'Grist' weighs in on Shinola's 'Made in Detroit' myth



Environmental news website Grist takes a look at Shinola, the poster child of the much-ballyhooed resurgence of Detroit manufacturing in an article posted Monday called "Today, 'Made in Detroit' is a label in search of a story." But according to Grist, Shinola may be guilty of selling the idea of "Made in Detroit" rather than products that are actually "Made in Detroit."

In the article, author Heather Smith takes a tour of the A. Alfred Taubman Center for Design Education, the former General Motors design laboratory that now houses an expanded campus for the College for Creative Studies, which rents its fifth floor to Shinola. "[As] we move around I am beginning to get the feeling that this building, and the idea of manufacturing in Detroit, have more to do with our fantasies about Detroit than with the actual business of making stuff," Smith writes, and describes the tour as a "bait-and-switch" in progress.

"Indeed, while there is an entire glassed-in showroom of a manufacturing space on the fifth floor, there are only a few men in hair nets and white lab coats wandering through it desultorily," she says. "'Maybe it’s a slow day,' I think, and wonder what the factories where the components are actually built look like."

Of CCS's long marriage with mass manufacturing, Smith writes:

Could its leaders have anticipated the point when manufacturing itself would seem like a quaint thing of the past? Probably. Anyone who lived through the first decade of the 20th century was used to things changing, and changing quickly. In any city, colleges are among the least mobile of institutions, and so CCS has spent the last 50 years struggling to run a design school in a place that has fewer and fewer jobs for designers, while charging higher and higher tuition (the current tally is $38,000 a year, not counting room and board).

Essentially, Smith's problem with "Made in Detroit" is the same some have with food claiming to be "organic" without the USDA certification — it's a buzz term meant to make the buyer feel warm and fuzzy, rather than accurately describe the product being sold. According to Smith, Shinola's Tom Kartsotis moved his company to Detroit because a term like "Made in Detroit" doesn't fall under the same legal scrutiny as "Made in America."

It's a sentiment we echoed in our "Detroit brand report card": "[If] a company is spending too much time talking about how Detroit it is, it might be overcompensating for something."

Then again, maybe reality will one day catch up with the fantasy. In another article, Smith spoke with Detroit Bikes' Zak Pashak. “At first it mostly seemed to be marketing,” Pashak told her. “People would ask me, ‘What do you think about the Detroit bicycling movement?’ And I would think, ‘What movement?’ It was a myth. But at some point the myth became a reality.”

Read Smith's full story at Grist.


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