Salt of the Earth
By Ondine Jean-Baptiste
Sugar and spice make everything nice, but salt on the other hand, keeps things fresh. Michael Smaldone and Michael Ward have respectively dedicated many years to the fashion industry, working with some of the biggest names such as Burberry, Diane von Furstenberg, Banana Republic and Anne Klein before leaving to collaborate and embark on their own creative endeavor called thesalting. What inspired this foray into their own line? With such successful careers in the industry, it took the 2016 presidential election and the ensuing proliferation of hate afterwards to incite a change of direction for them. Both Smaldone and Ward agree that they love fashion, however did not want to “subscribe to the negativity” that they have seen over the past decade.
A gender-neutral or “unisex” clothing line was the natural next step for the both of them; it symbolized something that welcomed people of every background, shape and size. In a time where identity in America has come to be a divisive factor, thesalting needs no boxes to be checked or fit into. These products are also all made in America, an important element for Smaldone and Ward. This decision came from a desire to “support local artists” as well as form close relationships with factories and American artisans for their brand.
In terms of the process, the design part comes most easily for them– not only because of their credentials and past positions, but because both men are so aesthetically aligned. Smaldone and Ward are self-proclaimed “fabric lovers” who gravitate towards the same things. A plaid or a piece of artwork can serve as the initial inspiration, and then a color story emanates from there. Thesalting is not a brand for flash-in-the-pan trends, but rather classic pieces that they will continue to re-color and recreate with the exception of particularly striking concepts from time to time. How do they make the final decisions as to what gets made? Smaldone and Ward say “the most important thing we live by – we both have to want to wear it. It’s a great, natural way to edit.”
The name of the brand Smaldone and Ward decided on originates in a familiar place for both designers – home. They both have houses on Long Island, New York and take inspiration daily from the sun, sand, and salt air around them. They describe their environment as “part of a design ethos [they] both shared [their] entire lives” that culminated in an organic way for them to move forward as designers. Saltings are coastal pieces of land that get flooded with sea water, and when the ocean tide recedes, the land is lightly coated with salt, giving it a slightly worn look. These saltings majorly contributed to the ethos of the brand and plays a key role in almost every step – from their black & white cooking salts, to saline washes on silk, to the salt applications on their wool fedoras.
Thesalting is a brand dedicated to the same tenets of authenticity, love, and compassion that served as its impetus. The “Erase Hate” t-shirt from the brand was created in collaboration with the Matthew Shepard Foundation, an LGBTQ nonprofit organization. Partial proceeds from the sale go towards ending hate and spreading love, core principles for the brand.
After two years, the biggest takeaway for the two designers is that the people around you and the relationships you built with them are essential for a fulfilling life. Describing their start in designing their own line, both men describe the outpour of support at the outset as “humbling and overwhelming”. The endeavor has pushed them to trust themselves, their visions and “just follow what feels right” for them. A lesson that everyone can benefit from, no matter what you look like.