Rethink Shinola

RETHINK SHINOLA is a multi-part, Internet-based artwork analyzing and critiquing the brand messages publicized by the luxury-goods company, Shinola. Shinola’s name is “a nod” to the former Shinola, a shoe polish company that promoted their product using racist caricatures of African Americans. The “new” Shinola company planted itself in Detroit and leverages and profiteers from the extreme conditions and image of the city. The company creates representations of patriarchal whiteness to enforce perceptions of their “leadership,” and circulates images of African American employees being grateful for this so-called governance. In Shinola’s narratives, the Wild Detroit environment needs a civilized savior who can first identify with and then tame and civilize the savage. RETHINK SHINOLA is not meant to be a linear formula to this problem but a model way of looking at complexities, unpacking and addressing them.

RETHINK SHINOLA is a designed tour of these histories, using images from Shinola’s past and present, and exposing Shinola and Jacques Panis’ own rhetoric and representations. The experience of RETHINK SHINOLA begins with an animated tour of Shinola’s past, and continues with the video The Implicit Jacques Panis on Shinola’s Quest to Revive American Manufacturing. Using a promotional video about Shinola’s President as the base, I choreographed a succession of hats connoting power on Panis’s head throughout the day-in-the-life narrative. As he describes the craziness of setting up camp in a city like Detroit, he wears the explorer’s pith helmet; he wears the man of leisure’s top hat as he wanders about the office asking frivolous questions of people who are actually working. The goal here is to allow Panis to openly act out the roles that are implicitly conveyed so that these aspirations are made visible for discussion.

A second video, The Shinola Lecture, recreates Panis’s March 2015 lecture to University of Michigan students in the Center for Entrepreneurship program. I attended this lecture in person and was disturbed by Panis’s representations of Detroit and by the lack of opportunity for Q&A and critical response. The re-creation is faithful to a transcription I made of the original, including attention to Panis’s linguistic patterns, which use speech acts such as g-dropping to convey toughness, and insulting and bragging to take on an authoritative stance. For example, Panis mocks the Swiss (who helped teach Shinola how to make watches) for not manufacturing all their parts in Switzerland. A year after this lecture, the Federal Trade Commission took action against Shinola for falsely claiming to be made in Detroit.

The re-created lecture that I directed, re-presented by an actor and re-filmed, provides the public with access to a lecture that is a significant piece of evidence of Shinola’s attitudes towards Detroit and African Americans, as well of a significant resource to activists and scholars working in areas of representation, consumer culture, race, community engagement, activism, and linguistics.

RETHINK SHINOLA is an extension of research begun with my essay “Bougie Crap,” published in Infinite Mile.


Michael H. Hodges, “ArtPrize Nine Opens Wednesday with 1,346 artists,” The Detroit News, September 18, 2017. [Article featuring my work and three other ArtPrize artists.]

David Pierce, “Shinola’s Quest to Make the Best Turntable You’ve Ever Heard,” WIRED, December 13, 2016.

Rachel Zurer, “Are Shinola’s Luxury Goods Actually Helping Detroit?” Conscious Company Magazine, Issue 9, September/October 2016.

Tyler Denmead, “Colonizing Settlers in the Creative City: A Manifest Destiny,”, March 21, 2016. Web.

Alan Stamm, “Detroiters Will Be Hired to Make Shinola Headphones, Turntables, and Speakers.” Deadline DetroitJanuary 7, 2016. Web.

Alex Williams, “Shinola Takes Its ‘Detroit Cool’ Message on the Road,” The New York Times, January 6, 2016.

Mark Maynard, “Telling shit from Shinola… It’s not as easy as you might think,”, February 10, 2015. Web.