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July 13, 2015


The New Face of Shinola Leather


July 13, 2015

In honor of Men’s Fashion Week, and Shinola’s inaugural collection by co-Design Directors of leather accessories, Richard Lambertson and John Truex; we’re bringing you a behind-the-scenes look at the people and processes behind Shinola’s handcrafted leather. 

For our Fall 2015 collection, the pair expands on Shinola’s classic silhouettes and delivers the same modern attitude and timeless style as our watches and bicycles. Designed and developed entirely at our Detroit studio, every piece in the Shinola Leather Collection is handcrafted and built to last a lifetime.

It’s appropriate that in the building that once housed a General Motors’ design center, Shinola’s light-filled studio floor is the stage for both design and production under one roof. “Establishing an American leather company in the same building where Shinola has built its watch factory is exciting,” says Richard Lambertson. “John and I have worked for European brands as well as our own, and we know what it takes to create something from scratch.”

“Our customers are telling us they want our approach applied to other accessories,” Jen Guarino, Head of Leather Production, adds. “People have been asking for handbags, for example, and we’ve been wanting to do it—and do it right.” The ever-expanding production floor now houses more people, more desks and more machines. 

One of the leather team founders and incoming leather quality inspector, Damond Love, remembers the beginnings of his department, “I put together all the chairs and tables on this floor when there was nothing here. It’s been incredible to see how far we could take it.” Born and raised in Detroit, Damond worked as an automotive supplier for 15 years until he was let go. “I didn’t think I would get another good job in Detroit. Now I tell people I work at Shinola, and their reactions are amazing. Shinola’s coming to Detroit, I can honestly say changed my life and a lot of other people’s lives too. Working here feels like you’re making a difference.” 

Damond is responsible for checking every piece of leather that makes its way down the production line. “I inspect all incoming material—I check it and I re-measure it to make sure all the sizes are accurate. A few months ago, Shinola sent me to a leather authentication class at the University of Cincinnati, so I’ve learned a lot. I pretty much know everything there is to know about leather!” Small accessories are next, starting with passport holders; for now the team is focusing on watch straps. “Working here made me view watches differently,” Damond laughs. “For the average watch, there are seven components for the strap alone, not including the stitching and buckles.”

Wendy Blackwell, an artisan for the company, explains, “I used to do the edge painting on the straps to hide all the inner workings and make it look smooth. I had perfected it to where you couldn’t tell where one piece started and another stopped. I recently switched to hand assembly, where I’m making strap tongues and adding buckles. Making a leather watchstrap is a detailed process that requires a great deal of precision. There are so many small pieces that all need to fit perfectly together. On my fourth month here, I went to New York to accept an Accessories Council Award on behalf of Shinola,” she continues. “They made me a leather clutch bag, and Kerry Washington said hello to me! That was my first time in New York and my first time on a plane. At the end of the speech, I added my own line. I said, ‘Dreams really do come true, and when they do, they’re better than you can imagine.’” Wendy is thinking big, “In this company, there are so many areas in which you can advance. They’ll give you a chance. One day I might want to work on the business side, but right now I’m having fun on the floor.” 

For Richard, having the production floor adjacent to the design studio is a dream, “It’s brilliant to have people in the workroom around to offer advice, correct things and make changes,” he says. “Our samples for this collection were made right here in just four weeks.” It also allows them to explore ideas, “If we want to create a strap, we can do it 20 different ways until we decide that it’s the perfect strap.” Jen adds, “The development is more immediate, and you end up with a better product.”


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