If there is a defacto downtown uniform in New York City and Brooklyn these days it most certainly includes Salt, the accessory de-rigeur. Salt was started by two best friends who were looking to create a handbag strap that stood out in the marketplace. Instead of settling for blah neutrals and common monotone shades ,Kacy Lubell and Marla Toplitzsky decided to inject color and verve into their straps by having them handwoven in electric shades of pink, orange, blue, purple, yellow…etc. to create a standout accessory that makes the most basic of bags pop. The friendship bracelet-style of weaving is both nostalgic and fresh at the same time which speaks to their universal appeal and wild popularity. And the best part about Salt is that the straps are helping people rediscover and re-wear bags from their closet that they have perhaps since forgotten, creating a sustainable accessory solution.
Melissa: Let’s start from the beginning, I know that Salt was partially born out of a love for the friendship bracelets of your childhood and the convenience of a cross body bag, but what made you take the leap to start designing and manufacturing them for real?
Kacy: Well, Marla and I have been friends forever. We share all of our thoughts all day long. So we’re constantly calling each other with different ideas and inspiration. We love to shop. We’ve always been looking for certain pieces that we couldn’t find, like the perfect pair of jeans or the perfect chambray shirt. Why can’t I get a bag that’s cute and have it also be cross body and comfortable? We were always having these conversations, as most friends do.
Marla: There was just a need for a really comfortable cross body strap that was cool looking. This trend started with detachable straps. I also had this beautiful artisan made Wayuu Mochila bag that had a strap just like this except it was attached to a pouch. I didn’t feel like it was something I could wear more than to the playground, a concert, or something like that.
Kacy: So, Marla and I just started talking about how amazing it would be to have that strap on our structured purses at home that we could carry around. And Marla said, “Well, let’s just do it.”
Marla: Yes, as Kacy said, she just called me and she said, “Well, if we’re going to do it, this is what we need to do to make it happen. I said, “If we’re going to do this, let’s do it fast.” Kacy told me to sleep on it and so I did. Then the next day, I called her and said, “I really think you should do this”. Kacy said, “No, no, no…I am only doing it if we do it together.“
Kacy: Marla has been on the business side of fashion for many years. I was home with my kids for a really long time. I had a stationery company, and always did creative things on my own. So, Marla was just about to leave her last consulting job when this idea happened.
Melissa: Salt is basically the defacto accessory addition to every downtown and Brooklyn woman’s daily uniform, how does it feel to have created such a zeitgeist-y look?
Kacy: We were luckily featured in the New York Times. The article was about a new mom uniform in New York consisting of the Salt strap, No. 6 clogs, and denim. We were so surprised like, “Oh, my god you nailed us!”. The rest is really history.
Marla: Then there are those moments where my daughter says, “Oh, I had to share at school and I said ‘I have blue eyes, blonde hair, and my mom started a company.” And I’m like, “Wow.”
Kacy: Our kids will say “Mom, strap sighting. Strap sighting. She’s wearing the Bowie Strap,” or whatever.” We get a text every couple of hours from someone who knows us, or someone’s friend who knows us, or a friend’s friend or a picture of somebody walking down the street with a Salt strap on, all over the world.
Marla: People come up to me because I am wearing a strap and the woman ask, “Is that a Salt Strap?”. Either she has one or she wants one, and it’s become this sort of really nice universal sign of something. I don’t know but I love it.
Melissa: Did the notion of making the most of what you already have in your closet come into play when conceiving of Salt? Was there a thread of reuse / recycle in there somewhere?
Kacy: Yes, I mean, I think the concept of a detachable strap is so that you can use it on so many different bags like your camera bag, travel bag, computer bag, work bag or your small purse or a big bag. We just developed a shorter strap so you could carry a much bigger bag. That opens up a whole other section of our closet that we haven’t been able to reinvigorate because those bags were too big and they hung too low. But now we’re even with this new strap.
Marla: We hear a lot from people that say, “Oh, I’ve been looking for the right strap”, or “My strap is so uncomfortable” or, “I didn’t realize how uncomfortable it was…”. I had a friend who called me to tell me that her back feels better with our strap. Those are the things we never market or talk about, but it’s, especially important in New York because everyone’s on foot. So if we can make it a little bit more comfortable then great!
Melissa: Salt Straps definitely look great and compliment a dressed down, earthy, boho look, does this style of dress come into your design thinking, or is it more organic?
