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Shannon Washburn
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20 Questions with Shinola President Shannon Washburn

Published April 29, 2019 by

SEEN caught up with Shinola President Shannon Washburn at the new Shinola Hotel. She tells us what it’s like leading the leather goods company, her favorite things about Detroit and what she’s never dressed without.

By Stephanie Steinberg

Title: President of Shinola

Hometown: Lubbock, Texas

Current city: Detroit

Age: 58

1. Our women’s issue is focused on women innovators, and you’re leading a pretty innovative company that’s gone from retail to hospitality with the new Shinola Hotel. Can you tell us about your role at Shinola and how you’re making these innovative ideas come to fruition?

I was given the opportunity to become president of Shinola about a year ago. What I’ve really loved about this position is I’ve been able to see the big picture of the company. Before I was really concentrated on one area of the company’s business, but now being able to see the big picture and connect all the dots how things work, I’ve been able to interact with so many talented people within the organization. Every day, it’s different. We’re trying something new. We’re looking at new ways to think and new ways to do things.

To be working with such a creative group of people, it’s really inspiring, and I think through that creativity, you’re able to innovate in ways that you never even think of — whether it’s a new product, a new way you’re going brand something, the way you’re going to speak to the consumer and the guests in our stores. So for me, it’s been a year of a lot of learning and bringing the teams together. Before, we operated more in silos, and now with my creative team and the group that I work with, I feel like we’ve been able to really gel. It’s starting to come together really strongly. So everyday I see amazing creativity and innovation and just this real drive. So that’s been amazing for me.

2. What do you think was most innovative idea yet at Shinola?

None of it is just my idea. It’s such a collaborative environment at Shinola; it’s really all about the team. But we’re getting ready to come out with a new product launch that we’ve basically been working on for the last couple years. It’s a really big moment for the brand when we launch our Runwell automatic collection at the end of March. That is something that our customer has asked us for since the day we launched in 2013, “When are you going to do an automatic movement?”

runwell_automatic_editorial_2228Courtesy Shinola

The timing was right. We wanted to make sure the design was absolutely perfect and that we didn’t rush into it and that we were very thoughtful, because we were going to take our iconic Runwell watch and make that an automatic watch. So we had to be careful. We had to make sure we stayed true to the brand so I think in the last couple years in bringing that product to life with the product and design teams and now to see how the marketing and brand teams are going to tell that story in the next few weeks, it’s so rewarding to see full picture the creation of the product all the way through the launch of it via email and in our catalogs. We’re really proud of it.

3. You joined Shinola in 2012 when Shinola was not yet known around the world. From your perspective, how did the leather goods brand become so successful in just a few years?

We came to Detroit, which from day one was really in our founder’s mind the center of American manufacturing. Our original concept was to bring jobs back to America by creating meaningful manufacturing jobs that created beautiful product, and so I think early on, that story and the way that Detroit embraced the company and supported the company really allowed us to make a lot of noise, if you will, and get a lot of media and a lot of press. I think that word of mouth, and having a story that was really grounded in something — to bring American manufacturing and create jobs in a city that we really believed in and the city really believed in us — I think that’s why it really took off in the early beginning.

If you look back at the watch space at that time, there was nothing that really looked like Shinola. There were a lot of bracelet watches. It was a very different looking environment. When we came out with 90 percent of our collection, it was all leather bands. So it had a very different point of view. And it had something that looked new and fresh to the consumer, and that resonated with them.

runwell_automatic_editorial_0499Courtesy Shinola

4. When you moved to Detroit in 2015 to work on watch product development for Shinola, the city was entering “the renaissance” as people call it. Do you think Shinola has played a role in Detroit’s comeback?

I don’t think we’ve played a role. I think we’re really proud to be a part of it. We’re mostly just proud to be here, and we’re really appreciative of Detroit and how the city really embraced the company when we came here back in 2011 when they were looking at the first locations for the factory. Some of those initial meetings with some key people in Detroit were so positive, and the people were so welcoming and so warm that it was like, “This is our home. This is where we need to be.” And it felt right. You know when those kind of things come together, like when individuals with a similar goal come together, great things can happen.

