Shinola Leading Ladies: Manufacturing VP Jen Guarino

BY Taylor Rebhan

When Shinola’s Detroit leather factory was built in 2014, Vice President of Manufacturing Jennifer Guarino moved her desk from the corporate office space right to the factory floor. “I purposely moved my desk out here because I really like to be where people are working on our products, and I like to be in the heartbeat of it all,” she says.

Today, with Jen’s leadership, our leather factory is producing more than just small leather goods like watch straps and journal covers. Using American leather and imported hardware in our products, the leather team is now producing the majority of Shinola’s most popular women’s handbag — the Accordion Crossbody

Soon this style will be exclusively made within the Detroit factory walls, along with three new styes of handbags, Jen says. While the team builds their capabilities, Shinola continues to work with a hand-selected group of American companies across the country to meet current demand. 


Part of Jen’s leather team that is learning to build new handbags in the Detroit factory.

Jen’s passion for leather and manufacturing both in and outside of the work she does at Shinola is contagious. Her vision is to remove the stigma of manufacturing and make the field something honorable, reputable and actually sought after as a career choice. 

“It is a passion I cannot turn off,” she says. “We are talking manufacturing industries at large, not just leather goods and watches — They’re all suffering because they can’t find people to fill seats for skilled trades. Industry has to be a part of changing that.”

She believes Detroit could be ground zero for the way we approach manufacturing differently. 

“I think Detroit is the perfect place to implement some pilot programs for this. I’m involved in so many workforce development initiatives, and it’s always been that way.

People need different options, not everyone needs to follow the same four year college track, and that needs to be O.K. — It doesn’t mean that you’re going to somehow be a failure, and I think we need to start really young and we have to start in high schools and expose people to lab classes, shop classes… it can be anything from music, to carpentry, plumbing — we need those classes back in schools.”

Read more about Jen in the interview below. 


Inside the leather factory behind Jen’s desk. 

How would you describe your management style?

My management style is symbolized by my desk being out here — this is where it happens. These folks out here are just as important as everything going on, on the other side of this wall.

It is important for me to know everyone’s names, how many kids they have, and to know what their interests are. If I’m going to be a part of giving them a real path, I have to get to know them to see if there’s a way we can track them in a certain way. To remove the stigma of manufacturing, you have to start by not treating these people differently. Why is it ok to not know people’s names who work in factories? It’s not.

My style, if you want to call it a style, is just basic human nature. It’s not rocket science. Every day I come out here to the factory and I talk to people. I stay close to the pulse of what’s happening. I can’t expect people to get on board with manufacturing if I’m not here in it with them.

They give me as much as I give them. It’s so fulfilling and its really just who I am. I can’t not know someone’s name, or be engaged with them. Manufacturing is not easy and we encounter challenges along the way, so there’s a lot of humor out here too. 

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Have you always worked in leather goods?

I’m from California. I started as a fashion illustrator, and then I became a designer. I then went about learning the manufacturing and business side of fashion. Next, I got into brand management and the marketing of fashion. Finally, I put all those things to work when I ended up partnering in a business called J.W. Hulme, which I led for 10 years in Minnesota.

I came to Detroit by way of Minnesota, and I’ve spent my whole career in leather goods. For me, Shinola is the opportunity to apply 30 years of experience in one place. How many places do you get to sum up everything that you’ve learned in your career, and then apply it to something that actually matters? For me, this is everything.

When I come in here every day, and get to pass along my knowledge and what I’ve learned with people that I love working with every day…that is huge for me. For me this is not a job.

How has the leather division grown at Shinola since you arrived?

When I first came, there was no leather studio, no factory, there was nothing. We quickly devised this strategy of how to build a real leather business. The first thing we decided to do was to commit to designing, developing, and sampling all of our leather products here in Detroit. We started by building the leather studio — we did that in October 2013.

In April 2014, we cut the ribbon to the new 12,000 square-foot factory. We have enough equipment to increase employees as demand increases. We’re exposing people to a different manufacturing environment by showing people that manufacturing can look, feel and sound different.


What is your favorite thing about Shinola?

It’s definitely the people making the product. We are redefining what it means to be someone that’s manufacturing a product. I’ve been in American manufacturing for 30 years, and we are redefining what American factories look and feel like. Come out to the factory any given day, and this is not what comes to mind when people think factory. If I could beam people into the factory every day for them to feel this and understand what goes on here, it could go viral. You really do catch it — you feel something immediately walking through the leather factory doors. 

How do you like living in Detroit?

My boyfriend and I have completely fallen in love with Detroit. We restored a home that was built in 1928 that was empty for three years in the University District, so we live and work in Detroit. We live in a neighborhood that’s full of people that have lived in Detroit for 30 or 40 years, so we’re really in Detroit.


What is a hidden gem in the city of Detroit you never expected to find here? 

Well, the place is not hidden but Bert’s Marketplace. Bert’s has Saturday afternoon karaoke that is incredible! Talent that you can’t believe. If you close your eyes you will swear you are in the old Motown studio. 

This interview is part of a new series highlighting leading women at Shinola. 

View our entire leather collection, here

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