Is Shinola’s $695 ‘Cass Hobo’ Handbag A Sign Of The Times In Detroit?

Play episode

Shinola likes to tout itself as a made-in-Detroit success story, with the words “Built in Detroit” engraved on its watches and the city’s name featuring prominently on its bikes and other products. And hey, we give the brand credit for launching here, of all places, with the goal of bringing back good-paying manufacturing jobs to a place that has suffered a massive loss of them, and trying to make Detroit synonymous with quality and fine craftsmanship.

That’s why we were disappointed to discover that Shinola sells a product called the Cass Hobo bag. For $695, no less.

Shinola’s Cass Hobo handbag sells for $695

Hobo bags, as many female readers will know, are an actual thing. They’re called that because of the way they collapse in on themselves when set down, and because they resemble the sacks that hang from sticks carried by homeless people in old illustrations and cartoons. (Note to the broader accessories industry: Perhaps it’s time for a new name?)

But the Cass Hobo, really? From a high-end luxury goods company based in Detroit? One whose corporate headquarters is in a building right off Cass Avenue? With a flagship store located in the neighborhood that, despite the dramatic changes, many still call the Cass Corridor?

Suffice it to say, when we first heard the name “Cass Hobo,” our minds didn’t go to the style of ladies’ handbags. They went to the seedy Cass Corridor of old, a steadily gentrifying place once notorious for drugs, prostitution, crime and, yes, homelessness. While the neighborhood has since been rebranded as Midtown, with gleaming new restaurants, retail stores and pricey condos, homeless people still very much roam its streets, empty lots and back alleys.

Shinola spokeswoman Kelsey Hogan says the brand sells a number of products branded with the name of Cass Avenue, including the Cass timepiece, the Cass jewelry collection and the Cass leather collection, which includes the hobo handbag. 

“It was never our intention to be insensitive to the homeless, just strictly describing the style of the bag to inform the consumer,” she says. “As you’ll notice, we name many of our products after streets and buildings in the city as a way to celebrate the place we’re lucky enough to call home!”

Whether the name was an oversight, or the branding teams have been drinking too much Kool-Aid Shinola Cola, it got us thinking. If you have money just hanging out in your bank account and are thinking about getting this bag, why not use that money to help those in need? 

Here are five ways you could spend $695 to help someone who is homeless.

  • Rent for one month.
  • Donate $125 to the Empowerment Plan to provide a sleeping bag coat to someone in need. You could even donate the whole $695, which will cover the cost of five coats and additional supplies to make them. Your money would not only help people stay warm in the cold months, but the Empowerment Plan hires people from shelters and helps get them back on their feet.
  • Buy bus passes. A monthly pass on the new DART fare card costs $70 a month. That’s nearly 10 monthly bus passes to give people in need.
  • Personal care items. $700 could go a long way to pack up care kits filled with things like thick wool socks, underwear, a water bottle, small first aid kit, nail clippers, dried fruit and beef jerky.
  • Donate the entire amount to Cass Community Services. They do a lot of great work year round to help homeless Detroit residents. 

More from this show

Subscribe