I want someone to look at me like Megan Papay and Cristina Palomo Nelson look at each other. The two women behind the nationwide footwear obsession that is Frēda Salvador are clearly obsessed with each other —understandable, since, having spent so much time together, the two have become, in their own words, “work wives.”
Frēda Salvador was born in San Francisco in 2012, a brainchild of Papay, who lives in Sausalito, and Palomo Nelson, who resides in Mill Valley and hails from a family with a rich shoe-manufacturing tradition in Central America. They met while working for Anyi Lu, a Sausalito-based company that’s no longer in business. The past year took the two across the country to New York City’s Nolita neighborhood, where the third Frēda Salvador boutique opened in June 2018.
“It was a pretty exciting moment when we had three stores in the three most important cities in the U.S.,” says Papay, referring to Frēda’s existing San Francisco and Los Angeles stores. Chiming in, Palomo Nelson adds, “But in our heads, we’re this tiny San Francisco store. We’ll always and forever be a San Francisco brand, since the community here really helped lift us.”
Perhaps this sentiment has to do with how strongly Frēda Salvador is embedded in the local landscape; “community” is a word that underscores our conversation. San Francisco isn’t a city spoiled with dozens of homegrown cool-girl brands, so when the masculine, texturized Frēda loafers and oxfords emerged on the scene, “the local bloggers and influencers really embraced us,” recalls Palomo Nelson. They’ve built lasting relationships with local powerhouses like Katie Hintz-Zambrano, the woman behind Mother Magazine and the In Good Company conference, and Angela Tafoya, now editor at Lonny.com, and have since created a network of “Frēda girls” who are heavily featured on the brand’s blog and Instagram (@Frēdasalvador). Their collaborations with initiatives such as West Coast Craft, the artisan show that boasts a Frēda trailer parked by the entrance, also helped to cement the duo’s local footprint.
“It’s so exciting now that #womensupportwomen is a thing,” says Papay, remembering how “back then it was competitive. You didn’t help a girl out — and now it’s all about, ‘How can we help each other?’”
Most recently, the two launched a new series of women’s profiles called Meet My Friend, in which each Frēda girl introduces Papay and Palomo Nelson to the next stylish woman to be featured on the blog. That way, Papay notes,“we’re growing the community without having to be selective.”
Amid the network of connections around them, Papay and Palomo Nelson are the original friends — you could also call them sisters. (Their husbands and children also engage in mutual admiration.) “We had great design synergy from the beginning,” Papay says. “Look how different we look, but people ask us all the time if we’re sisters! … She’s younger, but she’s by far the more mature one. She’s the responsible, grounded decision-maker.” Palomo Nelson hurries to payback the compliment: “Megan is the most creative marketing genius. She goes big.”
So does the brand, gradually growing each year. Coming soon: A pop-up space in Austin that will test the water for a permanent store.“It’s a really fun market, and our client is definitely there,” Papay observes of the Texas hipster hot spot. New styles, like sandals, espadrilles and sneakers, are in the works, veering off the brand’s dressier oxford aesthetic into more feminine and casual territories. (Wonders Papay: “Espadrilles are Spanish, we’re manufacturing in Spain, so why haven’t we made them before?”) There’s even talk about an “occasion” shoe, guaranteed to spark interest among the stylish brides out there.
The sister-partners’ strong bond sustains Frēda Salvador and its exciting expansion. Recently, they took a road trip to JoshuaTree to participate in Desert and Denim, an annual makers gathering, and spent hours talking and reflecting. “Especially now, when things are so busy, it’s so important to have this time together and get back to talking about the next big community idea, about the life of Frēda,” Papay muses. Frēda Salvador, on a first-name basis with fans, is not just a chic shoe brand; it’s an aesthetic. And that’s all credit to the women founders who couldn’t imagine their lives without it.