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August 30, 2016

Craftspeople
Leather

MAKING MOVES IN THE LEATHER FACTORY, ONE BAG AT A TIME

The leather team shows off the first batch of Accordion Crossbody bags produced in Detroit.
Craftspeople
Leather

August 30, 2016

Here in Detroit, our leather team has been busy producing high-quality leather watch straps and small leather goods ever since the factory opened in 2014. Today, we're proud to announce our latest hand-built creation, Shinola's most popular women's bag — the Accordion Crossbody. This is just the beginning of bringing more leather production in-house.

Using American leather and imported hardware, our Detroit leather team is producing the majority of Accordion Crossbody bags at our headquarters. In-house production won't stop there, Vice President of Manufacturing Jen Guarino says that soon this style will be exclusively made within the Detroit factory walls. By year's end, the factory will produce three new styles of handbags.

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.

The Shinola leather factory sits on the fifth floor of the Argonaut building in New Center, Detroit. Upon opening the door to the vast, windowed space, visitors are hit with the distinctive aroma of premium hides and finishes. Motown and R&B hits can be heard playing amongst the rattle and hum of the machines throughout the 12,000-square-foot factory. 

Up until now, the types of Shinola products produced in the Detroit leather factory were limited to small leather goods like watch straps, wallets and journal covers. There are over 60 people working at the factory, and finding talented leather artisans with the right skills is an on-going challenge.

"We look for people that have some kind of manufacturing background, but that’s not enough," Jen says. "We need people that are comfortable using critical thinking. In leather, every single piece you touch is unique — it's part art and part science." 

Jen, a 30-year veteran of the leather industry, has executed a vision at Shinola that is based on teamwork and skill building. "Our biggest investment is not equipment, it's not the building — training is our largest investment," she says. "Sewing is the hardest piece, leather cutting is right behind that — there are pieces along the production process that are of varying degrees of difficulty." 

From leather hide to finished product, there are 100 steps and up to ten different leather artisans working together to complete this bag.

"You need both a critical and creative eye in leather manufacturing," Jen says. "The term artisan really does apply when you're in this environment because no matter how much science or technology you implement, leather is still an organic material.

Head seamstress Jovita Vrista (pictured, above right) has 50 years of experience sewing leather and was brought on to help train others how to sew. 

Inside the leather factory — sewing the Accordion Crossbody.

The Accordion Crossbody bag is one of the most challenging projects Jovita has ever worked on. "Leather is a skin and has its own properties — it's a learning process every day because the sewing techniques we use must accommodate the type of leather used," Jovita says. 

Although the Accordion Crossbody bag has a very sleek and simple style, in reality it is one of the most difficult bags to produce because the leather must be folded and assembled in a very particular way to create all the compartments within the bag.

Almost like origami, leather artisan Shellyann Watson assembles the leather by hand before Jovita sews the bag together.

Jovita uses an industrial sewing machine to sew together the Accordion Crossbody bags.

Edge paint is used on every raw leather edge. Here, Jose Garza (pictured right) makes sure the paint is properly applied. 

Each thread color matches a specific leather good.

When asked what the toughest step of making the Accordion Crossbody is, many pointed to the leather looping station where Marcus Alexander sits (pictured left). Despite having the hardest job on the assembly line, Marcus is always smiling. 

Every bag has two leather loops (pictured right) on its strap. These loops are hand-sewn — Marcus wears the thick gloves to prevent from getting pricked by the sewing needle. 

Every individual leather loop (pictured left) takes about five minutes to create. Marcus holds a loop to show how small this individual component is.

Andre Wilkerson (pictured above) has worked within the factory for almost a year and works on a variety of steps, including leather painting. 

The machine that Andre works with (pictured left) dries the edge paint (pictured right) used on almost every leather good produced in the Shinola leather factory.

Marcus and Dianna Tkachuk (pictured above) work at the assembly station side-by-side on a regular basis. Marcus handles the leather loops, while Dianna both sews and paints. 

As Shinola's production capabilities grow, Jen's vision continues to evolve, and so do her teams. "I've been in American manufacturing for 30 years, and we are redefining what American factories look and feel like," she says, her voice carrying over the speaker system playing Jackson 5. "We are training people in the leather factory and welcoming them to an industry that was pretty much decimated." 

All of Shinola's leather goods are either cut and sewn in Detroit or with partner factories across the United States. Learn more about where our American leather goods are made, here

 

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