Friday, June 17, 2016

The Difference Between Shit and Shinola

Is now a little more clear.

Shinola's earlier advertising was sometimes reminiscent of the type of patter you'd hear from seemingly seasoned sharps.  And I, for one, believe that they got a bit of a well deserved rebuke from the FTC yesterday.  "Where American is Made" was codswallop, and that is putting it gently.   What I found intriguing in the letter issued by the FTC was that not only watches, but bicycles were specifically mentioned, along with other unnamed items.  This again ran counter to the assertions, both stated and implied, that Shinola was where American was made.

Here is a link to the FTC's letter to Shinola -


Having said that, I would ask you to consider a second perspective.  It cannot be denied that Shinola has done some good - albeit not necessarily for the watch industry.   The majority of their employees are (according to several reports)  making fairly scant wages but when you consider the challenges facing Detroit, Shinola does account for quite a few jobs that would not have existed were it not for them - sketchy marketing, intentionally murky origin story and all.  And in fairness, despite cries of cynical marketing (from me as well as others), it is smart marketing.  The idea of American made is something that we are enamored with at this moment in time.  But given the type of advertising and press releases that were out there before, you would expect that it was earnest, hard working artisans assembling your watch using time honored American watch making know-how.  And given the price points that was a reasonable assumption.  We now know that was not exactly the reality.

Whether you call it hipster or hype there is a market space that is rapidly growing from niche to mainstream.  When we are willing to pay $150 US and upwards for blue jeans owing mostly to their purported provenance, it is not too difficult to pitch the idea of an $800 quartz watch that you are led to believe is made in an economically challenged part of the country.

It is clear that the rigors are more arduous to achieve a justifiable Made in the USA label as opposed to Made in Switzerland, but it also places the watch making entrepreneur into a rather delicate and volatile space where words, believe it or not, matter.  Let's consider the case of Weiss in Los Angeles.  They state:

Weiss Watch Company is currently the only watchmaker in the United States designing, engineering, and manufacturing our own cases and dials, as well as finishing each movement by hand.
I am not entirely sure that is accurate.  While I do not dispute that they source their cases, hands and dials from US partners and that those items are, in fact, made in the US, they are not the only ones doing so.  If they were, this would come as news to Niall who essentially do the same thing in terms of making their own dials, cases and hands in the US.  
And more curious was a brief mention of the Weiss brand in April 2016 issue of Monocle magazine stating:
Los Angeles - based Weiss Watch Company, on the cusp of its third birthday, is becoming the first manufacturer in nearly 60 years to produce watches wholly made in the US.
Well, it seems that the Swiss are not the only denizens of "Imgonnastan".  As far as I am aware, the VallĂ©e de Joux is not under imminent threat from the San Fernando Valley as I have yet to hear of movement manufacturing taking place between there and San Diego.  I am, as always, ready and willing to be proven wrong.
My understanding is that Weiss along with Niall also got called on the carpet with the FTC and had to make some adjustments to their statements, etc.  so we shall see what develops out of all this.
But lastly, I wonder who decided to "drop a dime" on several US based watch companies?  It certainly made for a great story.

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