In the early 90’s my brother came home wearing a black denim, 3/4 length, jacket he purchased from a hip little boutique in Royal Oak, Michigan. It had deep side pockets and a big brushed metal zipper, with a patch over the left side of the chest that read Made In Detroit.
Nick lent me that rugged piece of self-identity whenever I went out for a drink. It wore so well that pretty soon I was sure the jacket was mine. It felt right and at the time there was nothing else like it on the market.
Since 1991, Robert Stanzler has been lovingly turning out quality Detroit gear from within the city limits. Stanzler first set up shop in the old Atlas building near Eastern Market, and over the next fifteen years directed Made In Detroit onto the world stage, changing perceptions many Detroiters had about their city all along the way.
But a divorce, coupled with the surprise takeover of Stanzler’s brand, sent Robert back to the design table in 2007. Working from the street up – showcasing his Brand in festivals and market booths – Stanzler developed Detroit Manufacturing with increased dedication to the design of authentic, durable apparel, made entirely in Detroit.
Robert and I sat in Eastern Market to discuss his new clothing line and its place in the city:
Anthony Brancaleone: So, they call you ‘Bobby Detroit’ – did you get that name before or after you created Made In Detroit clothing?
Robert Stanzler: It’s a completely separate name that has only ever applied to me individually…my company’s corporate name is Bobby Detroit, LLC. We will put it into play as a trade name at some point in the future.
AB: Made In Detroit is all over the world, isn’t it?
RS: Brands are living breathing organisms, and often go through changes of identity over the course of their lives. Its footprint can change, too. Right now the brand is more popular than ever within very finite boundaries, specifically Macomb and Oakland Counties in Michigan. These areas also contain, not surprisingly, high concentrations of Kid Rock fans. From 1991-2005 the brand enjoyed slightly higher sales volume due to its (then) global distribution and indie street credibility. It’s a different brand now.
AB: Is it true you sold MID to Kid Rock?
RS: He bought it from my estate. Made in Detroit was a viable and profitable (if under funded) company. In 2005 because of a divorce and complicated shared finances with my former spouse we filed joint personal bankruptcy. The trademark – as a personal asset – was auctioned off by the court to pay our estate’s creditors. The company was not bankrupt, unprofitable, or in any danger of ceasing to operate. Had Kid Rock not bought it, I might have won the auction (I was a bidder) and kept the company in Detroit.
AB: Are you still affiliated with the brand?
RS: Not officially…only spiritually in that the brand will always be built around my art (including the “Made in Detroit” and “Shifter” logos) and part of my legacy as an artist. I did consult for him for 6 months after he purchased the brand. My personal profit from the sale of Made in Detroit was from the (post-sale/post-divorce) consulting agreement.
AB: Lets talk about your beginning as a entrepreneur and designer. What were some of the obstacles you had to overcome?
RS: Lack of money, negative stereotypes of Detroit in the global media, and Detroiters “hating on” other Detroiters (the exact same challenges I face today).
AB: Describe your work life back in the day.
RS: Get up, make a list of everything you can possibly do to advance your cause today, do as many of the things on the list as possible (the exact same routine I had today).
AB: How did you find your way into design?
RS: I once heard (Comme Des Garcons founder/designer) Rei Kawakubo say that she became a designer because there were so many things that she wanted that didn’t exist yet. I got into the design business because I didn’t feel that the Detroit apparel that I wanted was available.
AB: Do you remember when you first created your favourite pieces?
RS: I’m working on them as we speak. DETROIT MANUFACTURING has the best art and garments I’ve ever made. People who see our work buy it 2-1 over anything I’ve made before, or anything else on the market.
AB: What sets DETROIT MANUFACTURING apart from your old company?
RS:When Made in Detroit closed its offices in Detroit and moved to Clarkston (45 minutes north of Detroit in rural North Oakland County) all of my original design and production team were left without work. I formed DETROIT MANUFACTURING and based it in Detroit to keep jobs in the city, where they are needed most. DETROIT MANUFACTURING is the true continuation of my work: Detroit-based, providing opportunity in the city, using good design to change Detroit’s image for the stronger.
AB: Why does every business near Detroit use the name of the city in its brand?
RS: That wasn’t always the case…when I started Made In Detroit back in 1991 people from suburban Detroit would take great pains to point out that they didn’t live in Detroit, they lived in (insert suburb here) which is much safer. Today, everyone from Auburn Hills to Monroe will proudly say they’re from Detroit. If my work has contributed to that change in any way I would be very honored.
AB: Tell me about your working relationship with the city.
RS: Detroit is the most beautiful, inspiring place in the world for me. I love the city and it has provided me with a career and identity based around loving it back. It offers a limitless archive of creative inspiration and a bottomless well of history.
AB: Detroit’s economy is down – does that make it difficult for fashion?
RS: People always want to look and feel good. Sometimes, they buy Bentleys and Cartier, sometimes they buy T-shirts. The current economy has been good for T-shirt sales. Our business is growing geometrically because DETROIT MANUFACTURING has the best designed, best built Detroit apparel available.
AB: Clearly, there is a rivalry between DETROIT MANUFACTURING and Made In Detroit . . .
RS: We seem to have a little “Coke and Pepsi thing” going on as competitors. It’s great for both companies…most people don’t realize that Pepsi helps define Coke and vice-versa. They need each other to keep the market for cola flavored soft drinks growing. In the instance of my old company and DETROIT MANUFACTURING, my competitor needs to realize that there will be more interest in both brands if we continue to compete head-to head. Consumers want that, retailers want to carry both brand, but the current managers of MID want to limit consumers choice to one brand. In the long run that will hurt the market.
AB: Who is your customer?
RS: Anyone who loves Detroit and wants to look sharp while supporting an actual (city of ) Detroit business.
AB: Where can we purchase your gear?
RS: At our booth in Detroit’s historic Eastern Market (behind shed 2, next to the antiques mall every Saturday), online at www.detroitmfg.com, at most area street fairs and festivals, and in select retailers including Flo (Detroit), Funky 7 (Royal Oak), Caruso Caruso (Birmingham), The Station (Inkster), and Detroit Threads (Hamtramck) plus many more.
AB: Are you getting any interest from the film business when they’re in town?
RS: Our products have received placement in several movies made in Michigan this year. We also do contract printing, including substantial work for production wardrobe departments and crew gifts…(thanks Michigan Legislature, we are one of the companies directly benefiting from your tax incentive).
AB: Didn’t you have product in the movie 8-Mile?
RS: Yes I did, and DETROIT MANUFACTURING clothing will be in several upcoming Michigan-made films.
AB: Favorite representation of Detroit on film?
RS:“True Romance” for the Detroit scenery and made up streets (Dennis Hopper lived on 110th Street in Detroit ???).
AB: You just finished for the day, and you need a drink and some music, where do you go and who’s playing?
RS: Cliff Bell’s and Brendan Benson…in a perfect world.
AB: Any parting thoughts?
RS: I hope I haven’t offended anyone with my Detroit-centric views. I welcome direct contact and differing opinions via email ([email protected]) and in person at our events and in the Eastern Market. Thanks for your support and interest in DETROIT MANUFACTURING products. ?