Global Executive Search within Fashion, Outdoor & Sportswear.

Question & Answer

John Argento, MD Europe

17 Feb 2016

With its own Detroit factory and presence in some of the world’s most prestigious stores, Shinola appears more established than its actual age of four.

Fusion Associates caught up with European MD John Argento to talk about the brand story and its future developments.

John Argento
Shinola’s premise is quite different. How did the idea behind it come about?

Shinola’s founder, Tom Kartsotis, wanted to create jobs for locals in Detroit and at the same time revive American manufacturing. With his sound background and credibility in the field of watches – as the founder of Fossil – he decided to set up a watch factory in Detroit. At first everyone thought Tom was mad in trying to resurrect an industry that had left American shores a long time ago.

A little over three years on, Shinola continues to grow, continually adding new product categories made either in-house at our own factory or in the workshops or factories of artisans and other producers we’ve teamed up with. Part of our business model is to promote creatives who share our passion for craftsmanship and local production.

Shinola watch

What else defines Shinola?
We are modern in our thinking. Our products are very much of the moment but with elements of the past mixed in. The business model itself is innovative and community based and we seek to collaborate and promote makers with skills for producing almost anything, be it watches or journals. Our approach is more of a movement than a branding exercise in that sense. Our manufacturing approach can be costly, but despite this we keep our margins fairly tight and offer accessible price points. The average price for a Shinola watch is £550.
Who did you seek out to help you develop the Shinola bikes, and what product category is next on the list?
Our bikes are developed in collaboration with Sky Yaeger. She’s like a rock star in the bike world and has 40 years of experience. She is unusual in that she possesses as much creativity as business sense. She’s like McGyver and can create a bike from scratch with her own hands. We’ve vowed to introduce one new category each year; next up is an audio program which will have us introducing headphones and turntables alongside a music project and venue in Detroit.
The Shinola aesthetic is distinctive. What makes it so?
It’s modern but it takes the best features from the past to create balance. There is something decidedly American about the look. It’s difficult to pinpoint but it’s clean yet slightly rugged and the details often have hints of varsity to them. The colour scheme is also very distinctive; we carefully develop shades that run through all our categories.
The general perception is that Shinola caters more for men than women. Is this correct?
Initially Shinola might have been perceived mainly as men’s brand but I’d say we’re pretty unisex. Women often buy men’s watches even though we do design models that are decidedly feminine in feel.
You operate a string of stores across the US and recently opened a new space in London. How would you describe the retail concept and which territories are next?
There is no set retail model, each space is unique and designed to tap into the area in which it’s located. Our flagship store opened a little over three years ago in a derelict warehouse within former no-go area of Detroit. The area has changed a lot since, and we feel we’ve brought something back to the community. We’d like to open stores in all key European cities, but also in places that aren’t that obvious.
Shinola London store
You have an enviable stockist list. Which are your criteria when selecting wholesale partners?
We like to work with people who can tell our story. It’s like an introduction through a good friend. We have a Shinola corner in London’s Selfridges, for example, and have we’ve been stocked at Colette for a few years now.
How does the e-commerce side complement physical retail and wholesale?
Everything is developed to create synergy, and it’s important for us to break things down, adding layers that mean something. When you buy online, you’ll get a handwritten note with your purchase. We actually have two staff members whose sole responsibility is to write these notes. Most people appreciate touches such as these as it adds a human element to the online shopping experience.

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