If the name Shinola rings a bell, it may be because of an off-color taunt. Founded in 1907, the brand-name shoe polish was a staple for American GIs, who popularized the expression “You don’t know sh-t from Shinola.” Over the past year, the brand–which was bought and relaunched by Fossil Inc. founder Tom Kartsotis–has established itself as a force in American-made design. The company’s watches range in price from $475 to $950 and can be found at Bloomingdale’s and Neiman Marcus as well as its two flagship Shinola-branded stores. In 2013, the company made about 50,000 watches; this year it wants to make 150,000. It has also expanded into customized bicycles, leather goods, journals, soft drinks and, naturally, shoe polish. During its first six months in business, Shinola generated more than $20 million in sales. The company expects to turn a profit by 2017, when revenue is projected to hit $100 million.
More than style is at stake. Shinola is growing at a time when American manufacturing is in full revival and the global trade equation is being rewritten. Climbing wages in China, higher transportation costs, a weaker dollar, rising U.S. productivity and cheaper energy: all these factors mean American firms are finding it increasingly competitive to make things at home. Companies like Shinola–native U.S. manufacturing operations determined to nurture domestic cottage industries that have all but disappeared–are the latest test of these trends. If Shinola can thrive, it could become part of something the Motor City hasn’t seen since the glory days of American automaking: a new boom in manufacturing.
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