Time Well Spent: The Stories of Shinola’s 10-Year Employees

BY Ashley N. Littles

Shinola’s journey over the past decade has been shaped by its people—those passionate individuals who believed in a dream and turned it into a reality. Here, we dive deeper into the experiences and memories of Shinola Originals—employees who have been with us since the very beginning, looking closer at their take on the brand’s remarkable journey.

When I set foot at Shinola at the fresh age of 21, it felt like stepping into an experiment, a new venture. We weren’t even selling watches back then. With just 8-10 of us pioneering the movement line, everything was silent, not from tension, but from shared anticipation. Watches? I couldn’t be more indifferent. But life had other plans.

A pivotal point came in 2013 when we worked with Swiss and Thai watch and movement assembly trainers from Ronda. Their language was foreign, but passion? Universal. This was the same year I dived straight into repairs, evolving as Shinola’s inaugural watch repair tech. As the brand surged, I found myself at the helm of the watch repairs team, fortifying my skills under the Swiss team’s expert guidance.

Baselworld in Switzerland 2015 is forever etched in my memory. Those exhilarating three weeks, the adrenaline of European car rides and the unexpected camaraderie in a booth meeting with Tom are moments I cherish. “I remember Tom sharing a special moment with me. He said, ‘I recently got a tattoo from a famous artist in California. It’s a Shinola bolt on my wrist.’ With a grin, he added, ‘You can get that if you want.'” It wasn’t just about ink – it was a silent pact, a commitment. His gesture, as simple as asking if I had his back during a corridor meet, means more than any formal accolade. It’s a rarity to feel such a bond with a company’s founder, to know he genuinely cares about my journey and future.

2018 took me to San Francisco’s Salesforce Dreamforce event, a unique experience of being on literal display while we showcased our craft. Then came 2020 – the global upheaval. We had to reimagine our work in the face of a pandemic. We innovated, pivoted, and grew stronger.

Shinola has been a significant influencer in my life choices, too. Once a budding psychologist, my experience here sparked an interest in Supply Chain Management. Today, I wear the hat of the Service Center Manager with pride, focusing on transforming it from a cost center to a profitable entity. Guided by leaders like Olivié and George, every day is a lesson.

There’s a pride I carry in my time here. Never have I anchored myself to a single place for so long. Having devoted a third of my life to Shinola, this isn’t just a job; it’s an identity. At 33, Shinola feels inseparable from who I am. And if there’s a takeaway from this journey? It’s resilience. It’s the undying spirit of not giving up and keeping the flame of hope alive.

Shinola Original Since: November 11, 2013

Back in 2013, as the buzz of Detroit’s revitalization filled the air, a chance encounter at the Mercury Burger Bar set the stage for what would become a transformative journey in my professional life. Under the delicious aroma of grilled burgers, a promotional sign for a company named “Shinola” caught my attention. This Detroit-based brand was something I hadn’t come across before.

Intrigued, I delved deeper and discovered that Shinola was not just another corporate venture but an ambitious initiative to reintroduce watch manufacturing to the heart of America—Detroit, to be precise. This was thrilling because I love watches. The chance to play a part in Detroit’s renaissance was also too good to resist. I was inspired.

The ensuing months were filled with anticipation, and when I spotted an opening in Shinola’s e-commerce department, it felt like fate. I traded my VP of Engineering position for an opportunity in Software Development with Shinola. Many might have seen it as a gamble, but to me, it was a calling I’ve been grateful for every day.

As an original member of the Shinola family, the company’s humble beginnings were evident. Our initial workspace was a vast 5th-floor expanse, so empty that we’d often enjoy a fun cycle around on Shinola-branded bikes. It symbolized potential waiting to be realized. In time, as we expanded our horizons and the business flourished, we annexed the 4th floor, transforming every available space with beautiful wooden desks. From corridors to closets, the growth was palpable and exhilarating.

It wasn’t only about crafting watches or leather goods but about reigniting Detroit’s manufacturing spirit, creating jobs, and emphasizing American craftsmanship’s unmatched quality. My respect and admiration for Tom Kartsotis, the visionary behind Shinola, grew profoundly. His dream wasn’t merely about profits; it was about community, legacy, and rejuvenating the soul of a city.

