In the coming years, Mr. Stillwell added, Delta Apparel plans to open as many as 20 new Salt Life stores across the country, in Georgia, Texas, California and other states.
A Brand Grows in Florida
The store in Long Branch, like Salt Life’s other stores (most of which are in Florida), is designed to evoke the brand’s leisurely, sunbaked aesthetic. Stacks of neatly folded shirts are arranged on surfboards, and coconut-shaped candles are displayed inside a fishing cooler. Tank tops that read “Salt Life Reel Escape” hang on a rack propped up by harpoon guns.
David Pachanian, 65, from Marlboro, N.J., bought a black sweatshirt that he put on just after leaving the store. “It feels good for the beach,” said Mr. Pachanian, a manager at a catering company.
Along with Salt Life’s growth there have been dark periods, too. In February, about a decade after Delta Apparel paid $37 million to acquire the brand from its original owners in 2013, one of Salt Life’s former owners, Michael Hutto, pleaded guilty to manslaughter after shooting and killing his girlfriend in October 2020.
Later that October, Delta Apparel issued a statement that read, in part: “Salt Life sends their utmost sympathies to the family and friends of the deceased.” The statement also said that Mr. Hutto had not been involved with the brand since its acquisition. (Mr. Hutto, after pleading guilty, was sentenced to 12 years in prison.)
Jason Motes, 51, a professional surfer and surf coach in Jacksonville, became an ambassador for Salt Life soon after it was founded in 2003. He said that the brand has come a long way since its early days, when Mr. Hutto, his childhood friend, would pass out T-shirts at parties.