Over the years, many different websites and movements have encouraged you to look for Utah-made products and buy local. But there aren't many places where you can go to an all-local shop, and browse items only made in Utah. This month, a new website was launched called The Salt Miner, focusing on locally-made products that you can buy online, with a catalog of items that is slowly growing. Today we chat with our old friend and founder Matt Monson about the site and what they have to offer. (All pictures provided courtesy of The Salt Miner.
Gavin: Hey Matt! First off, how have things been since we last chatted?
Hey Gavin. Things are good, man. Life's a wild ride sometimes you know, but I keep pursuing the things I'm passionate about and good at, and it's been leading me some very cool places in life.
What projects have you been working on lately?
Well, I'm really hyped on this art show I'm opening up at Library Square and the Main Library Gallery called "Sleeping Giants (and Untold Tales)" on March 4. I thought it was opening in May, so I'm back in the heavy-duty paint and draw mode, which is a really nice meditation, and a welcome break from the hectic pace of other projects I've been working on lately. I plan to introduce several new pieces, all loosely themed along these old legends, tall tales and anecdotes from real life that represent these sort of "sleeping giants," or moments of that significance that I want try to capture.
How has it been for you over the past few years keeping up with what's happening in the local market?
Wow—it's been cool to see Salt Lake City grow over the last 10 years or so, huh? It's almost hard to keep up with these days, but really rewarding when you dig in. I remember seeing those original "Buy Local First" stickers popping up on store windows and car bumpers more than 10 years ago, and pretty quickly jumped in to help push that movement myself in various ways. Back then, it felt like a David and Goliath sort of match-up, the plight of the underdog, and in many ways it still is. But it's been really cool to see the community increasingly "vote local" with their dollars by supporting SLC and Utah artists, makers and businesses. I'm a creative, not an economist, but I suspect there's been a decent cultural shift in the way the average Salt Laker spends their dollars over the last 10 years or so, and much of that is returning to local, independent businesses, artists, and makers. Statistically, by doing so, an average of 400 percent more of your money stays here in our economy. In the long run, it helps our city maintain its authenticity, creates more jobs, spreads money locally and creates a platform for creatives and entrepreneurs to plant roots here and do what they love—meaning a more vibrant social, cultural and economic scene in SLC.
When did the idea come about to start your own website? And why The Salt Miner for the name?
When I opened my first boutique in SLC, model.citizen back in 2006, I sold sweatshop-free clothing and gifts from U.S. artists and local makers. At first, we represented maybe a dozen local artists and designers, but that number quickly grew to 50+ over the next few years. We decided to highlight some of that Salt Lake talent in 2007 and organized the wild-style street events, the SLC Fashion Stroll and threw a dozen of those on East Broadway until I sold the shop in 2010 (then rebranded as SLCitizen at its new location at the Library Square). That was a great run in brick and mortar retail, and event organizing, but it still felt somehow futile and limited in its reach, as people physically had to travel to our shop (if they knew about it), or hit the right events to find their favorite local artists. This was all still a little before the era of practical and affordable online retail for small local shops and artists—but I think the idea, or at least recognizing the need for a better way to connect local talent, started back then.
I then worked for the nonprofit, Local First Utah, as State Coordinator for a little over two years. It was a great experience with a great organization, but I started noticing a gap between nonprofit efforts and the artist world. There were hundreds of makers, startup businesses and artists all around Utah with good things to offer, but very few ways to represent together and sell, outside of seasonal markets—and certainly not an online place to do so. Aside from Local First and other nonprofit groups hype—everyone was doing their best to promote their own arts and goods on their own websites, Etsy pages, social media, etc. But they were doing it all individually, usually without a lot of success—and getting buried on Etsy and the web, and eventually that takes away from doing your craft. I felt local makers needed a collective online marketplace, and a nonprofit's focus isn't to orchestrate that. This was when the idea started clicking—I need to create an online marketplace specifically for Utah makers—almost like a blend of what we were doing at model
.citizen, Fashion Stroll and Local First. Better than just an "Etsy for Utah," I envisioned an online marketplace for Utah makers that's curated, with only the best local things we are stoked to represent and want to use ourselves.
This all evolved into my new project, The Salt Miner. The idea itself is maybe five years old now, and it was late 2015 when I finally decided to push on it with our official launch in October of last year. The Salt Miner is still in its infant phase, but the idea is big. Give us a year, and this Salt Miner concept will start reaching and connecting with a lot of SLC locals. Give us five years and we hope to be a household name with Utah-made enthusiasts across the Wasatch Front and beyond, providing more than just local goods, but also things like services, foods, event tickets, local music album downloads, freelancers and trade. In doing so, we'll also create a viable market for artists and creatives to put their work out there. The name The Salt Miner comes from local pride, the idea of working together for the common good and that notion that you gotta dig in to find the good things in any community. Salt Lake and Utah are abundant with awesome art, fashion, music, culture, jewelry and all kinds of cool stuff, and we're here to help people make that connection quicker—both from the buyer and the artist end of things. We serve as a central hub, a marketplace and the biggest hype machine for local creatives, but in the end, we're just connecting the dots. Oh, and until our SEO improves, I need to be specific that we're at www.TheSaltMiner.com, Google isn't really being too kind to us yet. Ha ha.
