An Exclusive Look Inside Shinola's New Sister Store, Willys Detroit

If you've been paying any attention to the moves being made to resuscitate Detroit's economic and cultural woes in the last few years, then you almost certainly know of Shinola. The brand—which has expanded its wares beyond handmade watches and into everything from bicycles to leather goods—is on a mission to restore faith in manufacturing in the Motor City. So far, they're making quite the splash.

This past weekend, they took their mission one step further with the opening of an impressive multi-brand sister store, Willys Detroit. It's down the street from the city's Shinola retail digs in Midtown's burgeoning shopping district, and we were lucky enough to get a look inside.

Much like Shinola, whose name is a reappropriation of the long-defunct shoe polish company, Willys is a nod to the Willys-Overland Motor Company, probably known best for the military Jeeps they once produced. In fact, the 2,900-square foot shop is situated inside a building (along with Shinola) that once served as both a warehouse and dealership for the automaker.

We caught up this week with Shinola's creative director Daniel Caudill to find out what went into creating a place which evokes both the spirit and history of old Detroit, combined with the inviting and energetic vibe that seems so palpable in the new one.

"As a multi-brand store, it was our goal to make sure the store aesthetic was cohesive," Caudill says. "At the same time our team worked with each brand to help evoke what they are and represent, so Steven Alan looks and feels like Steven Alan, and the same goes for our other anchor and featured brands."

And there are a lot of other brands, like fellow anchors Filson, Clare V, and Mollusk, and an assortment of Michigan-bred names such as SMPLFD, Kerosene Fragrances, and Detroit Surf Co.

They'll also soon be stocking a who's who of others, ranging from Apolis to The Hill-side. Safe to say, it has something for just about everyone.

To show they're setting up in a space oozing with history, an original Willys jeep grill was brought in to hang in the Filson tent (above).

Just don't expect things to always look this way. It was built to evolve as they do. "From month-to-month, the store will change shape, adding an element of discovery with each visit," says Caudill.

In fact, architectural elements have been intentionally designed to bend and shift to accommodate such moves.

"My favorite part of the space is the wooden fixture system I worked on with a local designer. It allows the space to be really flexible, incorporating lighting into the fixture design," says Caudill.

"We want people to come see Willys, and hang out," he says. And that shouldn't be too difficult a task. Soon, the local cold-pressed juice company DROUGHT will relocate its retail space from the Shinola store to Willys.

"The store features exposed rafters and a weathered brick wall, and even an old service motor chain still in the rafters," Caudill explains. "Much like we did with the Shinola flagship store...we wanted to keep the historic elements of the space."

The city may have an uphill climb ahead, but it's places like this that should provide the catalyst for the resurgence. Judging by how much the Shinola team's been able to accomplish in its relatively short tenure, the future is bright. 

Joe McGauley is a senior editor at Supercompressor. He's eager to learn what else Shinola has up its sleeve for Detroit.