Shannon Washburn is the president of Shinola, where she leads a talented team of people who are dedicated to quality craftsmanship. She oversees product development, design, creative direction and marketing for the brand.
As told to Stephanie Steinberg
Photography by Jenna Belevender
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 and connect all the dots how things work. 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 to 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. So every day I see amazing creativity and innovation and just this real drive.
Washburn worked for Dillard’s and Fossil before joining Shinola’s watch development team in 2012 when the company was just getting started in Detroit.
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. 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. 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. 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.
For the last few years, Washburn has worked on the Runwell automatic collection that came out in March.
It’s a really big moment for the brand. 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?” 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. 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, it’s so rewarding to see full picture the creation of the product all the way through the launch.
For women looking to climb the ladder in their careers, Washburn says you have to “work hard, show up, do the right thing.” But also, lead.
I really think it’s important when you’re given the opportunity to lead, lead. Take the time to get to know the people that you work with so you can teach them when you see opportunity, and you can educate them when you want to help them overcome a situation. And then make them an integral part of what you’re doing. I really feel like if people are part of the process and they feel like they have a voice, they’re going to have so much more dedication and commitment. And when they do well, you should talk about it and celebrate that.
And use your voice.
There’s no reason you shouldn’t. It’s so important to have a voice, and when you’re given that opportunity, use it. Because that’s the way we change things, and that’s how we have great innovative ideas. It’s not two people sitting in a room and telling people what to do. It’s the sum of those collective ideas and thoughts that really allow you to innovate and think differently.