We sit down with Daniel Caudill, Shinola’s Creative Director, to talk about what makes the Detroit brand so special.

We like a company with a good ethic and an even better product here at Wonderland, so it’s no surprise that we’re big fans of Shinola. The American brand makes artisan watches, bikes and leather-goods, as well as a whole range of other hand-crafted pieces, all in its Detroit factory – creating jobs and fostering a community feel in a city that was hit particularly hard by the recession and the damage it did to the American motor industry.

For the next instalment of their Great American Series (an ongoing celebration of American visionaries and pioneers) the decidedly patriotic brand has partnered with the Muhammad Ali Center to honour the iconic boxer. The capsule collection not only features some of the brand’s famous watches – produced in a limited run of 400 with a stainless steel cushion case and brown alligator strap – but also a grey knit sweatshirt with Cassius Clay print; a pair of 10oz leather boxing gloves (made in collaboration with John Golomb of New York who produced gloves for Ali himself); two limited edition photo books and, best of all, a spa-day-white, terry cloth cotton dressing gown with  Muhammad Ali emblazoned on the back – so you can walk around your own home like you’re The Greatest.

The special collection gave us an opportunity to get to know the history of this unusual and impressive brand by talking with Shinola’s Creative Director, Daniel Caudill. Following an illustrious career working with brands like Adidas as well as consulting and styling for music videos and shoots, Daniel was instrumental in the conception of the brand, so there are few better equipped to tell us more about this burgeoning manufacturer.

How did you come to be a part of the brand?

I met the owner and the founder and we started talking about what ‘Made in America’ looked like and just the idea of what a modern made in USA brand should be. The goal was to provide jobs, and a hope that we can build beautiful, well-made product in the US and make it competitive and make it all about quality. So the conversation started and just built from there. My role was to put the look and feel of the brand together and it just slowly grew from a small office with a load of tear sheets to the brand you see today.

Do you have any links to Detroit yourself?

I had never been there until we had gone to look for a factory space: the first time we went was really about where to put the factory. Detroit has a history of manufacturing, of line assembly and people who work in small componentry – it was sort of a natural place. As we kept going, Detroit just got under our skin: the people, the city, everything about the city was so exciting and the whole brand was built around that watch factory.

What do you find most inspiring about the brand?

Honestly, t’s the watch factory. The best part of my job is the people that I work with. We told people early on that we didn’t wanna sell to them until they came and saw the factory. Because you don’t really understand the brand until you see the factory and I think that’s really the best part of the brand: the watch factory, the strap factory, the leather, bikes, shipping and receiving, and accounting is all under the same roof. It’s such a community and it’s really become such a family. Being able to interact everyday with every part of the company is so inspiring. I feel really lucky to be able to work with the people that I do. It’s really cool.

Because we’re doing everything from manufacture to retail there are so many layers and so many people who touch product. It’s such an amazing collaborative effort; it’s no egos, collaborative workplace where everyone’s working towards a common goal. At the end of the day it’s so rewarding.

What is that vision/common goal?

Quality, first and foremost. Making quality product. Making product that we’re proud of. There’s a lot of things we work on that never see the light of day because they’re not up to the standard that we hold this brand up to. And creating jobs. Quality and jobs are the forces driving decision making. It sounds corny when you say it out loud but it’s true! It’s the place and the people: you really don’t believe it until you see how it all works.

What’s the Detroit vibe?

You read the news and you hear a lot of things but there’s actually this amazing community of artists and creative people. Everyone wants everyone else to succeed so people will help you for no other reason than that they want you to succeed. That was also part of the reason why we put our whole company there. The city is very creative and open, warm and inviting, protective and proud: to be a part of that I feel humbled and lucky to be a part of that.

What product are you most excited by?

We have a great American Series that we do every year. So this year we’re doing Muhammad Ali and working with the foundation to make product to honour him – what he did in his lifetime was pretty phenomenal. The product we created around that is really exciting. The watches are great and there’s also sweatshirts and boxing gloves. I got a couple of early samples and when I wear them round the office everyone want’s it! Everyone in the office is jonesing for it! The guy that delivers between our stores and warehouse, came up to me yesterdaday and said, “Can you hold one for me!”

We’re doing some different things: there’s a youth boxing gym in Detroit that does some amazing work with Detroit youth and we’re doing a benefit and opening there which we are so excited about.

What’s your aim for the future of Shinola?

My boss says it all the time, you can see a Shinola toaster. We want to make a toaster one day! There’s so many different things you can see working for the brand and fitting in with the aesthetic. There’s a lot of different product that we’re working on – expanding the men’s collection and eventually a larger women’s one. We’ve just gone into bags (which is a big deal to manufacture bags in the USA).  So it’s all about new categories and expanding our old ones. It sounds corny but Shinola is such a nice place – we have events, we had a Halloween party and all the people from different departments were hanging out and having fun together. We have a common mind-set of wanting to do things the right way and take pride in what we’re doing. Be it housekeeping or working in the store, we’re people who are proud of their company.


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