5. I’ve been in the factory for a previous story and saw the turntable and watch production. Many of the workers are Detroiters living down the street. It seems like the company is truly hiring Detroiters and providing job opportunities?

Totally. I think about some of our key people in manufacturing. One specific individual who literally started on the line assembling the movements and then moved into watch assembly. She went on to become a line lead, and now she is the supervisor on the floor. People who had never even touched a watch before or done this, the training that went into that, the learning that went into that, the dedication to take the time to really hone their craft, and now, they’re seeing themself be promoted and have more opportunity and lead a team, to me that’s really inspiring. I love the fact that those kind of stories exist.

And I think our teams that are in the manufacturing sector — to see the level of skill that has improved, and they’ve learned, and they’ve grown, and they’ve taken on every new challenge, and they continue to rise to the occasion and beat their numbers and get excited about their goals, that’s really rewarding. I think that was a big part of us coming here and wanting to create these jobs. To see meaningful jobs and be able to really grow in those positions, I think is really amazing. 

6. Who’s been a mentor in your career?

I’ve had a lot of mentors. Between high school, college and my first jobs, I think the first six of them were all really powerful strong women that I really respected and I learned so much from. But even more so than that in the professional world, I would say it was my mother. She was such a strong, loving, caring person, and I can’t even remember a day in my life where she didn’t instill the belief in me that allowed me to believe in myself that I could do anything and everything I wanted to do. She really was a positive influence, and I like to think that those influences that she instilled in me have helped me get to where I am today in my career.

And above all, she was also just a really kind person. I try and also think that way because I think kindness does go a long way — whether it’s social or it’s business, if you’re kind to people, things just work better in my opinion.

7. What do you love most about your job?

The people, for sure. It’s an amazing team, and I really feel so fortunate to work with a group of people that are so collaborative, so creative. Yeah, we have our differences and we can have a healthy dialogue and a healthy disagreement, but I love that. And when we’re done, we’re done and things move on. We have a very diverse culture in Shinola, so I’ve gotten to work with a lot of different people and a lot of different backgrounds, different ages. It’s just so collaborative and you have the opportunity to talk and work with a lot of different people. I really love that part of it.

We have about 300 to 320 in the Detroit office down in New Center. Companywide, we have a little over 600 people in the United States and our London and Amsterdam office.

My direct reports are really the creative side of the business. I don’t manage the manufacturing, I manage product design, brand creative and marketing. But we talk and work together.

Soho House Fashion for Breakfast at the Shinola HotelViviana Pernot for SEEN

Soho House x SEEN Fashion for Breakfast hosted at the Shinola Hotel in the Birdy Room.

8. Do you have any role with the Shinola Hotel we’re sitting in?

No, really the role what we have with the hotel is to ensure that the brand and culture lines up with what we’re doing. Daniel, who’s our creative director, did a lot of this. He had input working with the different designers and the different teams at Bedrock to (carry out) the vision. So whether you were shopping in a Shinola store or you were a guest at the hotel or you came to visit us online, you have the same great quality experience regardless of where your interaction or touchpoint is with the brand.

9. What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received?

I had someone fairly early in my career when I was working in more of the international market, observe me in a meeting and then when we came back, kind of pull me aside and said, “Listen, I just want to tell you that you need to learn to understand your audience and understand the people that you’re working with and talking to. Maybe they don’t speak the same language and they have a different culture, but you need to learn to respect that, to embrace that and to learn from that diversity.” And that was really important to me because I think I was more, “This is how it is.” But when you’re working with people that maybe do speak a different language or have a different point of view, you need to be open to that. And you need to understand it and respect it, so I try to keep that really top of mind. And it’s not even a different language. With anybody really, it’s important to understand your audience and understand where they’re coming from and be open. And I think that just allows for a better engagement.

