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FR?DA SALVADOR Designers On Shoes and 'Just Going For It'

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Images via FR?DA SALVADOR unless otherwise credited.

In two years, fledgling shoe designers Megan Papay and Cristina Palomo have gone from dreaming of their own shoe line to seeing their brand, FR?DA SALVADOR, stocked in retailers like Saks, Harvey Nichols, Shopbop and Edition 01 and helming a namesake boutique in San Francisco's Cow Hollow neighborhood. Just how the hell did they pull that off? Racked spoke to the duo after their Young Guns semi-finalist status went live to learn more about Papay and Palomo's journey.

How did you two meet and how did the idea for the line come about?
Megan: "We met at another footwear company based in the Bay Area. I was there for about four years and then Cristina joined and we worked together for about a year on the design team. We had a really great design synergy and Cristina comes from a shoe-making family so it was always her path that she would start her own brand. Once we started working together we took a leap of faith and decided to go out on our own."

Cristina, your family is from El Salvador—how long have they been in the business of shoes?
Cristina: "It's actually this week that we're celebrating the 60th anniversary of the factory my grandfather started. We've been manufacturing shoes for 60 years and along the way we've had different ventures with licensing, franchising and opening retail stores within Central America.

We've manufactured for Cole Haan, we've done a little for Prada, L.L.Bean and G.H. Bass, [which] is probably one of our largest companies that we still manufacture for. We're really focused on men's footwear, that's where our expertise and knowledge lies."

What's it like working in fashion in San Francisco? Are there challenges to being located on the West Coast?
Megan: "We travel so much to New York and Europe—we are gone once a month to pretty amazingly stylish places—so it's a great work balance. I think we don't feel the competitive nature that we would maybe in New York."

Do you remember the moment that you realized that FR?DA SALVADOR was really becoming a success?
Cristina: "Right now?"
Megan: "I feel like every day is such a high for us. We just got the email with the link for the Racked Young Guns Semi-Finalists and we've been smiling all morning. We never know what's going to happen each day. It makes us work even harder and get more excited and it's been an awesome ride so far."

You already have a store too, right?
Megan: "We do, we opened a store on Union Street in February."

It seems like you've accomplished quite a bit. The line is selling at some big retailers now and you have your own store—how has the process been? What are the challenges you've faced?
Megan: "The biggest challenges we've faced are internal as far as production. Being such a small company right now, finding the right production facility is oftentimes the biggest challenge. We've been super-lucky because of Cristina's family connections—so we're in really good places—but some things are out of control. For instance, we started producing our first collection in Brazil and that factory went out of business. Then we were looking into a factory in Guatemala and that factory went out of business. And finally we went to Cristina's family factory in El Salvador and now we're in Spain which is definitely our [current] home for production. Things that are out of our control are the biggest challenges. But that will never bring us down or hinder us. We're so motivated to succeed."

What's your next step?
Megan: "We definitely want a broader range of retailers, to grow our volume and to just become more well-known for ladies contemporary shoes. Eventually, maybe a men's line. People ask us all the time. Small leather goods.
Cristina: "We're really focused on growing distribution right now."

How would you advise someone who is just starting out in footwear design and wants to go into this business?
Cristina: "Make sure you really have the passion and the love for it because there are so many factors, like Megan was saying, that are out of your control. Especially with shoes, [there's] production, and the tanneries and [other] things that you really need to trust and make sure that it's all adding up at the end of the day. I can't tell you how many times we've had to search for alternatives in the blink of an eye and throw away that idea that we were so in love with and just move forward and just keep our heads up."
Megan: "If you don't have the absolute passion for it I think it would sink you because at the end of the day, as much as we love every day, every day is also such a challenge. But for us, we'll welcome every challenge because we love it.

Cristina: "We've been very fortunate."
Megan: "We are just literally going for it. We were looking for a temporary pop-up store and we found this space and it was just perfect. We were like, guess we're opening a store! We couldn't turn this opportunity down. So that's kind of how we're rolling right now. We have ideas, we research them, then we go for it."
· FR?DA SALVADOR [Official Site]
· Meet the 50 Racked Young Guns Semi-Finalists for 2013 [Racked]
· Meet the Official Racked Young Guns Selection Committee [Racked]