DETROIT — For the entrepreneurial set, one of the standout success stories of “new” Detroit is the resuscitation of the Shinola brand, transforming a long-obsolete (and, as we’ll see, highly problematic) legacy as a shoe-polish company into the Great White Hope for a new American manufacturing model. Emphasis very much on “white.”
From the inception of this reboot, spearheaded by Bedrock development corporation and its Texas-born-and-bred President, Jacques Panis, there has been copious evidence that the values championed by Shinola in no way represent a vanguard, but in fact reinforce a system as old as colonialism itself. This reality is laid out in excruciating, exceptionally thoroughly researched detail by writer, artist, and University of Michigan Associate Professor Rebekah Modrak, who creates critical interventions into capitalism to critique consumer culture and brand messaging. Modrak’s past works include the bitingly on-point Re Made Company. Her newest project is “Rethink Shinola,” a timed animation designed to be viewed on laptop or desktop (rather than mobile device) that lays out the contradictions and racist underpinnings of Shinola’s branding, past and present, and the obliviousness with which the company parlays these damaging practices into present-day Detroit.