Tom Kartsotis: Fusing American Style and Manufacturing

Tom Kartsotis: Fusing American Style and Manufacturing

Fashion is economic, which makes it political. From slogans on t-shirts at catwalk finales, to the use of fur in jackets and accessories, each product must eventually be produced and sold in order for a brand to continue growing. Nobody understands this better than Monday evening’s SCADstyle speaker, Tom Kartsotis, the founder of accessories brand Fossil and luxury goods brand Shinola.

Kartsotis founded Shinola in 2011 with the ambition of marrying American style and job creation. While he knew this would be no easy task, the beauty of the industry compelled him to push forward and open a watch factory on an empty level of the College of Creative Studies in Detroit, Michigan.

He partnered with Swiss mechanical watch movements company Ronda AG to import the finest pieces to the factory and train locals how to manufacture and troubleshoot watches. Shinola began production of Runwell, their first watch, with 2,500 units at an pay-in-advance price of $550. They sold out in a week.

Shinola’s Runwell Watch

Since the Runwell, they have introduced several new watch styles, from the Brakeman to the Gomelsky (named after the first person they met while visiting Ronda AG in Switzerland, since nobody could come up with a name). They have now expanded beyond watches; their full list of products includes watches, bicycles, journals, leather goods, jewelry, pet products, audio devices, electrical goods, sporting goods, sunglasses, and various household tools. They have also started their own branded soda, and Shinola Hotel is expected to open in Detroit in a year and a half.

Shinola has dug their heels deep into the production of such diverse products; not through standard market research, but rather Kartsotis’ intuition and desire to create the highest quality of products on the market. For example, after discovering Apple was buying audio company Beats, and finding Beats’ sound quality cheap, Kartsotis connected with legendary turntable designer Harry Weisfeld to create sound systems with impeccable audio quality. Shinola now sells headphones, turntables, and are opening a record-centric store with Detroit native and musician Jack White.

This rogue method of choosing what products they design compliments their marketing strategy. They rarely take out advertisements, relying heavily on word of mouth from loyal customers.

When Shinola does run an ad, however, they use playful language and minimal imagery to pique the viewer’s interest. The first published ad read “The long tradition of Detroit watchmaking has just begun.” After the Apple smartwatch came out, Shinola ran an ad stating “A watch so smart that it can tell you the time just by looking at it. The Runwell. It’s just smart enough.” They poke fun, encouraging the reader to become engaged with the brand.

Shinola’s Runwell Turntable

What truly makes Shinola shine is that every single one of their products is manufactured in the United States.

Stores today are stocked full of ‘American’ designed products that are actually made all over Southeast Asia for little pay. Kartsotis founded Shinola with the goal to create 100 jobs in Detroit, the city at the heart of car manufacturing which was left devastated after the automobile industry collapsed in 2008.

First year accessories major Jasmon Watson, who grew up in Detroit, remarked, “Seeing the name Detroit in the mainstream is amazing for the city.”

Shinola has successfully captured American style, while simultaneously bringing skilled labor back to the root of American manufacturing.

Finding a way to bring manufacturing jobs back to The United States has been highly politicized, with seemingly no easy answer. Through founding luxury goods brand Shinola, Tom Kartsotis has bypassed the politics and revived American craftsmanship, style, and manufacturing. It’s no wonder Shinola’s slogan is “Where American is Made.”


Written by Sabrina Batiz
Cover Image by Matt Sgambati
Product photos courtesy of Shinola

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