A decade later, as I reflect on this incredible journey, the sense of gratitude is overwhelming. It’s not just about the job or the brand; it’s about the stories, the people, and the shared experiences that have enriched my life in countless ways. I’ve seen Shinola transform from a name on a promotional sign to a symbol of hope, resilience, and excellence.

Shinola Original Since: June 11, 2012

It was my junior year at CCS. We were neck-deep in a product design project. The sponsor? A yet-to-be-unveiled Shinola. As it turns out, they had chosen our building as their new home. The semester took an exciting turn when my concept caught their eye, and they offered me a doorway into their world: an internship in Texas. That summer, while learning new skills, I also discovered a sweet tea that still lingers in my taste buds.

From there, my path was a winding journey from an intern to embracing a senior role. My days at Shinola have been punctuated with memories – visits to Steelcase and the Better Made Chips factory and, of course, that adventurous 2021 holiday photo shoot in Romeo, Michigan. Navigating through a downpour, with a company vehicle tagging behind, was an experience of its own kind.

Working with mentors like Brandon Little and Colin Tury has been a transformative experience. Brandon, with his relentless encouragement, constantly pushed my boundaries. And from Colin, the lesson was clear: seize the initiative.

But it’s not just about significant milestones. It’s also about those small, indelible moments. Like Tom, eager with his high-fives, and our shared chuckle when a missed high-five led to a toppled bicycle. That’s Shinola for you: a tapestry of profound and playful memories.

Working alongside individuals like Jonnelle Boyd, Greg, Molly, and Barry Seldon, I’ve been fortunate to exchange ideas, challenges, and triumphs.

The essence of my decade here? It’s a medley of growth, memories, challenges, and relentless dedication. And as I look back, it’s evident: Shinola isn’t just where I work; it’s where I belong.

Shinola Original Since: April, 30th 2012

I vividly recall my unexpected initiation into Shinola. Fresh from graduation, armed with a business degree and scouring Texas for opportunities, breakfast with Tom—a friend of my NBA coach grandfather—changed everything.

With his vast network, Tom casually suggested, “Why not interview with us? Maybe you could work alongside me.” What followed was a peculiar interview with Lynda Zimmerman, with my grandfather and twin brother, David, awkwardly in the room. But in a twist, I walked out employed, diving headfirst into the world of startups for Bedrock.

It was an electrifying era. Watching and actively partaking in the rise of a brand from its embryonic stages to its resonating presence was exhilarating. I was everywhere, from managing trademarks with legal to decoding P&Ls with accounting. Shinola’s allure was inescapable, leading me and David to Detroit.

There’s a quip David loves: they adored me so much they wanted a clone; hence, they brought him on board. Settling in Detroit was seamless, especially with David by my side. The early days at Shinola can be encapsulated in one sentiment: everyone did everything. Every role and every challenge was a collective undertaking.

Soon, I steered my ship toward order management. With wholesale orders flooding in, I discerned a chance to helm a team. It was demanding, yet the onset of EDI and other portals streamlined the processes, enhancing efficiency.
One vivid memory encapsulates our startup spirit. Amidst a deluge of orders, it was indeed all hands on deck. We all huddled together, from novices like me to Jonathan Hughes and then CEO Steve Bock. Those moments, marked by collective grit and unity, are the ones I cherish the most.

Reflecting on my journey, the bedrock of my Shinola experience remains the incredible individuals. Steve Bock constantly pushed my boundaries. Jonathan Hughes enlightened me on the intricacies of numbers and critical decision-making. Then there were the lighter moments – bowling with Shannon, international projects with Diane Watson, and the company picnics where everyone, including Tom, mingled seamlessly.

But the true hallmark of my Shinola tenure? Witnessing personal growth—both mine and others. Sharing knowledge and watching team members flourish remains my biggest achievement. Every day, my commitment to Shinola’s success is renewed, and it’s the people, the memories, and the brand’s potential that propels me forward.

Shinola Original Since: April, 30th 2012

From the get-go at Shinola, there was a buzz even when it was merely a concept. The fervor Tom and Steve Bock projected, painting a vivid picture of Shinola’s potential, was captivating—especially for a new college grad.

