Shinola was a brand of American-made shoe polish whose creator went out of business in 1960, but the name lived on in a widely known phrase that, in deference to good taste, we’ll decline to repeat here.
So it seems appropriate that this defunct, abused brand was resurrected in the city of Detroit by a group of entrepreneurs interested in reviving American manufacturing. One can now purchase high-quality Shinola watches, bicycles, and leather goods, assembled by hand in the U.S.
The Shinola story has become something of a model for other artisans and small manufacturers who value quality and believe in the value of restoring our aging cities.
“We have an opportunity for manufacturing to be redefined,” says Jen Guarino, Shinola’s vice president of manufacturing.
She will share the story of this urban manufacturer at the IdeaLab 2018 event, “reMaking Industry.” The daylong event will be held Dec. 5 at Memorial Hall in Over-the-Rhine, and is focused on urban manufacturing, connecting the stakeholders and communities, and sharing best practices.
New research conducted by the Urban Manufacturing Alliance will also be presented at the conference. That group studied six cities, including Cincinnati, to understand the industrial network of small manufacturers in each urban center. The other five cities examined were Baltimore, Detroit, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, and Portland, Ore.
Keynoting at the December conference will be Katy Stanton of the Urban Manufacturing Alliance, who will dive into the details of the UMA study, and David Adams, the University of Cincinnati’s chief innovation officer and the leader of the newly formed 1819 Innovation Hub in Cincinnati’s Uptown Innovation Corridor.
Guarino will be one of three morning presenters and will focus her session on the synergies between the Shinola project and the city of Detroit.
“Domestic manufacturing is a basic passion of mine,” she says. “We just don’t value this work anymore.”
Shinola set up shop in the heartland of American manufacturing, a place that, 50 years ago, appeared to have reached its peak. But Shinola’s founders said they believed not just in Detroit’s history but in its future, so they bought and refreshed the storied Shinola brand and started making bicycles and watches by hand in Detroit’s urban core.
About six years ago, Guarino arrived from the Twin Cities, where she was a partner in a business called J.W. Hulme, a maker of handbags, wallets, and other quality leather goods. She established Shinola’s leather goods factory, where workers make products such as handbags, watch straps, and journal covers.
“I came as a predetermined crusader for domestic manufacturing,” she says.
Her presentation will center on removing the stigma of manufacturing and making domestic manufacturing competitive again.
Dan Carmody is another IdeaLab presenter. He is president of Eastern Market Corporation, another urban Detroit success story. Eastern Market is both an 11-acre market — similar to Cincinnati’s Findlay market — and a 185-acre neighborhood with a lot of food businesses, which creates a sort of symbiosis that sustains both the market and its neighborhood.
“We try to make the neighborhood a better place,” is how Carmody simply puts it.
Like Findlay Market, which opened in Over-the-Rhine in 1855, Eastern Market’s roots in its neighborhood go deep. It was established in 1891. Unlike Findlay Market, which is focused on the retail trade, Eastern Market is also home to food wholesalers and to about 700 “transient” vendors, who set up shop, tear down, and move on.
The Eastern Market District has become a regional food hub and the nonprofit corporation plays a central role in strengthening the district as an engine of economic growth.
It operates a network of incubator kitchens and runs a microgrant program that supports small business and trains them to operate efficiently.
About a year ago, it opened its first accelerator program for food businesses and is preparing to open a second one, converting a 15,000 square-foot building into five working suites.
“We’re focusing on accelerating those that have the ability to scale up and grow large,” Carmody says.
One of its success stories is McClure’s Pickles, a Michigan family-owned business that now sells relish, sauerkraut, Bloody Mary mix and, of course, pickles throughout North America online and at more than a dozen stores in southeast Michigan.
Carmody’s presentation will focus on how a nonprofit such as Eastern Market Corp. can stimulate the growth of urban food entrepreneurship.
IdeaLab’s third morning presenter is Adam Kenney of Pittsburgh, the director of Monmade and the Craft Business Accelerator at Bridgeway Capital.
Monmade helps connect manufacturers with markets and buyers. It is a project of the Craft Business Accelerator, which finances artisan businesses, maker enterprises, design/build shops, and entrepreneurial artists.
They are both part of Pittsburgh’s Bridgeway Capital, which provides financing and business education to spark the growth of small businesses.
Kenney is a glassmaker with 20 years of experience, and connects strongly with producers. He’s also served in leadership positions for regional arts and cultural institutions.
Tickets for IDEALAB “reMaking Industry” are on sale now. $50 per person ($29 for students) includes access to all sessions, plus morning coffee and a light breakfast, box lunch, and an informal social hour. Save the date now and stay tuned for more about ticket purchasing, the program schedule, regional and local presenter profiles, and travel and accommodation information.
IDEALAB “reMaking Industry” is sponsored by The Carol Ann and Ralph V. Haile Jr./U.S. Bank Foundation, People’s Liberty, Issue Media Group, and Soapbox Cincinnati.