If you don’t know the story behind Megan Papay and Cristina (Cris) Palomo-Nelson, let us give you the run down. These two incredible women are the heart and soul of freda salvador, a footwear company designed in California and handcrafted in Spain. Not only is their story inspiring, their company ethos is rooted in inclusivity and encouragement, which couldn’t be any cooler. They’ve learned a lot along the way on how to become entrepreneurs and build a thriving business (while also being moms!!), but the one thing that can’t be taught is having passion for what they do. Megan and Cris motivate one another, and it’s obvious they are each other’s biggest supporters. We’re honored to feature these ladies, especially on International Women’s Day for so many reasons.
Last but certainly not least, FREDA SALVADOR is popping up their adorable trailer Diego today, filled with all the beautiful shoes over at Shoppe Amber Interiors in the Pacific Palisades from 10am – 2pm. Come meet the ladies in person, and get yourselves a pair of their chic shoes. They are pure quality, and you’ll never look back.
First things first, we are obsessed with Freda Salvador and everything the brand stands for. The two of you have created an incredible company, built on the foundation of inclusivity and encouragement. Why is this idea at the core of your company’s ethos?
We feel like it is a combination of two things. First, before FREDA was a brand and we were just brainstorming/day dreaming of who the FREDA Girl was, it was really hard for us to put her in a box. She isn’t a certain type, she isn’t a certain age, she doesn’t look a certain way. She is smart, strong, confident, no-nonsense, driven, and original. She has a passion for travel, adventure, and discovery and is kind and supportive. So, in the process of defining our girl we in-hand defined the heart and soul of our band; inclusivity and encouragement. Our girl’s common thread is her (insanely cool and unique and perfect) inner self. Second, touching more on ‘encouragement,’ there are two of us, so being a good partner to each other is everything. We lean on each other in the best and worst of times. There is an immeasurable amount of security in that. We encourage each other, which translates to encouraging our team, which translates to encouraging our community at large.
Cris: My family has been making shoes for almost 70 years now. My grandfather started a footwear manufacturing business in El Salvador originally to provide good work boots to the local market. His business grew and now we manufacture and export all categories of shoes all over the world. In his travels, he met a young designer from Spain that he took under his wing as a mentor. Fast forward 30 years, this man is now our manufacturer in Spain. He has always been part of my family and now he’s such an important part of our FREDA family. Our factory in Spain is run by two brothers and a handful of other workers under his management. They hand cut and sew every shoe and are so proud of their craft. It’s 100% a family affair.
Taking a step back, tell us about your journey as entrepreneurs. How did the two of you join forces to build Freda Salvador?
Megan: I had a varied background in the fashion industry; I worked for Calvin Klein in the late 90’s in his celebrity styling department, I was an account exec at a fashion PR firm, I started a line of accessories called Megan James and then after I got married I moved from the East Coast to San Francisco, where I had to kind of start over. I met a shoe designer and worked for her for 4 years. This is where I met Cris! We worked together on the design team for one year before we started FREDA.
Cris: Because of my family business, I have always known I wanted to have my own line of shoes. After I got my undergraduate degree, I went on to get my Masters for Fashion Merchandising. Also during that time, I moved to Milan and attended Ars Suturia, a technical design school for footwear. After I graduated from my masters program I was taking interviews and met Megan. I took the job at the company she was working with and we were on the design team for one year there before we left to start FREDA.
What have been some of the biggest challenges or set backs in taking Freda Salvador off the ground?
Our biggest challenges have been growing into our respective roles as the company grows. Neither of us have a strong business background therefore, everything is unchartered waters. As our business grows and becomes more complex it has pushed us to grow into roles we don’t necessarily have formal training in. This is a challenge because as much as we love the personal growth aspect, we make mistakes (which we know is normal! We say it all the time “hindsight is 20/20”). We have overcome this challenge by leading with gut instinct and passion. We are creative and are so passionate about the product and the brand so we will work tirelessly to get things done. Having grit, scrap, passion, and a strong work ethic typically overcomes most challenges.
Freda Salvador is based in Sausalito, California. How does this inspire your designs?
Sausalito and Mill Valley (they are next to each other) are our homes. It’s where we walk to the park, the market, our favorite restaurant. Both towns are pretty funky and foster self expression and style. FREDA’s office is in a Marina. It used to be a shipyard, so it’s very industrial, but super cool. I would say it inspires us, simply because our daily life is spent in a very laid back and creative place. Sausalito also has an incredible music history that you can still feel; Grateful Dead, Bob Marley, Fleetwood Mac all recorded albums here at The Plant. You can always find a good band playing at the No Name or Cruising Club. There’s just a cool vibe here. Hard to put your finger on it!
Where else do you find inspiration?
What advice would you give to someone who wants to start their own business?
Have passion for it. You need to be head-over-heels in love with the product (or service you are offering). Starting a business means you have to make a TON of sacrifices; it is never 9-5. You work all of the time or at least your company is in your head all of time. Cris and I are both moms so we do our best to be available and present at home and at work, but we are making significant sacrifices. We don’t get to spend as much time with our kids as we’d like to. We make the best of our time together and we are so proud of the company we have built. We LOVE that they see us building a brand and living our passion, but if we did not love FREDA as much as we do, I can see how people would resent their business and not want to fight as hard to succeed. To make the sacrifices necessary to succeed. I will say, FREDA does not feel like work to us. There is nothing we’d rather be doing and we love coming to work everyday.
What’s some of the best career-related advice you’ve ever received?
Two things have stuck out; “The harder you work, the luckier you get” (advice from Cristina’s dad)
“You can let people water your tree, but don’t let people move your tree.” (advice from Everlane founder, Michael Preysman)
What’s next for Freda Salvador?
We are expanding our category assortment in footwear; sneakers, espadrilles, and more dressy shoes are coming soon (like something you’d wear to a wedding or party.) We are filling the voids in our closet of shoes we need in our lives! Then, we are in the beginning stages of developing handbags, which is sooo fun.
We are obviously thrilled to have Diego at our Shoppe today! Tell us about Diego. How’d you find him, what color did you paint him, how many miles? The fun stuff :)
We bought Diego off of Ebay pretty early on in our business! It was a very slaphappy Friday afternoon and we probably should have just put our computers away and gone home, but we started talking about how cool it would be to have a shoe trailer to take FREDA on the road and expand our community outside of SF. We bought him sight unseen and had him shipped from Washington State to Sausalito. His name was originally Coral and he was coral pink and turquoise with floral drapes; adorable, but not on brand. He sat in a marina for about 2 years because at that time it was only the 2 of us in the company. Our dream of life on the road was crushed by our daily to-do’s to keep the company alive. Once we grew large enough to hire some staff we took Diego to the auto shop and completely gutted him and painted him black. We cut a window in the side, so people could see in and then our local handy man fit out the inside. We put in hard wood floors, built shelves, etc. Diego (Frida’s love) is one of our favorite things about FREDA. It all goes back to our original dream to bring FREDA to new places and create cool experiences for new people; building our community.