Let me stand on my soapbox for a moment and ask: How far does the “Detroit” border stretch in terms of a company’s product or its desire to make a buck?
Not that this is any great surprise, but there are a growing number of businesses that are putting “Detroit” in their name. And, unsurprisingly, more than a few of them are located outside of the city limits. And they have no intention of moving there.
I was at a craft fair recently, and one of the products caught my eye. I won’t mention its actual name to protect the semi-innocent, but the company was basically “Detroit X.” I chatted with the booth’s owner, asking about their background. Turns out, the couple lives closer to Lapeer than Livernois. I asked whether they planned on setting up a satellite office or a studio in the city, and the owner said that’s not in the cards right now. But they sure would consider doing it … someday.
Now, this feels a bit similar to a for-profit business going onto Kickstarter or a similar fund-raising platform and asking the public to help them raise capital. You can do so, but I feel like that has to be disclosed somewhere in their description – you are paying for them to create a profit for themselves, and all you’ll likely get for that is a lousy T-shirt. That’s all right as long as you know what you’re getting into from the start.
But if you use the Detroit brand and you’re located nowhere within or even remotely near the city’s actual geographic area, I want to know that as a consumer. My goal as someone who purports to “Shop Local” is to actually keep businesses going when they risk their financial success on a city that is struggling. And bless the hearts of the good people of Lapeer or any other city, but I don’t see the struggle there.
This goes to the heart of where the “Detroit” brand stands right now. The city has meaning. The Detroit name carries weight of both a positive and negative kind. And if you want to profit from the positive work people are doing, you need to have skin in the game. You cannot open a shop in Sterling Heights or Royal Oak and have the same loyalty by slapping “Detroit” on the outside sign. Or the long-sleeve t-shirt you hawk there.
Maybe this is akin to the city versus the suburb argument. I’m not saying you have to live in the city 24/7 to earn respect from the people who know or shop from you. But it feels like a cheap imitation to carry the Detroit name on your brand if nothing you produce was either produced there or came from a vendor who makes their living in or near the city.
It could be argued that anyone who lives in Michigan has a right to the Detroit brand. I guess I buy that to some degree. We’re all in this together, I’d argue, and Detroit’s revival directly affects all of us. Having some pride in the city is important – even if that pride comes out in the form of using “Detroit” in your company’s name or marketing is the only way you can show it.
Then put some money back where it matters. Donate to Detroit-based charities. Create a fund-raising event for a city non-profit organization. Help out one of the many foundations who are supporting Detroit with its money and its people. Find a vendor or supplier within the city limits to help you create your work in some way.
You can live somewhere else and still support the city. You can open a business and give back in your way, even if it is a small amount. But be honest and open about where your loyalties lie – to the city that needs you or to the money that you make off of the city’s increasingly good name.