Saturday, November 28, 2015

[Selling] the Illusiion of the American Dream

I was a dream killer the other day when I burst the Shinola bubble for several coworkers. 

Shinola is an "upscale retailer of bespoke watches and bicycles, plus a line of leather goods and curated gift items." They present themselves as a Detroit-based company dedicated to producing American built products

But in truth, they did not rise out of the ashes of Detroit. 

The watches aren’t actually manufactured in Detroit. They are assembled there from parts made overseas by their partner, Swiss-based watch manufacturer Ronda AG.

In fact, Shinola isn't even really a Detroit company. Bedrock Brands owns Shinola. Bedrock Brands is based in Texas, and although they have no website, the privately-held conglomerate was created by the co-founder of Fossil watches, and owns other brands like Filson.

So that asks the questions, how do you feel when you learn there’s corporate dollars behind your “grassroots” heroes?

Honestly? I find it disheartening.

Shinola products are beautiful, albeit overpriced, but I'm willing to look past an upcharge when I think I'm supporting a local start-up, Americans building a quality product from quality materials... you know, hardwork and the American dream, yada yada yada. 

But in this case, it’s really just a brilliant marketing ploy. They hired expensive designers, spent millions on real estate in NYC (for their Tribeca-based retail), dropped more on fancy ad campaigns and partnered with other popular “authentic brands".

Was it worth it? Shinola's initial offering of watches sold out before they were even assembled.

It is true that Shinola has brought jobs to Detroit. It is true they are operating a watch factory out of a former GM space. It is true they they are investing in industry in this American city. I respect that. I just struggle with the image they are presenting ...and how quickly people are eating it up.

What do you think— do the practices and procedures of the company behind the products you’re buying matter to you when you make a purchase — especially for high end, "authentic" goods?

I think, if they want people to respect the integrity of the brand, then they should have the integrity to be honest about the company’s roots and funding.

And for them to present themselves as a luxury brand, operating under the tagline “Where America is Made" strikes me as incredibly phony, and like they're taking advantage of Detroit's image and situation. 

My first encounter with Shinola “in the wild” was at Eastern Market in Detroit, at a urban pet shop(pe) called 3 Dogs 1 Cat. They were selling Shinola dog collars. Starting at $70. For a strip of leather and a buckle. $70. And I remember thinking… if I was struggling in Detroit, and I was going to rob a store to make ends meet, this would be the type of place I would rob. Because, shame on you. Shame on you.

Primary Source:

Friday, November 27, 2015

PDX: Can't Go Home Again

People in Portland take pride in a lot of things. But one of their strangest points of pride has to be the carpet in the PDX airport.

This is what the carpet looks like.
And people wear it. They tattoo it. They even hashtag it (#pdxcarpet). And... thanks to Rogue Brewing, they can even drink it. The beer is a celebration of PDX being voted "America’s Best Airport" by Travel + Leisure Magazine for 2 years running. 
99% Invisible* did an amazing podcast revealing the buzz around this beloved floor covering (to those of us not from the West Coast and already aware of it's glory). The somewhat outdated geometric pattern (which is actually reminiscent of air traffic control lights) represents arrival home to those returning to Portland.
BUT, by the end of this month, the carpet is expected be entirely removed from the PDX airport. The decision to remove the carpet was made in 2008, before "tweeting your feet" became a tradition. 

So head over to Rogue Brewing to drown your sorrows and reminisce over #pdxcarpet selfies, but first, be sure to stop by for a little something special to carry your beers home in.

Spirit Revival

Now that we've mastered beer, craft distilleries are rapidly spreading across Michigan.
Several years ago, Michigan legislators changed the laws that allowed small-distiller’s licenses*. Two James opened in 2013 in Corktown, Detroit’s oldest neighborhood. It is the first licensed distillery in Detroit since Prohibition. The small-batch spirits are made in a former doughnut factory and taxi-repair shop.  

I noticed Two James' row of gorgeous bottles lined up at Meijer last week, and just had to investigate who these two awesome looking dudes were.

David Landrum and Peter Bailey, are longtime friends and the entrepreneurs behind Two James. The company is actually named after their dads (both named James).

They are focused on producing high quality, environmentally conscious spirits from locally sourced products. They hope to revitalize their community and take advantage of the craft  movement.
Photo from Food &   

The Detroit River was once a haven for bootleggers who would ferry liquid cargo from Canada. Today, with the growing popularity of distilling in Michigan, the shipments could soon be heading in the other direction.

I'm eager to check out Two James, and do a little sampling on an upcoming trip to Detroit!

*They can’t produce more than 60,000 gallons per year.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Sunday, November 22, 2015

99% Awesome.

I've never really gotten into podcasts. I’ve tried a few, but they never really stuck.

Until now. Because I've found a kindred spirit in Roman Mars.
Roman Mars is the creator of 99 Percent Invisible is "a tiny radio show about design, architecture and the 99% invisible activity that shapes our world."

Basically Roman Mars likes to geek out over the random topics that I also find fascinating. Every episode dives into a different subject, most often to do with design and architecture. But sometimes also about food or history or biology or places or inventions.... really ... or anything. But always intriguing. And always narrated by Mars' soothing radiotopia voice. 

