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February 10, 2021 5 min read

We recently had the chance to pick Lyndsay from SLATE + SALT's brain! We're so excited to have the SLATE + SALT collection on OM showcasing all sorts of artisan pieces from around the world.

SLATE + SALT's Mission:

Our mission is to bring you a curated collection of modern, one-of-a-kind pieces while preserving traditional techniques and supporting the Fair Trade movement. We work closely with small social enterprises to facilitate dignified working opportunities in areas of extreme poverty. We encourage you to explore other cultures and traditions in a socially conscious way.

What does the name SLATE + SALT mean?

It’s a play on land and sea because it started from my travels.

What inspired you to start SLATE + SALT?

I think like many people who end up launching an ethical business, I was really unhappy and unfulfilled with my job. I wanted to work for myself, but also feel like I was doing something good. I had been a big thrifter and was selling vintage items on the side for fun for many years. I decided to start an online retail business right around the time I made my first trip to SE Asia. I’ve always really liked things that are one-of-a-kind and handmade and I really just fell in love with everything Asia. The people, the culture, and of course the amazing handmade products.

I came home from that trip, quit my job, and bought a one way ticket to backpack. I was gone for 3 months that trip. It was then that I really learned the true cost of fashion. It’s hard to explain to people who haven’t immersed themselves in the culture of a developing country. Just about everything we own in our privileged Western life was made by someone working in terrible conditions, for extremely small amounts of money, especially fashion and textile products. These people are just like us, but they were born into a country with little or no opportunity to make a better living. They are forced into these jobs so that WE can buy cheap products. It became clear to me from the relationships I made, that if I was going to source products from these places, that I had to do it in an ethical way and only work with groups that had fair labor practices. Most of the large groups I work with are certified with the World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO), but others are just small groups organized with NGOs to give locals an opportunity to make a living wage while keeping weaving or handicraft traditions alive.

What does the typical day in the life of a SLATE + SALT team member look like?

A typical day is not that glamorous! I work from home in yoga pants and my office is always a mess with samples and paperwork piled everywhere.

I have a warehouse space and a woman who helps with fulfillment. I also have a remote marketing woman who has helped in the last year with images and social media and another part-time assistant who helps with emails and orders. I wish my whole day was travels to visit my groups around the world, but unfortunately there is more unfun stuff like accounting or tracking down shipments that get stuck in customs for all kinds of crazy reasons. 

I live in south Florida so the weather is nice all year and I take most of the photos myself around the beach or in my backyard garden. Natural light is always best to capture colors accurately and I love to. 

How long have you been working on SLATE + SALT?

I officially launched 6 years ago, but the process took 2 years of planning and sourcing beforehand. I went back to school and took classes specifically for starting a sustainable business and had an internship where I launched another brand in the same niche so I had a better understanding of the process myself. 

What were the key steps in ramping up SLATE + SALT so quickly?

I don’t know if it was quickly! I barely made any sales the first year and I made a ton of expensive mistakes that I think set me back. One thing that I think helped me was starting my social media accounts a long time before launching and building up a following. I also just work a lot. I think when it’s your business and it’s something you are passionate about, you naturally become a workaholic. 

How has the pandemic impacted your business? Future thoughts?

Initially everything just kind of stopped as far as orders. When we first went on lockdown people stopped shopping, especially for “luxury” products. Many of my artisan groups went on lockdown and stopped working so I had shipments that were very delayed and they were not able to make the income that they rely on either. Towards the end of the year business did pick up again, but not as much as I had hoped before the pandemic.

Future thoughts? I think like everyone, I just want it to be over! You have to hope for the best but prepare for the worst. I don’t anticipate this year being the easiest, but I try to look at the positives. For me, it has made me slow down, reflect and take up new hobbies. I have more time to focus on the small things with both S+S and my personal life.

What were the most surprising challenges you came up against in starting SLATE + SALT?

Honestly, there are so many expenses! I’m bombarded with marketing emails and it’s hard sometimes to know who to trust to work with. Two lessons I learned the hard way... Always get samples and always check references. 

I also wear a lot of hats! Some days I'm a photographer, others a model (not a very good one), others a manager. Sometimes I do marketing, shipping, accounting, or have to deal with imports and exports. 

Do you have any advice for entrepreneurs who want to start businesses working with artisan makers?

If you’ve ever traveled to a developing country, you probably noticed that in most, things move much, much slower than they do here. Maybe things that are “rude” to Americans are normal culture somewhere else and vice-versa. You have to be aware of language barriers and understand that things are not going to happen as quickly as you’d like. I’ve placed orders and waited up to 9 months. Sometimes things get lost in translation. If you think your artisan partners are confused, they probably are simply because of language barriers. 

When sourcing ethical products, it is of course best to go and meet groups yourself and see the process. For me, it helps me feel connected to the artisans and I can better convey their stories. If you can’t travel, there are great resources like the WFTO or Artisan Alliance. With more and more people wanting to shop consciously, the artisan market is growing everyday. There are so many amazing products that directly employ talented craftspeople. 

Thank you, Lyndsay!

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Check out SLATE + SALT's handmade, re-purposed bombshell and bullet jewelry made in Laos and Cambodia.