It’s no secret that manufacturing activity in the United States has taken a nosedive in recent decades as globalization has made it more financially profitable to offshore the making of things to countries such as China and India. While there has been a bit of a resurgence lately of made in USA in goods like clothing, the lion’s share of harder consumer goods sold in the US such as gadgets and electronics are completely imported. And, as the late Steve Jobs once reportedly said, many believe that those jobs are never coming back.
A new company called Shinola is looking to go against this tide. Shinola has set up manufacturing operations in downtown Detroit with the aim of making a whole new line of consumer products including watches and bicycles completely here in the United States.
Born out of Bedrock Brands, a privately-held Texas-based firm owned by the founder of Fossil Inc. Tom Kartsotis, Shinola now occupies a 30,000 square foot space in Detroit’s historic Argonaut building, where its employees are assembling watches (from the motion to the leather strap) and bicycles with made in USA frames. Production is ramping up right now and these products and others will start to be available early next year.
Bedrock itself flies under the radar (it doesn’t even appear to have a website) but the company seems to be quietly building up a portfolio of consumer brands with a made in USA bent: This past summer, for example, it acquired Filson, the outdoor apparel and accessory company known for making many of its products in Seattle.
TechCrunch TV was in Detroit earlier this month for our Northern Meetups, so we headed over to Shinola to take a look at the space and interview COO Heath Carr about the company’s mission. As you can see in the video embedded above, the area where Shinola’s watches are made is not at all how you might expect a factory floor to be — there’s tons of light streaming in from the windows and music playing on the radio. According to Carr, that comes from Shinola and Bedrock’s core belief that every part of the manufacturing process contributes to the quality of the final product.
That concept reminds me a bit of the slow food movement: In the same way that, say, happy and healthy cows make better tasting cheese, the idea is that an airy and pleasant factory floor will produce better watches and bicycles. Shinola also believes that there are consumers who are willing to pay a bit of a premium for that kind of a product. It will be interesting to see if this catches on for other gadgets. Could a made in USA iPhone ever happen?
Watch the video embedded above to see Shinola for yourself.