Discovering design in Detroit with Shinola

By: Lauren Hill

March 16, 2016

It’s no secret that Detroit has gone through a major revival in recent years, even being designated a UNESCO City of Design. But to experience the best of this creativity, you need someone on the scene to show you around. We caught up with the Creative Director of Shinola, the esteemed watchmakers at the forefront of this design-led regeneration, for an insight into how to experience the best of design in Detroit.

Discovering design in Detroit with Shinola
Shinola’s Creative Director Daniel Caudill gives us his tips on where to see the best design in Detroit © Shinola


Detroit was in great need of a new lease of life after its economic collapse, and that it certainly has had in the form of an influx of creatives. And this artistic renaissance shows no signs of slowing, as more artisans arrive to make their mark and the scene continues to evolve. As the city’s designers stay ahead of the game, they ultimately act as a catalyst to the city’s regeneration.

Now, with independent studios and artisanal stores dotted throughout the streets, visitors never have to go far to be amongst this vibrant design community, while events hosted by initiatives such as Detroit Creative Corridor Center (DC3) bring these designers together, inevitably creating exciting new design collaborations.

Discovering design in Detroit with Shinola
Shinola take a pride in American-made goods, and in their Detroit home © Shinola


In addition to hosting events, DC3 strive to attract new design companies to the city. And one of the most significant arrivals has been Shinola, who take a pride in American – and Detroit – made goods. Not only have Shinola made Detroit their own manufacturing base, but the company also promotes other local artists, artisans and designers who share their commitment to craftsmanship and a pride for the city they work in, even setting up partnerships with some of these designers, including bicycle manufacturer Waterford Precision Cycles.

Discovering design in Detroit with Shinola
Shinola’s goods reflect their commitment to quality craftmanship © Shinola


To enable artists and designers to showcase their work to the public, DC3 set up the Detroit Design Festival, North America’s festival of independent design, which encompasses exhibitions, talks and open-house events at studios, this year with a focus on Detroit’s new designation as a UNESCO City of Design. With the help of events like this, the city’s independent designers have now built up a vibrant network, as Shinola’s Creative Director Daniel Caudill explains: “It’s a very small community that is extremely supportive. Detroit is not only a great place for collaboration, but it’s filled with so many talented individuals. For me, it’s been most inspiring to discover the beauty and the people this city has to offer.”

Discovering design in Detroit with Shinola
Pick up your own Detroit-made goods in the city’s design stores © Shinola


Reiterating the evolution of this scene, he continues: “More and more creative people are moving into the city every day, and the design community is continuing to grow.” Daniel explains that the most exciting aspect of the design scene in Detroit right now is the people who are involved. “There are some amazingly creative people trying to bring design into the forefront,” he says, “There are a lot of different organizations to discover, like MOCAD, Culture Lab Detroit, and Ponyride.”

While MOCAD (The Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit) aims to showcase the art at the forefront of culture, and Culture Lab Detroit focuses on encouraging conversation and collaboration through exhibitions and arts projects, Ponyride provides affordable studios and creative co-working space for socially-conscious artists, as well as artist residencies.

Discovering design in Detroit with Shinola
Stop by exploring the artwork within The Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit © Flickr / Lian Chang


“Culture Lab Detroit also has art event once a year that people from around the world come to participate in,” Daniel explains, “The event serves as a chance for Detroit and the international design community to really come together.” This series of programs brings a diverse group of creatives together, from chefs and urban farmers to architects and designers, to focus on that year’s theme.

Discovering design in Detroit with Shinola
The gallery of Wasserman Projects comes highly recommended © Wasserman Projects


The city has a generous offering of stores by independent designers and artists, too, enabling visitors to buy their own Detroit-made artisanal keepsakes. Daniel recommends stopping by Wasserman Gallery in Eastern Market. “Eastern Market is one of the best farmer’s markets I’ve ever been to been to,” he enthuses, “And it’s surrounded by antique stores and other small businesses that can easily end up taking over your entire day.”

Discovering design in Detroit with Shinola
Wasserman Projects showcases Detroit’s contemporary artworks © Linnenbrink and Gelpi / Wasserman Projects


The Eastern Market district is a haven for anyone seeking out artisanal food as well as local designers’ goods, and with the accolade of being the country’s largest historic market, it hosts food vendors, artists and music. And market tours are given, too, with a focus on urban agriculture and the history of the area, or giving people a chance to meet the local vendors.

Discovering design in Detroit with Shinola
Explore the creative area surrounding Eastern Market © Flickr / Russ


While you’re in town, stop by the major exhibition space Detroit Institute of Arts, which dates all the way back to 1885 and encompasses a staggering 100 galleries, as well as performance spaces, displaying a diverse array of artworks across the ages. Detroit Artists Market is another of the city’s stalwart gallery spaces, showcasing the work of both emerging and established local artists.

Discovering design in Detroit with Shinola
Visit The Diego Rivera Court within Detroit Institute of Arts © Flickr / Mike Steele


As with any close-knit urban community, the best way to discover what’s new on a scene is by word of mouth, so while you set out on a discovery of design in Detroit, use these galleries, events and stores as a starting point to discovering even more.

Thanks to Virgin Atlantic’s daily flights to Detroit, you can explore the city for yourself.

Have you experienced Detroit’s vibrant design scene? What were the highlights for you? Let us know in the comments section below.

Written by Lauren Hill


Lauren Hill

Between living in Japan, Singapore and London, Lauren has spent the past few years working as an editor, sub-editor and travel and lifestyle writer, with a focus on luxury and adventure travel. She is currently based in London, exploring the city’s eating and drinking scene and seeking out its outdoor green spaces.

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