Clearly, I'm about to recommend you check it out—seriously there's something for everyone. Here's a few of my favorites to get you started:
#135. For Amusement Only: Did you know that pinball used to be considered gambling!!?

#175. The Sunshine Hotel: The Bowry's last flop house. 

#171: Johnnycab (Automation Paradox, pt. 2): Driving into the future with no drivers. 

#165. The Nutshell Studies: Dioramas of unexplained deaths.
#154. PDX Carpet: Tweet your Feet! Carpet that has it's own hashtag.

Basically, what it comes down to, is that there's always more to the story. And I'm so glad Roman Mars is there to figure it out. 

Friday, November 20, 2015

Holidays on Rails

Grand Rapidian Chris Van Allsburg wrote The Polar Express in 1985, inspired by childhood memories of the holidays in Grand Rapids.

Back then,  Herpolsheimer's and Wurzburg's department stores were basically the Macy's and Gimbels of GR.

"When you went downtown to do your Christmas shopping, you always had to make a choice to go to Wurzburg's or Herpolsheimer's," Van Allsburg remembers.

Today, the Grand Rapids Art Museum is located on the former site of Wurzburg's. And the GR police department sits on the somewhat iconic corner of Monroe Center and Division, where Herpolsheimer's once was.

Before shopping malls, and certainly before the internet, shopping was a different experience, and department stores reigned. And for the kids, visiting the shopping at Christmas meant a visit to Santa Claus.
During the Christmas shopping season, Herpolsheimer's operated the "Santa Express"—a miniature train on a monorail suspended from the ceiling in the basement. While it looks cheesy and somewhat dangerous to me now, back then I'm sure it felt futuristic, like something straight out of the World's Fair.
The train in The Polar Express was based on a 482 Baldwin Steam train. When they made the movie, the train they referenced was the Pere Marquette, which is the rail line between Grand Rapids and Chicago. And the train they studied.... #1225 of course.

I myself, have very early holiday memories of The Polar Express, specifically because of the Breton Village Mall, where they always had an elaborate train set up, and the story was illustrated annually around Santa's Village.

In a season where tradition reigns, Grand Rapids looks a little different than it did when Van Allsburg was growing up. People head to the suburbs (or their desktop) to shop. But his story will continue to delight for as long as children have the ability to believe.

It's a Stamp Love Fest

I'm fairly certain Christmas keeps the Post Office operational for the year. Snoopy and his friends will adorn thousands, could it be millions(?), of Christmas envelopes this year. But as everyone is gearing up to buy their first stamps of the year, I'm still cherishing many of my 2015 favorites.
This summer it was the Summer Harvest Collection. As the product of a produce family, I have a soft spot for seed packets and fruit crates. This set is very nostaligic for me, and they look stunning on envelopes!

Martin Ramírez is an artist I'd never heard of. It wasn't until after his death that Ramírez received any notoriety. He spent most of his life in a psychiatric hospital, but his drawings have a modern and intriguing hypnotic quality.
I love this $1 stamp for it's optical illusion qualities. But it's actually called the Patriotic Wave, and comes in both $1 and $2 complimenting patterns. It was designed to be emblematic of a billowing flag, and to appear patriotic when placed on an envelope. 
The Forever Stamp in vintage Rose (forever) and vintage Tulip (70 cents) were created as a symbol of love, perfect for use on wedding correspondence. I love the Black and White detailing mixed with the simple red heart. Also, the paper has a touch of pearlescence and the black ink has a raised embossed quality. It's minimal yet stunning. 

So my love affair with stamps continues. I habitually visit the post office to mail a single package, and leave with a purse full of postage. So this holiday season, remember to be kind to your postal workers!

Monday, November 16, 2015

Curating a Classic

Another conference season come and gone, with yet another Wolverine Brand. 

I've spent the last few months preparing to reveal the Autumn/Winter 2016 line and marketing materials with the Sebago brand.

Sebago is known for their Docksides, but the brand is so much more than an iconic pair of boat shoes. It stands for heritage and craftsmanship, and has a history of handsewn shoes goes back 70 years to Sebago Lake in Maine.

Much attention is paid to the integrity of the leathers, and the brand is known for their quality materials, and genuine welted construction. 
The brand tagline, "Life Well Crafted" speaks to a deep respect for craft, and living a life full of well-crafted items, but also well-crafted moments. The upcoming Autumn/Winter '16 season, will introduce a new campaign, focusing on best friends, best places and best moments.

Shot on Sebago Lake, the campaign will bring a new energy to the brand while staying true to it's roots. I'm eager to build off of this campaign, and use the seasonal assets to represent the brand in a new way. And I think the consumers are really going to like the shoes — hoping to see it all come together for Sebago in the upcoming year!

Burger of the Week #239

Winters first flakes fell on Friday. So I thought I'd kick of winter with this Snow White burger from Fast and Furious Burger! This will keep you warm and full on the coming winter afternoons!

Monday, November 9, 2015

Burger of the Week #238

Wolverine World Wide Conferences kicked off this week so I'm celebrating with this Burger Shoe. Found on, this Adidas looks a little leathery for my tastes!