How did you go about deciding and approaching people you wanted on the site?
There's a lot of talent in Utah, but a lot of fluff too. We wanted to help curate the best of locally-made, locally-designed goods, and highlight what we think is relevant and worth buying. We have a "record label" mentality to our curation—we're not going to line up with everyone's taste, but we're repping quality-made stuff we stand by, things we use ourselves and can back the artists behind the product. When we cut the clutter, the better stuff shines brighter. It's that simple.
What's the process like for the creators as far as making items for you and receiving payment?
Salt Miner artists/businesses must be locally owned, with 100 percent independent decision-making abilities (no multi-level marketing, franchises, etc). Their products must be designed in Utah. They may be produced elsewhere, though we give preference to made-in-Utah, and screen for company labor ethics. The Salt Miner is both an online presence 365 days a year, and we also do seasonal pop-up events here in SLC. Artists keep 80 percent of their sales online, with monthly payouts, and at the events, typically 100 percent. The Salt Miner is a triple-bottom-line company, meaning that we have three goals in mind: Community, Planet and Profit. Five percent of our profits are donated back to local nonprofits and charities.
One of the cool things about the site is that it isn't focused on any one area of art or craft. Was that by design or did it happen more by accident as you were signing people up?
Absolutely not an accident. It goes back to that curation concept. It's been a mix of us hunting artists down, and some approaching us out of the blue. There's always a filtering process. We want slow, curated, respectable growth. Utah has so much to offer, and art comes in many forms. We want to sell everything from jewelry and clothing to custom-built furniture. That's why I'm more excited than I can express about where The Salt Miner will be in a year or three years from now. We have to build in stages, but in the end, I want The Salt Miner to be dinner-table fodder for conversation, where you're telling Aunt Beatrice where you got your cool new kicks, or local album download, backpack, etc.
Tell us about some of the people you currently have that you're most excited about.
I'll give shouts to some better known local artists and makers already repped on our site, like elizabethjane
Clothing, Isaac Hastings, Annika Quinn Jewelry, Nite and Day Clothing, Brooklyn Line Co., Stephanie Hillman, Jason Jones, and many others. Also, we're stoked to be bringing on Andiz
Shoes, Wired and Stoned Jewelry, Andy Joy Chase, Broken Modern Culture, and many others that we featured at our Solstice market.
If people wish to have their goods sold on the site, how do they go about signing up?
Shoot us an email at TheSaltMinerSLC@gmail.com
with a little about your company, a few pictures, links, etc., and we'll review your app with the team. If we like it, we send you the rundown on Salt Miner and some forms to fill out so we can set your store up for you and you know what to expect. We're always seeking fresh ideas, interesting products, usable quality goods, community builders, interns, volunteers and good local people.
You recently held a launch party at The Clubhouse. How did that go and how was the launch of the site?
For those of you that made it out to our Solstice Market at Clubhouse last month, you got a good feel of why we're so hyped about this Salt Miner thing we got going. We featured 20 curated local artists, entrepreneurs and makers with very little overlap on each other, selling rad
things in this beautiful venue, and the vibe was just right. Intimate, not overwhelming, and a lot of fun. All around the board, they got big sales, lots of love, and both buyers and sellers were having a really great time. We'll definitely be bringing that back again this year. You can also keep your ear to the ground for a late spring/summer pop-up along that same vibe.
What do you hope to achieve with the site when it comes to local products?
We want to make being a local artist, entrepreneur or maker more fun, more connected and more successful. Working together, we can achieve a lot more. We want to represent quality Utah products of all types and curate that into a usable site the buyer will appreciate. The creative scene just needed a central connection, and we're building The Salt Miner into that. In the end, maybe we'll be able to go toe-to-toe with the Goliaths of retail, maybe not. Regardless, we won't please everyone's taste—but there will always be a crowd for quality local goods so long as they're exposed to it, and we all keep making cool things.
What can we expect from you and The Salt Miner over the rest of the year?
If you like our initial lineup on the site right now, just give us a few months as we fill in potentially another couple dozen solid Utah-based artists and startups—we had a handful of new ones that joined us for our SOLSTICE Market at Clubhouse that really blew us away. We've got our eye on the long game and hope to grow the site a lot this year. The Salt Miner is a community—it's not just us hyping the artists, but the artists hyping each other and making SLC and Utah a better, more interesting place to call home. What do you do as an independent maker when the retail world is dominated by mega-chains, product over-selection and shopping malls too expensive for local designers? In the words of Joe Hill, a reluctant but great Utahn, "Don't mourn, organize!"