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You Don't Know Shit From Shinola!

A Famous Saying and a Company Reborn!

Depending on your age and the generation you grew up in, you might be familiar with the saying, “You don’t know shit from Shinola!” This is a pretty simple American saying, and it originated during World War II in the army barracks. Can’t you imagine being yelled at by your bunkmate or drill instructors with this particular vulgarity? If you were to look at human excrement and a container of Shinola (pronounced “Shine” “Ola”), you could see the similarities.

An original brown tin of Shinola shoe polish.
Original Shinola Shoe Polish (media by JC)

The amazing thing about Shinola’s brand is it ceased existence in 1960 yet lived on in everyday language. For 50 plus years the brand didn’t exist anywhere but in an expression that many people used but perhaps didn’t know where it originated from. There are those who would argue the old saying negatively impacted the Shinola brand helping to end it.

The year 2011 changed all of this when venture capitalist Tom Kartsotis bought the rights to the brand name and reintroduced us to Shinola. Perhaps he felt enough time had passed and the negative connotation had become a positive one. The company was founded in 2012 and now produces several high-end specialty products, such as watches and leather goods, and the famous Shinola shoe polish manufactured in Chicago.

Where do we know Tom Kartsotis from? As it turns out, he is also the mastermind behind Fossil Group, home of the Fossil, Relic, and Zodiac watch brands, to name a few. He has taken his manufacturing knowledge, the Fossil Group line is produced in Asia, and brought it directly to Detroit, Michigan.

A sleek designed Fossil Branded Watch.
Fossil Watch

The difference with Shinola is the manufacturing of design watches, journals, bikes, and jewelry is done in Detroit and not overseas. It is essential to note the materials used in manufacturing are primarily sourced from overseas. They are selling a mid-century feel based on the premise of helping to rebuild a rebounding city like Detroit. Their motto of “make it well or not at all” is on full display. Never is this more apparent than in their latest collaboration of 115 pieces of furniture with Crate & Barrel.

I think it is fair to say Tom Kartsotis knows the difference between “Shit and Shinola”!

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