Shinola Creative Director: How to Craft a Well-Considered Brand

Shinola creative director Daniel Caudill on Designing a Brand With Integrity and Simplicity

Detroit-based and proudly American, Shinola has been making a name for itself since launching in 2011. The brand’s dedication to creating a handful of products, beautifully, is a testament to its commitment to quality, craft and world-class manufacturing.

Keeping jobs in the US and waving the flag overseas, Shinola sells its bespoke watches, bicycles, leather goods, apparel and other artisanal items in the capitals of fashion.

It operates ten stores including in London and New York and it’s also sold at Colette in Paris, Selfridge’s in London and, of course, at its global HQ in the former Argonaut Building in Detroit, the inspiration for its tagline, “Where American is made.”

We spoke with Daniel Caudill, Shinola’s creative director, at the 2015 Best Global Brands launch at The Whitney in New York about designing a luxury brand with heart and soul.

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Shinola’s head of marketing, Bridget Russo, has said, “We’ve never thought of ourselves as just a watch brand but as a design brand.” Can you elaborate?

We are working on more product categories than just watches, and we start with simplicity and design and how you use product and how you use it in your life. We try to make product that’s really simple, clean, and straightforward—really about how you use it.

When the product is really simple, every single little part is under a microscope, so if there’s any one thing wrong it’s a big red flashing light. Every single little tiny part has to be considered and so for us, quality is first. A simple product is one of the hardest things to design.

Shinola is identified with being rooted in Detroit, and a deep sense of pride in the city. Is it part of the brand’s DNA?

I just feel really honored to be a part of it, and what’s happening. It’s an amazing city, with amazing people; I think we’re more humble to be a part of that, more than anything.

How is Shinola expanding internationally?

We have an office in New York and stores in New York and Chicago, and we’re opening in San Francisco and Miami. We have 10 stores now, including London. We’ve been in Collette in Paris for two years, and Selfridges in London. We have a very small distribution in England and France and our own e-commerce channel in Europe.

Do you think of Shinola as a lifestyle brand?

I wouldn’t call it a lifestyle brand, but there are a group of products that you could see within the Shinola umbrella… I want to see what a Shinola toaster looks like, because I think we’d make an amazing toaster, but other things may not work. So it’s more about manufacturing, factories and what makes sense for the brand.

Are you constantly assessing what categories might make sense for your product roadmap, or do you listen to your customers to gauge that?

We do listen to customers as we think about what is right for the brand. We don’t only work with our factories, but we have factories that we own, factories that we partner with and then individuals that are making great products in the USA that are special and only available in our stores and e-commerce.

So it’s a mix of different things but it all starts at the factory level. Craftsmanship and design are always the beginning of everything. We pay attention to every detail.

If you had to define the mindset of your core customer, how would you describe that person?

I spend a lot of our stores and I’ll sit outside and watch and see who goes in and comes out with a bag. Our stores aren’t about a demographic or an age-range. It’s about a person who wants quality, wants to know where their product comes from, is interested in the design of the product and how it’s used, how it functions, what it’s made from.

That crosses over geography, age, and culture and beyond. Our customers are male, female, young, old, rich, poor. I’ve seen in our stores a gentleman purchase his sixth watch and at the same time a guy who had been saving up and was there to buy his first watch. So the Shinola customer is a type of person. It’s a psychographic, not a demographic.

How do you bring the same level and quality to the in-store and e-commerce experience?

Our e-commerce and retail (channels) are both very vibrant. They’re amazing. We also wholesale and we’re putting shop-in-shops in Nieman Marcus. Nordstrom does an amazing job of telling the brand story.

We say that no one really understands the brand until they come to Detroit and see the factory and meet the people. And that’s when you really understand the brand philosophy. It’s not about a designer or a person; it’s about the factory. That’s this brand—the people in the factory and our group of people in Detroit.

So much of everything brands do today is about the storytelling, which is an area where Shinola really shines, with your blog helping to tell the story behind the story. What content makes sense to bring the brand to life?

We’re not marketing a story, we’re just telling the story of what we’re doing. Our factory is real and the people there are real. That’s why you have to go to Detroit to see it because then you realize what’s behind the brand and the integrity and the intent of the company and that’s when you really understand what we’re doing.

It’s very honest and very simple. It’s the way we approach everything. It’s not just about product. But it’s about the office, the environment, the stores and how we interact with people. Everything about the company is important. Everything is considered.

About Daniel Caudill
Daniel Caudill is the Creative Director at Shinola.