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Creative Detroit: 7 Success Stories for a City on the Rise

Shinola Detroit

Despite what you’ve heard, Detroit is far from doomed.  While the politicians and banks figure out exactly what to do about the city’s finances, Detroit’s creative class continues to innovate and build toward a future that echoes its past.  It was the city’s own invention, the automobile, that once made it world class.  Right now, the young inventors of today are forging a new story in Detroit, one where craftsmanship, ingenuity and dedication are again the ingredients of success.  Join us to explore seven creative success stories in Detroit today, proof positive that you should never bet against the Motor City.

Detroit Bicycle Company

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The motor city is no stranger to pedal power, and a rising Detroit brand is making a name for itself with fine, vintage-inspired bicycles.  Detroit Bicycle Company offers six complete bikes, named after famous streets in downtown Detroit, that are proudly hand-built in the nation’s manufacturing capitol.  We covered the “Madison Street” by Detroit Bicycle Company back in 2011, and we’ve been following their story ever since.  What makes these bikes stand out is their attention to detail– the hand-made copper components, the fine leather saddles and cargo pouches (made in Detroit by Detroit Cargo), the sleek vintage appeal.  They’re built to last and look good doing it, just like the other vehicles Detroit was famous for a hundred years before.

Detroit Bicycle Company | Gallery

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Great Lakes Coffee

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In the face of Seattle giants and a struggling local economy, this business has built a success on fine craftsmanship and an authentic customer experience in a challenging environment.  Great Lakes Coffee has built a cult appeal in Southwest Michigan, providing fair trade organic coffee to happy customers on location and in stores throughout Metro Detroit.  They carefully source, roast and serve fine coffees from around the world, welcoming guests into their Midtown location and two others in the area.  This is likely only the beginning of the Great Lakes story, and a rising urban economy can only bring good things to this adored Detroit original.

Great Lakes Coffee | Gallery

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Detroit Denim

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Back in Detroit’s manufacturing heyday, the denim worn by the assembly line workers was as tough and long-lasting as the vehicles they produced.  They just don’t build jeans like they used to, at least until Detroit Denim came around.  This young Detroit startup creates hand-crafted jeans from materials sourced around the United States.  They comprise tough selvidge denim from North Carolina, fly buttons from the Delaware company that produced civil war uniforms, and top buttons and rivets that are machined from solid rods of copper.  This is a pair of jeans you’ll be wearing for a decade, not tossing into the garbage when they fade and fall apart like the rest.

Detroit Denim | Gallery

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Shinola Watches – Made in Detroit

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From our perspective, the Shinola brand is one of the most exciting things to happen to Detroit in some time.  This bold new brand fuses Swiss ingenuity and Detroit spirit by investing in the manufacturing backbone of the Motor City.  The skilled hands of Detroit craftsmen assemble the Shinola Runwell watch and a larger collection of stunning timepieces, showing just what can be accomplished with a good idea and a skilled set of hands.  Shinola also produces bicycles, leather goods and journals that are all proudly built in Detroit.  In our eyes, the Shinola Runwell is their stand-out product, a symbol for the new direction Detroit has discovered by returning to its creative manufacturing roots.

Shinola Watches | Gallery

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Detroit Electric

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It’s hard to find a more literal return to Detroit roots than a car design and build startup company.  Detroit Electric produces the SP01, a full electric vehicle that uses a Lotus frame and an electric drivetrain for high performance results.  From a standing start, this new electric sports car can hit 60mph in just 3.7 seconds, and can run on a single charge for up to 180 miles.  Another American car brand once got its start in a similar fashion– Tesla Motors first tested their proof of concept on a Lotus Elise frame, and they’ve gone on to do great things since.  We’re hoping Detroit Electric finds similar success on the hot start of an exciting electric sports car like this one…

Detroit Electric | Gallery

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Brys and Edgewood Cake Kits

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Back in 2011, three friends with a passion for Fondant cakes took to Kickstarter to turn this passion into a business.  The result is Brys and Edgewood Cake Kits, a company that produces designer Fondant cake kits for you at home to bake beautiful, imaginative edible sculptures.  Brys and Edgewood currently offers 13 different cake kits, each including ingredients, molds and step-by-step instructions photographed and illustrated by the Brys and Edgewood team.  Their company is a Detroit original, a delicious spin on creative manufacturing that you can enjoy from home.

Brys and Edgewood Cake Kits | Gallery

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Empowerment Plan Jackets for the Homeless

The Empowerment Plan is an endeavor of altruism and invention, a non-profit company that produces warm clothing for the homeless by once-homeless craftspeople.  The brain child of founder Veronika Scott, The Empowerment Plan hires homeless women out of local shelters, trains them as seamstresses and pays them to produce warm jackets that can transform into a sleeping bag as needed.  This donation-based company uses gifts from people like you to cover the costs to produce the jackets that are then delivered to the homeless free of charge.  The way that the Empowerment Plan includes off-the-street seamstresses in their program makes for a true success story, one that should surely be repeated in other cities like Detroit in the northern US.

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Is there a Motor City success story you’d like to share?  Reach out on facebook or twitter, or share directly in the comments below.  There are plenty of great stories happening in Detroit today, but if you only watch the headlines, you might miss them altogether. [special thanks to Jeremy Schmall and Rachel Schroeder for advising this column]


  • http://www.thegiftinsider.com/ TheGiftInsider

    Love the article, so many awesome things happening in Detroit. Wedit is another great one. We are a startup, TheGiftInsider.com, that launched in Chicago and recently moved back to Detroit to take advanatage of all the awesome opportunities happening here. Thanks for the great post!