Is Shinola a Luxury Brand?

Shinola, the watch and leather goods brand (and American manufacturing success story), creates handcrafted, high-quality products.

But is the Detroit-based company a true-blue luxury brand? Or, perhaps, it’s the Coach of the watch world—delivering accessible luxury to high-end shopping-center consumers?

Retail writer Pamela N. Danzinger, for one, argued in an article published on yesterday that Shinola meets the criteria for a bona fide luxury label.

The crux of her argument is that “the very definition of ‘luxury’ is undergoing a paradigm shift.”

The shift is simple: Value and inherent quality are the new bars for luxury, as opposed to sky-high prices alone.

“Luxury’s meaning has now come to embrace a lot of things it didn’t before; in the old days it was the highly expensive stuff and experiences, period,” Gregory J. Furman, founder and chairman of the Luxury Marketing Council consulting group, told me last year. “But there’s been a big shift, and luxury now includes small and personal luxuries.” 

Danzinger cited the superior performance of Shinola’s products, its relevance in the marketplace, its sophistication of design and top-notch craftsmanship, and the brand’s heritage (though its rebirth put it in a different product category) and habitual innovation: “Shinola’s entire brand myth is based upon the idea of innovation, rebirth, and creative ingenuity,” she wrote. “It is reflected in its products and processes, as well as in its design of retail locations.”

While I agree that modern luxury is less about high prices than it is about exclusivity, inherent quality, and even a do-good mandate on the part of brands—I would argue that the steadily rising prices of Shinola’s goods also allow the luxury tag to hang quite comfortably on its mantle.

When Shinola launched in 2011, you could snag most of its watches for around $500. Six years later, the majority of its women’s watches (with the exception of the $475 Birdy) fall above the $700 mark. And almost all of its men’s watches are priced at above $1,000.

Still, $1,000 is a world away, price-wise, from the five-digit-per-watch prices found in the luxury watch world.

Shinola’s genius had been its ability to build and broadcast values that matter to millennials: things like U.S.-made, price transparency, and the creation of fair and friendly workplaces for its employees.

Instead of trying to fit into the larger watch world as a midpriced maker of good-looking watches (because how may of those are there?!), Shinola constructed its own, silo-like universe—complete with running commentary—that directly reflected the values of its fans.

Luxury? Maybe. Smart? Absolutely.

Top: Shinola Jackie Robinson Limited Edition watch, $1,500

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JCK Magazine Editor