DENIM DIARIES: Day 20- Labor day

Getting dressed as the sun rises is easy. It’s the waking up that’s hard to do.

At 5:30am the same 501’s and a boy’s white dress shirt – still wadded up on the floor form the night before — are the outfit du jour. That morning your coffee cupboard is empty, but you know near the old Schmidt’s brewery on Saint Paul’s West 7th there’s a place to find caffeinated salvation.  You clomp down the stairs in Red Wing oxfords. You splash cold water on your face over the kitchen sink. You leave briskly out the front door.

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You are getting desperate as you near ever-closer to your destination — the production facilities of JW Hulme — still with no coffee. A drive across the river into Saint Paul brings you past past old Motels, antique malls, busy liquor stores, dirty roadway diners , historic saltbox homes and old apartment blocks yet to be gentrified.  You’ll pull into the first no-name cafe with a blinking neon sign you see.

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Entering, the door will slap shut behind you. You will hand the server your card in exchange for a cup of coffee and she will look at it quizzically. “Oh sweetie, we don’t take them sorts of thangs,” she will say to you. She will pause, then smile brightly before continuing “But honey we do take checks!”

You have been defeated. You will leave the cafe and walk back towards the car but you will pause for a minute to look across the street at the old Schmidt Brewery. This is one of your very favorite buildings. It feels very Midwestern and looks incredibly imposing. It has been abandoned for a long time. Today there is a construction crew, and many cranes, and lots of port-a-potties surrounding it. You will begin to be a little sad when you see signs on the tall wire fences. The historic brewery will be made into ‘Modern Artists Lofts.’  You will think of your friends who are actually artists. You look again at the rendering on the poster. They look like they will be expensive. You will get back in your car and turn the key while shaking your head.

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The production room of newly-revived American Heritage brand JW Hulme will be humming with quiet efficiency once you arrive. A few sewers may look up from their work and wave as you enter through the heavy side door to hang your jean jacket by the water fountain.
You will be in for a busy day of filling orders for Brooks Brothers before saying goodbye. The fearless leader and Girl Friday at the helm of Hulme will be packing her bags for Motown. Jen Gaurino’s imminent departure for Shinola has been announced and today is her last afternoon.

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Spirits at the factory will feel high despite news of the loss. For lunch the employees will host a potluck. There will be a cake. It will have been brought in by one of the sewers. The cake will be made to look like a heaping pile of poo, and its curly icing will spell out something flippant like ‘OH CRAP – JEN IS LEAVING.’ You will eat coleslaw in the corner of the break room because there will not be enough chairs for everyone. You will try to not spill on your shirt. The sewers will only bat around light conversation, and they won’t allude to the actual leaving of Jen, because midwesterners never let on how much they will miss someone until a foot is out the door.

Out one door and into those of Shinola, whose model of American-made in the city of abandoned motor works is exceedingly interesting. Shinola is a disruptive development in the world of upper-tier consumer goods, and a good lesson in the importance of remaining ever-enterprising and inventive.

Although Detroit has declared bankruptcy, if there is one person best suited to work the sails to catch the winds of change at the masthead of Shinola, it is Jen. Her resiliency relaunched Hulme after doors were shut during the recession. Her foresight founded the Maker’s Coalition, whose first class I was proud to be a part of.

When inspiration is met with industriousness in the face of the insurmountable, a long wind can be caught.
When resistance is found it never means stop – it means keep your head down until the winds change direction. They always do.

Great things will spring from Shinola. Good luck Jen and good luck Detroit. May the wind be at your back now.