“You don’t know shit from Shinola.” While originally a reference to their top of the line shoe polish, the brands provocative World War II-era tagline is now more relevant than ever. With its ability to corner the market for all things “American,” the Detroit-based watch, accessories and leather goods company has managed to define itself as the new standard of American luxury at breakneck speed. No longer simply shoe polish produced by the American Chemical Manufacturing and Mining Company, today Shinola is one of the most successful crossover lifestyle brands in the American market.

Only a few years ago, Detroit’s inner city blocks were on the cusp of forming a new skid row. The city as a whole was on the verge of bankruptcy. Things, however, are changing. The blocks surrounding Shinola’s hangar-like retail outpost are now brimming with Brooklyn-esque home goods retailers, selvedge jeans boutiques and farm-to-table restaurants that have earned the Cass Corridor neighborhood the title of, “the luxury retail mecca of Midtown Detroit.” There is no doubt that Shinola’s Detroit presence is at the heart of this new commercial boom. With the announcement of a chain of Shinola hotels and the further expansion of specialty boutiques Shinola is ostensibly leading the pack in reestablishing Detroit as a manufacturing hub and center of American commerce. However, while Detroit—and the city’s apparent well-being—is central to Shinola’s brand image, contradictory business practices and questionable ethics have led some to to argue Shinola in fact exploits Detroit and it’s storied history as a mechanism to drive sales.

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