Shinola Products Viviana Pernot for SEEN

10. You’ve worked for Fossil and Dillard’s in the past. What drew you to Shinola?

I think it was the original vision. I loved the idea of what it was all about: American manufacturing, creating jobs, really starting from very entrepreneurial. I had come from a big company before, but (Shinola was) just kind of going back and starting from the basics and building something. I knew it was something I wanted to be a part of. I had taken some time off between my last job and now this one. I had gotten to the point where I was doing a lot of volunteer work, and I was really involved in the community and loved it. I said, “I just don’t want a job at this point in my career. I want something more. I want a journey — something I can really feel proud about and passionate about.” I knew from day one, when I knew what the company was trying to do, that that was something more than a job. And it really has been. So it’s been extremely rewarding.

And I don’t take that for granted at all. I feel very blessed and very fortunate that I work for a company that I really love, doing something that I really love. I’m inspired everyday. And that doesn’t always happen. I’ve had jobs before where I didn’t feel that way. So it’s kind of like going back to what I said in the beginning: Sometimes you’re doing stuff you love, sometimes you’re doing stuff that you think, “I don’t want to do for the rest of my life, but I see what I’m learning from it,” but you have to embrace both equally. And at the end of the day you hope when you get to a certain point toward the backend of your career that it all comes together in a way that’s really good.

Shannon WashburnJenna Belevender for SEEN

11. What do you enjoy about living in Detroit?

I’m from Texas originally. And when I was going to have friends come to visit, I was like, “You gotta come here.” And everybody goes, “Detroit, really?” So then they come here. And then we’re planning another trip a year later, and they’re all like, “Can we do it in Detroit? Can we come back?” I think people have this (negative) notion if they haven’t been to Detroit in a long time or they’ve read in the media. You have to come here to experience this. Because you don’t understand the vibrancy and the grit and the drive of this city and what it is. I’m not a native, but I’m still a proud transplant.

I was born and raised in Lubbock, Texas. When I graduated from college I spent most of my time in Dallas, then moved up here. I just moved downtown in September, and I love it. It’s just so cool to be down here and on the weekends and to see the people and everything that’s going on. I’ve always loved being in an environment where you can go out and walk around, and to be able to do that down here is really awesome.

And the fact that it’s a 7 minute commute to the office is really nice.

On to your style…

12. Three words to describe your style?

Casual, simple, modern boho.

Shannon WashburnJenna Belevender for SEEN

13. You can’t leave home without…?

My readers.

14. You’re never fully dressed without…?

My mother’s opal ring and Shinola watch.

Your Local Love List…

15. Go-tos for breakfast, lunch and dinner?

Whistle Stop Diner in Birmingham, Imperial in Ferndale, San Morello in downtown Detroit.

Chef Carmellini of San MorelloCourtesy of San Morello

16. Your go-to clothing shops?

I don’t have a go-to. I like to shop in small boutiques and online: Vince, Theory and Zara.

17. On the weekends, where can we find you hanging out?

The Maple Theater, The Living Room at the Shinola Hotel or walking the Detroit Riverfront on a beautiful summer morning.

Lastly…

18. A book that everyone must read?

I am more of a movie person. “Ordinary People” is a must-see.

19. Favorite quote or words to live by?

“Remember, Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things. And no good thing ever dies.” — “Shawshank Redemption”

20. What’s next for you?

Starting year two of this role as the president, I want to continue to focus on the teams. I want to lead in a way that people feel like they’re growing. I want to inspire them to see where they can go and what we can do, and really just to continue to build the Shinola brand. I think we have a huge opportunity, and we’re just positioned for some amazing things, and I’m really excited about the products that we have coming, about the creative we have behind that and we’re sitting here in the Shinola Hotel. So to have a Shinola Hotel in the center of downtown Detroit is unbelievably inspiring, and just to be a little part of that, to me is so rewarding.

Bonus: What’s something people don’t know about you?

I am a huge sports fan…hmm, they probably know this.

Hear Shannon Washburn speak at Women SEEN: Making an Impact on May 10, 2019 in Detroit. Tickets are available here.

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