historic Argonaut Building, where a team of artisans hand assemble luxury timepieces and leather goods, Shinola considers itself more than just a brand. It is a belief — a belief that high quality products can be designed and created in the US by a company that is dedicated to its community, its employees, and its mission.

Shinola Watch

“We’re trying to get people to believe in what we do,” said CEO Awente Cobbina, as we settled in for a chat. “We have to be about more than selling products. We want people to believe in our mission and who we are and what we are doing. We are trying to get people to believe in the brand so that this 10-year-old brand can become a 100-year-old brand one day.”

Commitment to the Shinola promise is strong — both internally from employees (many of whom have been with the company from the start), and out there in the world at large. The company has a loyal customer base, one that continues to appreciate product innovation and quality design and execution. “This shouldn’t be a ten or 15 or 25 year experiment that people look fondly on,” Cobbina added. “This should be something that 90 years from now, people say wow, this was a really good idea…that’s what we really want to do here at Shinola.”

While all products are designed in Detroit, Shinola brings in the highest quality components and leathers from across the globe — including here in the US. Built to last, the brand’s product line has included a number of collaborations and curated collections of finely crafted items that extend beyond timepieces and small leather goods. Partnerships have been forged with more than 1,000 specialty fabricators and manufacturers, and a network of friends from across the US, from Largo, FL to Los Angeles, CA. These partnerships — including one with Marchon for eyewear, and Carolina Pet for pet products — all seek to showcase and honor the beauty of American design.

Shinola’s more recent partnerships have centered around the limited-edition Canfield Speedway, namely the Lap 5 (which was aligned with the Detroit Grand Prix in June of this year) and Lap 6 (which is aligned with the Detroit Auto Show). “When we started assembling and selling Shinola products in Detroit a decade ago, we recognized the importance of community involvement and supporting the moments that matter to those who call this great American city their home,” said Cobbina. “We’re honored to be part of Detroit’s lasting and meaningful automotive legacy.” 

The city looms large in the brand’s lore. Detroit is both home and inspiration. When its very first timepiece — the Runwell — made its debut, it was launched with the tag line “The long tradition of Detroit watchmaking has just begun.” The name for Shinola’s first watch came from the simple desire that it would run well. Ten years later, that name represents so much more, including skill at scale, the glory of manufacturing, and the pride Shinola shares with Detroit. To celebrate 10 years of watchmaking in Detroit, Shinola recreated the watch that started it all. The Runwell: 10 Year Edition will be available for purchase on October 10, 2023 in stores and at Pride is, in many ways, what carries this company forward. “The people here are hardworking people who know how to build things. They have an immense amount of pride, and are optimistic about the future,” added Cobbina. “As much as Shinola has been able to shine a light on things that were always here, it helps also to give us license to create new partnerships that add to the fabric of Detroit and of the midwest.”

Civic pride came to light again in 2013. As Shinola was set to launch its first timepiece for women, the city was forced to file for bankruptcy. As people began to write Detroit off, Shinola introduced its new watch — The Birdy — with a full-page ad in the New York Times. The headline: “To those who’ve written off Detroit, we give you The Birdy.” The ad went on to state that the watch was made by hand in Detroit, by people who live and work in Detroit, the city that made America.


That sort of tongue-in-cheek humor backed by a serious commitment to thoughtful craftsmanship played a part in this year’s limited production run of what started out as an entirely fictional timepiece. On April Fool’s Day, a social media prank featuring the Runlate, a watch for “those who embrace their own sense of time,” generated so much positive feedback that Shinola added the timepiece to its lineup. A special edition (and one that is no longer available) of the original Runwell, the Runlate subs out numbers on the dial for the word “late,” making the timepiece a fun and lighthearted conversation starter — and a great gift for that friend or family member who is never on time.

Today, the Shinola brand includes clocks, paper goods, games, jewelry, candles, eyewear, pet products, and high-quality audio equipment. In addition, Shinola has 21 brick and mortar retail stores across the country (with more on the way); the first one opened a decade ago on West Canfield Street in Detroit. The Canfield location recently hosted a limited partnership with Dos Jefes, a Detroit-based company that up-cycles vintage apparel. The collection of 30 bags — which quickly and completely sold out — was just another example of how Shinola’s unique approach is centered on creative thinking and target execution.

Glass Interior

But perhaps one of the shiniest showpieces to emerge from the Shinola legacy is the first Shinola Hotel. Dubbed Detroit’s new living room, the 129-room boutique hotel is located in the heart of the city’s historic Woodward shopping district. In partnership with Bedrock Detroit and Dan Gilbert, the hotel is defined by a timeless sense of style, approachable service, and an obsession with quality craftsmanship. Marrying two restored buildings — the old T.B. Rayl & Co. sporting goods and hardware store, and a former Singer sewing-machine store — with three brand new buildings honoring downtown Detroit’s historic architecture, the property has been named one of the best hotels in America and the best hotel in Detroit, said Cobbina. It is also, said company execs, the first step into growing the hospitality category over the next few years.

While time — watches, clocks and straps — accounts for 70 percent of the business, and leather 20 percent, there are a number of other market segments that the company is targeting for growth, including jewelry. The true bottom line, however, is people. Those who stand with and behind the brand.

“Great product and the right partners,” said Cobbina. “That’s the goal moving forward.”