How Shinola brings its legacy into today

Making a classic brand relevant in 2024.

Shinola loves its Detroit location.

Kennyatta Collins is a freelance brand strategist. Follow him on LinkedIn.

When you’re a brand steeped in tradition, communicating to modern audiences can feel like crossing a constantly expanding chasm.

Shinola’s director of brand, Phil Pirkovic, uses a thorough understanding of the brand and the communities the storied watch company serves to build bridges that translate tradition into nuanced contributions to conversations in culture through original content. A little over a year into the role, he’s taking calculated risks to tell the story of the decade-old brand with a name tied to centuries of American craftsmanship through contemporary lenses.

“When I started at Shinola, I knew the best way to start growing the brand was through content. Nowadays, you’re seeing a lot of brands invest in original content — to stay top of mind, grow awareness and increase engagement,” said Pirkovic.

Originally established in 1877 as a shoe polish company, Shinola was purchased by Fossil watch cofounder Tim Kartosis and converted into a watch company in 2011. Even though the brand as we know it isn’t as old as its name suggests, it embraces the themes associated with decades-old American manufacturing. “What I’ve been tasked to do is essentially open the aperture of the brand up and bring new customers into the mix. It’s not about ignoring the legacy and trying to create a new one. We’re simply building onto what’s been established.” 



The brand’s flagship series, “The Movement,” gives audiences a behind-the-scenes look at what goes down in their Detroit watch factory while influential guests such as SNL’s Tim Robinson, Hip-Hop Legend Royce 59, and Detroit Piston’s Jayden Ivey, speak about their journey while working on a watch with host and Shinola service center manager Titus Hayes.

“Unfortunately, we can’t bring everyone to Detroit to experience how amazing it is, but through original content, we can bring the watch factory to everyone,” says Pirkovic. “It’s a way for Shinola to stay topical by interacting with celebrities but also bringing them into our world of watchmaking. It’s part entertainment, part educational, and it’s something unique to Shinola.”

The original content series uses Reels as a short-form video preview to direct fans of guests and Shinola to the full episodes on YouTube. The announcement reel alone saw 65,000 views with the first full episode more than doubling that with 184,000 tuning in to watch actor and comedian Sam Richardson as The Movement’s first guest.   

“Factory Sessions” subtly introduces audiences to the rich collection of leather by using it as a backdrop to artist performances. Each Factory Session is a one-song performance shot live from the brand’s leather factory that follows a similar Instagram and YouTube release schedule as The Movement. While the brand isn’t the first to do a music series, the focus on artistry and craft gives it a unique spin that makes the series relevant to its value proposition.


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“The precision, discipline, and passion that go into making a watch can be applied to many verticals. We drew parallels between the craft of watchmaking and other verticals such as music… there was such a clear connection between the worlds that we knew we needed to create a way for Shinola to bridge that gap,” Pirkovic said.

Knowing where Shinola stands as a brand makes it easy for the company to know when and how to show up culturally. Instead of forcing relevance by trying to be in the mix of every pop culture conversation, Pirkovic and his team confidently stay away from hollow actions that would compromise the brand’s integrity. “You see a lot of brands that end up trying to be culturally relevant completely miss the mark because they don’t have a good sense of who they are and what they believe in,” says Pirkovic.

Together, Shinola and Quincy Isaiah, a Michigan native actor and past guest on “The Movement,” created the Limited Edition Grassland Runwell. The 4/20-themed watch doubles as a conversation piece for Isaiah’s  film of the same name that focuses on the disproportionate punishments served to Black and brown communities through the fractured justice system around marijuana. Shinola is donating a percentage of proceeds from the sale of the limited-edition timepiece to fund criminal justice reform.

“The campaign for us was multifaceted. We were able to get some studio time with Quincy and recorded a series of videos that explain why he chose to do the film, what he wanted people to get out of it, and it was such a personal thing for us to share,” says Pirkovic. “Again, using video and content as the main vehicle to tell this story, we were able to create a pretty comprehensive campaign around the collaboration using social, press, digital, email and even got wildposting up in New York City.”

In a time where market disruptions are constant, Shinola is unwavering in its commitment to celebrating timeless designs and experiences that inspire people to live well. If what Shinola represents is its history, then its foray into original content is the kind of renovations that offer new audiences exciting ways to connect with its legacy of craftsmanship.

“You’re not always going to get it right every single time,” says Pirokovic. “However, I’d rather try new things, tell new stories, empower new communities, and learn from it than do nothing at all. You have to be willing to take calculated risks.”


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