In the early days with Shinola and Bedrock, my title, ‘ Business Development Assistant,’ merely scratched the surface of my role. Alongside my brother Andy, our roles were multifaceted: sourcing, nurturing, handling accounts, overseeing inventory, and shipping. We were the jacks of all trades, plugging the gaps and ensuring the machinery of Shinola ran smoothly.

I recall the experience of collaborating with the indomitable Sky Yaeger, the brain behind our iconic Shinola bicycles. From forecasting to raw material procurement, production coordination to customer service, my tryst with the intricacies of business management flourished and seeded my passion for planning, a trajectory I’ve been on ever since.

Transitioning from a business development assistant to my current role as Senior Planner has been invigorating. Shinola’s dynamic environment ensures I’m always on my toes, even in a more streamlined position. Whether stepping in during Covid to manage production scheduling or overseeing every Shinola product launch, every day has been about enhancing current ideas or pioneering new ones.

Reminiscing about the past, one vivid memory springs forth. In our early years, a colossal wholesale order demanded our attention. With a fledgling shipping team, it became an ensemble effort. I was shoulder to shoulder with the then CEO and president, working late, driven by our shared commitment. It underscored the Shinola ethos—no task is too big or small, and every goal is a collective pursuit.

Then, there’s the simple joy of a Christmas party circa 2014 or 2015, where the true spirit of Shinola was felt—community. It was pure joy and genuine camaraderie.
To encapsulate my journey, it’s not merely about the products or the accolades. It’s the tapestry of relationships woven and the collective experiences that endure. At Shinola, adaptability reigns supreme—from planning to merchandising, the brilliance and tenacity of every team member have sculpted our legacy. The shared laughter, challenges, and triumphs truly define our Shinola story.

Shinola Original Since: March, 4th 2014

There I was, fresh off not securing an internship, channeling my energy into constructing a skateboard company named Mobil Skateboards. Envisioned as a beacon of “Made in Detroit,” I immersed myself in mastering its manufacturing and branding dimensions. Just as I was toeing the line between being a watch designer for Fossil or spearheading my own venture, Shinola shimmered onto my horizon. Their intricate case back design and meticulous attention to detail made me feel an intrinsic alignment.
My persistent endeavors, fortified by the guiding hands of Marisa Firth and Shannon Washburn, culminated in me blending my fondness for local manufacturing, design and the watch knowledge acquired in Texas under Shinola’s umbrella.

Tom’s impression on me is profound. From his warmth during our first meeting to our whirlwind tour at the Basel Fair, his attention to detail and uncanny design instincts have left an indelible mark. That intensive six-month period, where our collective passion translated into creating the watches that stand as Shinola’s signature today, was revelatory.

Over the years, my perception evolved. I recognized that our mission transcended beyond crafting a single monumental timepiece. Instead, it was about creating a legacy of excellence, iteratively refining our approach, and consistently delivering pieces that resonate with our audience. My first design, the Black Blizzard, embodies that ethos, still holding its ground a decade later.

Yet, beyond the watches, the process and the people that enrich this journey. Implementing our unique design methodologies, blending technical prowess with unbridled creativity, and witnessing them culminate into a masterpiece is genuinely rewarding.

A significant chunk of my Shinola journey has been intertwined with Molly and Zach. Molly’s transformative journey from protégé to mentor has kept me on my toes, constantly urging me to elevate my game. On the other hand, Zach’s old-school approach, his affinity for hand sketches over digital tools, always lends a refreshing perspective.
In their company, I’ve grown not just as a designer but as an individual. They’ve shaped me, and Shinola’s identity is deeply intertwined with their contributions.

It’s not just about the watches we’ve crafted but the relationships forged, lessons learned, and the relentless pursuit of excellence that keeps the wheels of this machine in perpetual motion.

Shinola Original Since: March, 11th 2014

Venturing into the unknown has always been a part of my story. From taking the bold step of moving from Taiwan to the US to seizing unprecedented opportunities that came my way, I’ve been a strong proponent of embracing risks, especially if they hold the promise of unique adventures.