Marla: I think we’re just trying to have it be something for everyone at this point, and we really listen to our customers. People tell us what they want, what they’re craving, and people are not shy about sharing what they like with us. So, we really do try and… I mean, for example, when we launched, we launched with six straps. We did not have a black and white option. They were all very colorful. We very quickly realized, before anyone even asked, we said, ‘maybe we should just throw in a black and white version.’ Even though it wasn’t on our radar immediately, it took off. The black and white strap is so popular, even right now it’s on pre-order because we actually can’t keep it in stock. Everyone wants this one strap with black leather. It’s very, very classic. We also launched with the brass hardware and quickly people were asking for silver hardware so we are working on a smaller silver drop. But, what we find is that once they try the brass hardware with the silver, its fine. It’s all about going out of your comfort zone.
Kacy: We love mixing metals. I think it’s pretty chic, actually. But, again, if you’re shopping for this online you may think, ‘oh it has brass hardware, it’s not going to work with the silver hardware on my bag.’ Then when you are in person clipping the strap to your bag, you suddenly realize, this is amazing! Also, we have a lot of customers who get the black and white strap, fall in love with it, and then buy three more straps that are neon!
Melissa: Was there one strap that you were surprised did better than another one? What was your top seller initially when you started and was that surprising?
Kacy: It was neck and neck in the beginning.
Marla: The Duke and the Annabelle were both, the best sellers right away. One of the color ways was blue and white while the other had pops of pink and green. Even though they are not your typical black and white, we still think of them as fairly neutral straps compared to some of the others. We actually haven’t had anything that did not perform. Some slower sellers than others but that was probably time of year. They are super bright!
Melissa: Do you style yours a little bit differently than she styles hers or are you guys pretty similar?
Marla: We style them a little bit differently—but I think I tend to carry a bigger bag.
Kacy: I do like a small bag and then I carry another bag to toss in all of my extra stuff. But now that we have the short strap, I won’t be doing that as much. I am excited about the different lengths!
Melissa: Do you feel like these will be sentimental pieces that you pass down to your kids? Do you see them becoming more vintage as time moves on or it’s more of, maybe it’s just a great trend right now and who knows what’s going to happen?
Kacy: It’s more of a swap with groups of girlfriends.
Marla: Yes, we’ve seen a lot of people swap them. One friend buys one and then another friend buys another and now they swap which we LOVE!
Melissa: Tell me about some of the collaborations you have done.
Marla: Lauren Bush from, Feed, came to us before the New York Times article hit which was a really nice moment for us. We had zero press at that point and to be on her radar felt really great. We love the charity aspect of this specific collaboration and are starting to do more. We recently launched the orange strap for gun reform legislation as well as a strap for Pride. Those were not collaborations but a way to support what is happening at that moment.
Melissa: What are some of your favorite particulars to wear? What are your daily uniforms?
Kacy: We’re denim girls. Its such a great everyday look. Or a white top/tee and denim. It feels the most comfortable.
Marla: We wear a lot of denim like head to toe! Or I like a grey t-shirt and denim too then add clogs or sneakers…done!
Melissa: What’s next in terms of product development? What’s on the horizon?
Kacy: The Theo strap is our newest strap. It has a tubular handle strap. We haven’t really come up with a catchy name for it yet. We have the Classic, Skinny, Shorty, and now we’re working on Theo’s name.
Marla: We are also working on a lot of additional detailing for the straps. Monogramming, shearling possibly, studs, hardware, leather. There are so many possibilities.
Melissa: Has there been one super surprising moment that you thought, “Wow, I can’t believe this happened”, and then what was your worst moment that you’re like, “Oh God, why did I do this?”
Kacy: I think the best moments are the drops. After the Times article, we would do pre-order drops or drop only a certain number of straps. The drops would be over a thousand straps. Then we would wait.
Marla: And they would sell out in minutes! That was really satisfying.
Kacy: We thought something was wrong with our website. We kept hitting refresh, refresh.
Marla: We thought our computers were broken. It was an exciting moment and we were able to share it with our husbands and a bottle of champagne!
Kacy: Rather than our worst moments, its been more of a learning curve. We ran out of buckles. It took time to work out our production with Colombia and the communication with them too. It’s so important to us to take care of our artisans.
Marla: All the straps are made by hand. There are mistakes. It’s not perfect. It rains and part of their tradition to weave the straps outside. These experiences were all things we learned. We are in a such a better position today than when we started.
Kacy: We are headed there in November so we are really excited.
Marla: And that’s a moment where we’re like, “How lucky are we?”