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January 14, 2016

Profiles
Leather

IN THE HEART OF IT ALL: TALKING MOTOWN, MOVING, AND MANUFACTURING WITH SHINOLA LEATHER VP JENN G.

Photographs Below by Jesse Green
Profiles
Leather

January 14, 2016

When our leather factory was built in 2014, 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 our products are being made, and I like to be in the heartbeat of it all,” she says. Read more about why she made the move to Detroit, below.

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

On the Detroit Leather Factory floor — The view from Jenn's desk.

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, and we now have 70 people here making straps. Next year, we’ll make over 200,000 straps. Over 50% of the straps we need are made in Detroit, the other half are made in Largo, Florida by Hadley-Roma. We have enough equipment to increase employees as demand increases.

Edge painting watch straps inside our Detroit Leather Factory.

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.

Christine Teodoro sewing G-10 nylon watch straps in our Detroit Leather Factory. 

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 are your hobbies outside of work? 

We really enjoy getting to know long-time Detroiters, so we are out and about quite a bit. We’re pretty much up for doing anything we haven’t done before. Our last really fun night out was taking out-of-town guests to The Raven to hear a former Motown back-up singer perform.

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

Well, the place is not hidden but I think the regular event might be. Bert’s Marketplace 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. 

Rolls of leather being prepared for cutting.

View our entire leather collection, here

This interview is part of a new series called JOBS that highlights the people that make Shinola tick. Find their stories here on The Journal or on our Jobs page

Nearly all of Shinola Products are Built in the US with US or Imported Parts

RUNNING THE MOVEMENT LINE: LAKISHKA MCCOY TALKS ABOUT HER ROLE AS TEAM LEADER

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