Active Lifestyle Luxury Goods, All Made In USA (major trend in 2014?)

Quartz movement, hand build it Detroit, the real deal

Is American manufacturing making a comeback? Maybe it’s a stretch, but Tom Kartsotis, the man who helped grow the Fossil watch brand from its inception in 1984 as a 24-year-old, is investing in American workers.

His company Bedrock Brands owns Shinola and Filson, two American companies that make high-quality products with high price tags. Both are expanding into a new flagship store in the North Loop neighborhood of Minneapolis.

The Shinola/Filson store, opening this summer, is the first national brand store in the neighborhood and it will house both brands in separate spaces. On the Shinola side, buyers will find beautiful bikes, watches and leather goods. On the Filson side there will be duffel and garment bags, luggage, rod and reel bags, and travel accessories.

Shinola products on display at the store; photo by Stacy Bengs

Shinola, known to some for the saying “you can’t tell $*!# from Shinola,” was a shoe polish company that went out of business after WWII.

As it turns out, that is also how the company got its name, Kartsotis told me. He had the concept for the brand first, then when that old adage was heard in an office brainstorming session, the name was agreed upon. Bedrock bought the Shinola historical brand naming rights in 2011.

Both brands offer products with eye-catching retro styling at high but attainable prices. Shinola watches, for example, are offered as streamlined chronographs and classic printed faces with styles that could have been built any time in the last century with prices from about $500 to just under $1,000. Shinola bikes come with vintage looks and modern technology (and price tags of $2,000 to $3,000).

In a tasteful nod to history Shinola still makes shoe polish; photo by Stacy Bengs

Filson, a hat and leather goods manufacturer known for lifetime guarantees and exceptional craftsmanship, dates back to the Gold Rush era. Based in Seattle, the company was founded to meet the need of prospectors passing through the port city on their way to the Klondike Gold Rush.

C.C. Filson founded “C.C. Filson’s Pioneer Alaska Clothing and Blanket Manufacturers” in 1897. The company has been making logging, hunting, fishing, and hiking related gear continuously for nearly 120 years.

Filson is still made in Seattle and it offers hundreds of products, from the classic Shelter Cloth Packer Hat ($55) to a Fly Fishing Strap Vest ($185) to $630 wheeled, check-in luggage.

With this new store, the company is banking on Americans’ willingness to spend a few more bucks on higher priced, high quality, domestically manufactured goods. Its goal seems to be to tap into the same growing minority of consumers that buy food at farmers’ markets and eat only at restaurants serving locally-grown produce. We think Mr. Kartsotis is onto something.

Shinola bicycles are handmade by famed steel bike builders Waterford Precision Cycles of Wisconsin; photo by Stacy Bengs

More and more, well-to-do buyers are looking for not only high-quality products, but high-quality products that are handmade by American workers. Shinola marketing director Bridget Russo remarked, “Minneapolis has a rich history of culture and art, plus a thriving bike community, which makes it a perfect location for our next store.”

There’s a lot to like about products that last nearly forever and put skilled Americans to work. Shinola and Filson seem to fit the bill. —Tom Puzak

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Contributing Editor Tom Puzak, a former attorney, found himself more interested in his bike than filing copies in triplicate. Now as GearJunkie's resident "bike junkie" he makes less money but enjoys a more creative work atmosphere. Puzak is based out of the Minneapolis office.
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