How This Founder Is Becoming The Modern Martha Stewart
Sarah Ashley Schiear is the founder and CEO of Salt House, a lifestyle brand and online shop celebrating creativity and mindful living.
With Salt House, Schiear is on a mission to help people find more fulfillment through creative pursuits like cooking, home decorating, and art practices of all kinds.
A TV culinary competition winner for The Taste, a professional chef and entertaining host, an apron maker and now CEO of Salt House, Schiear’s personal and entrepreneurial experience is at the core of the Salt House brand philosophy: trusting your journey as a creative expression and evolution of self.
Schiear developed and launched the Salt House apron line in 2014, the shop in 2016, has collaborated with such brands as West Elm and Havenly and, most recently, has invited her 25K+ community into her home with the Salt House YouTube channel, where Schiear hosts weekly episodes with home entertaining, decorating, crafting and cooking projects, much like the feel of a modern Martha Stewart episode.
Schiear shares how she’s approaching the “lifestyle” space differently, why creativity is at the center of her brand’s mission, the hardest part of building Salt House so far, and more.
Below is a condensed version of our conversation.
You’ve gone from TV culinary competition celeb, chef/host, apron maker and are now CEO of Salt House--how has this journey been for you?
It’s been an evolution. It started out in cooking and more specifically entertaining, which led me to develop a love and appreciation for home decorating. Later, when I started painting, I realized that all of these activities were more about creativity and self-expression than anything else. Creativity has brought so much joy and fulfillment into my life, and my mission is to share that with others so that they can experience it for themselves.
How did you come up with the idea for Salt House?
Salt House started with an apron. When I was working as a chef and caterer, I wanted an apron that better fit my style. When I couldn’t find one, I decided to create it. I ended up having fun with it and designing a few different styles. The apron represented, in my mind, something of a superpower cape, an article of clothing that could make you feel confident in the kitchen and actually excited to cook. I believe that the objects we live with have a tremendous impact on the way we feel, and the apron was a perfect example of that.
The apron was the beginning of a vision to create a lifestyle brand that would inspire our generation to get creative in the kitchen and home. I then went on to build out our commerce offering, carrying products from brands that I used in my own home and daily living. Today, we’re still carrying many of those products, while our content and messaging continues to expand to include creative pursuits of all kinds.
How are you approaching things differently in the space?
“Lifestyle” has been done before. There’s no shortage of brands/publications/personalities offering recipes and home decorating advice. At Salt House, our intentions are to take it a step further. To go deeper. Why is it that we want to cook, or create a beautiful home? Why should we try painting, knitting, or doodling? Because all of these things help us connect to ourselves. They bring us joy. They make life more fulfilling.
We’re communicating the “why” of creativity through our content. Instead of sharing a home decor idea as a projection of an aspiration, we’re focusing on the message that the way we design our home impacts the way we feel. We’re then weaving in topics like self-love and meditation, illustrating the relationship between mindfulness and our ability to be creative––to cook, or to design, to draw, or to paint. Mindfulness increases self-connection, and the more tuned in and connected with ourselves we are, the more we can tap into our creativity.
Next year, we’ll be launching digital courses that will offer more hands-on instruction for creative pursuits of all kinds. That is something I’m very excited about, as I feel we have a huge opportunity to make an impact.
Why is creativity important?
Some people don’t believe they are creative, and that’s simply not true. Creativity is in our DNA. It’s often our inner critic that prevents us from exploring these creative practices that hold the potential to add so much value to our lives. Our inner critic may tell us we won’t be good at something, or that we are too busy to give it a try, because it’s more comfortable to stay where we are. If we choose to watch television or surf the web rather than pick up a sketchpad or try a new recipe, we’re “safe” in a sense because we can’t fail or underperform.
I also believe that the more consumed we become with technology, the more we encounter a deep need to use our creativity. We’re just not designed to consume as much as we do, and it is only natural to balance this out through the act of creating.
Lastly, creativity is healing and therapeutic. We all have our own traumas and struggles that hold us back in life. Some of the most difficult, scarring experiences I’ve been through were catalysts in my own self-growth, forcing me to discover and practice mindfulness techniques like meditation as well as self-love and acceptance.
It’s my dream to help people see that creativity can become a part of our daily lives, much like exercise or eating well. I feel it’s just as important to our overall well-being. That’s one reason why we focus on the “everyday” ways we can find creativity––through activities we’re already doing in our daily lives, like cooking.
What’s encouraging is that each week I’m hearing about another hedge fund manager who’s taking creative writing classes, or a friend who’s recently picked up woodworking. Whenever I meet someone new, I ask them if they have a creative hobby. It’s a great way to break the ice or get to know someone on a deeper level when networking.
What’s been the hardest part of building the Salt House brand?
Doing it alone. There are at least two books (Traction and Rocket Fuel) discussing this idea that there are two vital roles in the leadership of any successful company: the Visionary and the Integrator. The Visionary is the idea person, the big-picture thinker––many founding entrepreneurs tend to fall here. The Integrator is the executor, the person who can develop the systems and structure to make the Visionary’s ideas come to life.
I definitely fall into the Visionary category, and I’ve looked for my “other half” in a partner off-and-on throughout the course of my business. It’s not easy. I’ve met many talented candidates but the fit has to be right––it truly is like a marriage. For now, I have my head down doing the work and building the brand and I do believe that eventually, the right partner will show up.
What has been fundamental to Salt House’s growth so far?
Relationships have been key to our growth. My personal relationships with influencers helped grow the brand early on, along with the support of several key brand partnerships. For example, I partnered with home brands including West Elm and Havenly to design and furnish my last apartment in Williamsburg which served as a springboard to develop our commerce offering as well as significant media coverage.
What keeps you up at night as you continue to build the brand?
Thinking about how we can best serve our users/customers. I’m obsessed with thinking about how we can encourage people to take action on what may be just the seed of a creative desire. How can we inspire them to physically pick up a paintbrush or take even a baby step toward creating their dream home? How can we get them to actually cook one of the 100’s of dishes that lie untouched on their Pinterest boards?
How have you grown personally since starting your entrepreneurial journey?
Building a brand from the ground up forces personal growth upon you unlike anything else. My biggest hurdle has been releasing my tendencies toward perfectionism. As an entrepreneur you must get over that quickly or you’ll sink. You need to be able to get an MVP out there––to test, to iterate. I’m also learning to be okay with not being in control, and not always knowing the outcome.