Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Shinola Gives Us the Birdy

Shinola Birdy with gray leather watch strap

Even though Detroit has filed for bankruptcy, Shinola's reaction might surprise you. They're giving it the Birdy. They're producing what some might have thought impossible: watches. That's right, watches made in Detroit. In fact, they're bending some of the rules of American manufacturing by not only creating beautiful American-made watches but also creating new jobs in the area. (They're still hiring, by the way, if anyone is interested.)

Shinola's watch factory

Shinola's story is really what drew me to write about this company. Watch manufacturing hasn't had a presence in the United States for decades. So the idea of setting out to produce watches here in the States is a little preposterous, if you think about it. What American worker would even know how to make a watch? Shinola's plan was to tap into the skilled labor workforce of Detroit where many have been employed by at least one of the Big Three automakers (Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler).

Although watches are probably just as complicated to produce, however, a car it is not. So Shinola made a somewhat gutsy decision. They brought in watch experts from across the globe to retrain these workers (see video below). While this idea seems so simple, lack of skill is one of the first excuses reasons some companies use to offshore their production. It's nice to hear that Shinola decided to invest the time and money into doing otherwise, especially for a community as hard hit as Detroit.

One of Shinola's women's watches, the Birdy, is a one that quickly caught my eye. I decided I had to see it for myself. So I set off to visit their new flagship store in TriBeCa, one of NYC's trendiest neighborhoods, to have a look at it in person. The store is really fun to explore: a cute little coffee shop up front, friendly staff, beautiful displays, and a well-curated selection of goods (from Shinola as well as other brands). I also got the chance to see just why retraining workers to hand-assemble over 50 Swiss-made components was totally worth it.

Shinola Birdy with orange leather watch strap

Readers, I present you with the Birdy in detail. Honestly, these photos don't do it justice. The details are just beautiful: the hand-stitched band (American leather, sewn in Florida), the coin edge, the classic dial design with date indicator, and the fashion-forward wraparound watch strap. It's clear that Shinola is not kidding around with a well-designed watch meant to have integrity. Great job, Shinola. My hesitation, and the only reason for my delay in buying one for myself, is that I have to decide which one of the eleven current versions of the Birdy I like best. Not the worst problem to have, I guess. (Update: See the Birdy watch that I finally bought for myself.)

If you haven't done so already, please visit the Shinola website. They do a wonderful job of telling you more about their story and introducing you to some of the proud people they employ. The brief video below explains just a bit about the rigorous training that the Shinola watch assembly specialists underwent in Detroit. I'm not going to lie, it made me tear up a little. Because I'm a sap like that.

P.S. Shinola makes bikes and other cool stuff.

(Photos and video courtesy of Shinola.) 
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