After wrapping up my internship at Fossil, I handed over my contact details and a process book to Marisa, wondering where fate would steer me next. To my surprise, Shinola reached out, unfolding a vision that immediately struck a chord with me. They described a budding brand, born from Tom’s dream, intent on setting up a factory in Detroit, manufacturing not just watches but also bicycles, journals, and potentially more. This audacious vision, this blend of novelty and ambition, prompted my immediate thought: “Okay, this idea is crazy; I am on board.”

Walking into the Detroit factory for the first time was an epiphany. As a designer, you’re often shielded from the intricacies of production. But witnessing firsthand the meticulous process of watchmaking, understanding the intricate dance of assembling components, and the sheer number of passionate individuals behind each timepiece was a revelation.

The watch team, stacked with geniuses like Ronald, James, and Esther, were not just colleagues but mentors in every sense. Their collective decades of watchmaking wisdom, generously shared, have enriched my perspective. Shinola’s culture celebrates growth, with every member contributing to each other’s evolution.

I’ve realized, the journey of building a brand is a labor of love. It demands unwavering commitment, boundless passion, and relentless effort. Yet, the rewards are unparalleled. From mere sketches on paper to seeing the Shinola family flourish, the sense of accomplishment is profound.

My connection with Tom and his quirky ‘Tombot’ remains one of my cherished memories. His playful scares with the Tombot silently maneuvering around and sneaking up behind you stir the fun and vibrant culture we share at Shinola.

The seasonal pumpkin decorating, however, holds a special place in my heart. Every pumpkin carving session is a canvas of creativity, with each department imprinting its personality—proof of the eclectic mix of talents and personalities that make up Shinola.

A recent trip to Venice, California, for a Foundry member event, solidified my bond with our patrons. Interacting with members, some of whom have been long-standing supporters of Shinola and others just beginning their journey, was heartwarming. Their unwavering support and encouraging words serve as a daily reminder of the importance of our work.

Reflecting upon my journey with Shinola, it’s not just about the brand we’re building but the memories, lessons, and relationships that define it. And as I continue this path, I remain grateful for the risks I took and the adventures they’ve led to.

Shinola Original Since: October 1, 2012

From the walls of the freshly built Detroit factory to the bustling operations that keep Shinola ticking today, my journey with the company has been a narrative of growth, challenges, and camaraderie.

The spark and fervor that surrounded Shinola’s inception were contagious. This zest and passion for creation, innovation, and transformation drew me in, offering a playground for my skills and a canvas for my ambition. Starting as a Technical Engineer, my role at Shinola went beyond just maintaining our systems. I became integral to the ever-evolving the brand.

The evolving ecosystem of Shinola allowed me to progress from managing our IT setup in Plano to steering the technological direction of the brand. Today, I wear the hat of the Director of Technology, ensuring that every digital heartbeat, every technological impulse of Shinola, is precise and efficient.
But this journey isn’t just about technology; it’s about the unexpected, the surreal, and the extraordinary moments that dot the landscape of our company. Like that unexpected moment when I found Jack White casually making his coffee in the office. Or that electric evening at the Plano office, where the beats of Whiskey Shivers echoed under the starlit sky. And, of course, the quirky adventure of bringing the TomBot to life, which all started from a tiki bar conversation in Minneapolis.

At its core, Shinola is about its people. It’s about the unwavering support, the family-like environment, and the collective passion that drives us forward. This collaborative spirit has shaped my career and given birth to products that mean a lot to me. The Runwell watch, for instance, is more than just a timepiece. It’s a symbol of my journey, an emblem of timeless design, and a reminder of Shinola’s dedication.

My decade-long association with Shinola has taught me a crucial lesson: the path to success is paved with uncertainties. The brilliance of our team didn’t lie in knowing all the answers but in our relentless drive and unwavering spirit to seek solutions, learn, adapt, and evolve. As I reflect on the past and look forward to the future, I’m grateful for being part of this incredible story – a tale of determination, innovation, and an undying love for craftsmanship and community.

A tapestry of stories, emotions, and memories—each narrative underscores Shinola’s incredible journey over the past decade. From its inception to its current acclaim, the people, their passion, and their unwavering commitment stand as a testament to Shinola’s success. Here’s to these champions and the many more chapters they’ll add to the legacy.

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