One day in detroit

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about failure, what is it really? After dealing with it personally, professionally, and after asking a bunch of successful people, I’ve come to this conclusion: failure is when you stop growing.

I’ve been blessed to be working on a project that explores the space between people who fail and quit — and those that fail only to get back up again. What is the difference between such people? I think the answer is found in their attitude, and their community.

FAILURE:LAB has just announced their next city: Detroit. The event will be hosted on November 21st at the Detroit Opera House. The organizers and myself are pretty jazzed up about another evening of personal stories, but there’s been an unforeseen side effect — the thrill of diving into Detroit. Let’s be honest, after one day in the city, my schoolyard crush has matured into a full on love affair.


Not so long ago Brian Kelly (a fellow Grand Rapidian and friend) had a similar experience. He charged into the city, took some incredible photos and built some amazing relationships. His work on the Detroit Portrait Series has shed a light on the motor city and the renaissance that’s happening — it continues to inspire us. He helped introduce me to some good people and they’ve helped show me the city.


What follows is my day in Detroit: I started in Birmingham, meeting a friend from San Diego, Miss Marty. She works for Shift Digital — we met at Commonwealth. The place was bright, bustling, and full of beautiful woodwork. We laughed about everyone telling us we’re crazy for leaving California, but both feel the energy in Michigan is just as sweet.

I cruised down Woodward to the Eastern Market, I had never been and was shocked at the size. It’s large, open, and surrounded by funky restaurants. I met a friend at Supino Pizza for what I’m told is the best pizza in the world (it was legit).

My friend took me over to Pony Ride, a 30,000sq/ft building that offers low cost rent to socially conscious entrepreneurs. I was able to shake the hand of Phillip Cooley who made a comment about the space and the goal. He said we need to do things differently in order to grow, and mentioned a non-traditional approach to the future — being inclusive and directly involved in tough areas of cities. Their collaborative nature and culture of providing resources could definitely be felt.


My tour guide Meg, is the director of development forĀ The Empowerment Plan. They empower homeless women with jobs and help them find places to live. They also developed a coat that transforms into a sleeping bag — the coats are made by the women, and keep homeless people warm. In a word, brilliant.


Next to their space is Detroit Denim. Handmade jeans, belts, bags, and more. Their denim is personally tailored to you, their style every bit Detroit. My jaw dropped as the sewing machines hummed away.


Next I caught up with the woman behind Detroit Collision Works, Shel Kimen. She’s building a boutique hotel that mashes travelers, stories, and creatives into a unique space built from shipping containers. She has a strong heart for change and is a catalyst for personal / community growth.


I found myself at the new Bizdom offices chatting with Anthony Montalbano of Ambr Detroit. He’s a developer that works with companies, startups, and has launched some cool events. He also loves sharing powerful stories as he helped start Fail Detroit. The dude is good people.


I didn’t mean to park across the street from Shinola, but once I realized I had… it sucked me in. They’re making things in America — really (really) sweet things. From bicycles to journals, from watches to wallets. I was in awe.


I had to force myself to run across the street to my intended destination Motor City Brewing Works and have a summer beer. People kept screaming for more Ghettoblasters and I kept laughing.


Sebastian Jackson stopped by and we talked about startups, entrepreneurs, and going against the grain of standard business. We walked through Wayne State and popped into his latest venture, The Social Club Grooming Company. His focus is on creating beautiful spaces for people to come, relax, and get to know others in their community. He uses his barbershop as a hub for good people — his client list is as exciting as he is.


At the second bar we ran into the guys from Sit On It Detroit. They’re taking repurposed wood and building bus stops. They build shelves into the benches for donated books — so you can read a book while riding the bus then drop it off at the next stop. Sweet.


The headlines out of Detroit are pretty grim, there are certainly parts of the city that look like apocalyptic movie scenes. And they have some huge, complex problems to solve. But in many ways I think Detroit is America. We grew to be the best in the world doing things a certain way — except now so much has changed so quickly, we are forced to adapt.

What’s exciting about the cities that hit bottom first, is that they’re the first to innovate. The first to blaze a new trail. The first to recognize their mistakes, and begin anew. One day in Detroit will give you weeks of inspiration, because there are people rising from the rubble. People are making again. And it’s only a matter of time before Detroit is growing again.

Onward — JW