Mothers of invention, Kathy Thomas and Sara Zilkha spent hours on the computer with multiple tabs open scouring the Internet for fashionable performance wear for skiing, surfing and beyond only to find a dearth of options. They knew there had to be a better way, but it didn’t exist, so they created it: Salt + Snow, an e-commerce site for women who take their sports, not themselves seriously, and which outfits the entire family, including men and kids.
Thomas, who has four children, and Zilkha, who has five, didn’t have time to shop online for hours. Salt + Snow leverages discovery with almost 20 brands that launched last Sunday and will quickly be ramping up to 40 labels. There’s the creme de la creme of emerging and discovery labels, names such as Alps & Meters, Amundsen, Anemos, Aztech Mountain, Cynthia Rowley, Dinoski, Dip, Eugenia Kim, Kassia + Surf, L’Etoile Sport, Left on Friday, Matuse, Powder Puff, Revo, Rhone, Sea Star, Seasta Surf, Seea, September and Xcel, mixed with better known brands such as Cynthia Rowley’s wet suits. The site will be quickly ramping up to more than 40 special brands.
“When I graduated from Fuqua Business School at Duke University in 2001, I had a stack of proposals/job prospects from various start-ups. I got married and went on an extended honeymoon, thinking I’d have plenty of opportunities when I returned. By the time I got back, all but one of those companies had survived.
“In the middle of all of that I got pregnant and my journey as a mom started,” Thomas added. “Four children later, I picked up surfing because I thought it was the only place I could get solace and nobody could find me with a cell phone or yell, ‘Mom.’ Although I did make the mistake of teaching them all how to surf, so they can now find me. Right about at that point, Sara came into my life and we became friends.”
Thomas and Zilkha bonded over mutual schools and life in Manhattan, although the latter now lives in Aspen. Zilkha and Thomas started surfing and skiing together. “It was kind of a meeting of the minds,” Thomas said. “One day I was with her on one of those surf trips and I talked to her about how frustrating it was to find clothing that wasn’t really made for men that didn’t fit into that whole shrink it and pink it mentality.”
Zilkha was surprised that even in Aspen, that stronghold of skiing, didn’t have a solution. “I’m surrounded by all these really athletic women with big families and they all are having the same problems finding suitable apparel,” she said. “That why we’re so excited about the idea of having something focused on women versus traditionally being focused on men. If you do go to a lot of those places, they’re very male-focused, so it really was this ‘Aha’ situation. We’re really well-situated because between the community we both share, we feel strongly that we live the life and can solve problems in our own lives for other women.”
Zilkha and Thomas went on something of a quest to find apparel that was made for women, by women, with performance qualities that didn’t sacrifice style or look like it was made for the guys. “We started finding all these cool companies and were talking about it, when I said, ‘Wouldn’t it be amazing to build a place where you could showcase great clothing, men’s clothing, great children’s lines and great women’s lines,’” Thomas said.
The founders created an “if we can’t find it, we’ll build it,” story that provides everything needed to outfit oneself for skiing in Aspen to surfing in Costa Rica. Salt + Snow chief merchant Brooke Gerschel, who happens to visit Aspen regularly, said, “I completely saw the need myself, where it could be everyday life or it could be shopping for the next family vacation, but I have 15 web browsers open. My kids are learning and I need to make sure there’s function behind what they’re doing, and that it’s technically correct, but I want them to look cute and cool at the same time.” All products are kid-tested, and husband-approved.
The Salt + Snow executive team has a wealth of experience, from Gerschel’s 20-year tenure at Ralph Lauren to Thomas, a former music industry consultant, who returned to business school and got an MBA. Zilkha, who moved to New York after college, worked as an admin at Goldman Sachs. Brooke Danielson, Salt + Snow marketing director and resident fashion guru, attended the Parsons School of Design, then did stints at vogue.com, Glamour and worked on the revamp of Shape magazine. The women experienced wanderlust, as they embarked on their respective sports journeys. There’s also Ashley Bryan, chief operating officer, is leveraging her digital background with positions at Net-a-Porter, Moda Operandi and Maisonette.
Fittingly, The Wanderist, which plays on the founders’ peripatetic penchant for adventure and exploring the unknown, is where consumers meet inspiring doers such as a blind ice climber, one of the Summit Stories on the blog. There’s also a gear guide, wellness features such as five yoga poses post-piste and a guide to SPFs. Ambassadors include Minnie Dubillier, a cycler, biker, skinner, runner and surfer, who makes the most active of users feel like slouches. Round out the experience with a Kids Corner, Travel and Salt + Snow Playlist and consumers will be hard-pressed to avoid the urge to get moving.
Based on a revenue share model, Salt + Snow doesn’t physically hold any merchandise and allows the team to service a broad range of clients. While there are no plans for brick and mortar stores, Thomas said, “I see more pop-ups in the future than an actually store, but never say never. We have exclusives and as we discover more brands out there and as more brands discover us, we’ll have more. We’re already talking about collaborations, but right now, we’re just getting our momentum and launching.”
In the future, the founders will figure out what holes exist for products in the marketplace and brand their own private label, just as they identified the need for a resource such as Salt + Snow.
“If you play golf or tennis or cycle, there’s really not a place to go to that’s for women, a resource, a community that’s going to help you with this purchase process,” Zilkha said. “There seems to be a clear gap here. You have Dick’s and the Back Country, which are really technical and can go really deep if you know what you want, and more high fashion web sites like a Net-a-porter, but nothing in between that kind of holds your hand and says, ‘Okay, you want to learn how to cycle. This is what you need in order to get out on the road, and by the way, we have our blog and community, which is the Wanderist. We’re going to give you someone who can teach you how to cycle in Chicago.’”