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How Freda Salvador Shoes Come to Life

Go inside the Sausalito studio where it all happens

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Freda Salvador shoes come across as effortless. They're cool. They're comfortable. Throwing on a pair of Fredas turns an otherwise ordinary outfit into a look. But, despite the easy feel of San Francisco's favorite footwear brand, the process of bringing a pair of shoes from concept to customer takes about nine months.

Local fans have been visiting the brand's San Francisco concept store and bumping into designers Cristina Palomo-Nelson and Megan Papay —collectively known as "the Freda girls"— since 2013, but the shoe-making magic actually starts across the Golden Gate Bridge in Sausalito.

On a warm spring afternoon, sunshine pours into Freda Salvador design studio, a cozy space with high ceilings in a modest building on the waterfront. When we stop by, Megan and Cristina are working with Assistant Designer Hillary Grigsby, Brand Assistant Mikaela Rascano, and Operations Manager Theresa Luke to finalize the resort collection.

Freda Salvador

For Cristina and Megan, design begins with a "hot mess" of ideas and lots of Pinterest boards. They draw inspiration from menswear, home design, and ready-to-wear, but they don't make final decisions on which ideas will be produced until they see which leathers are available during their semi-annual trip to the Lineapelle leather show. "That's really where the concepts come to life," Cristina explains. "It's basically what we're being offered from tanneries. The colors, prints, accessories, heel shapes, toe shapes—all of that solidifies the direction that we're going to go in."

Freda Salvador boots

Though their factory would prefer that the ladies submit their designs before Lineapelle, Cristina and Megan maintain that it's important for them to see which colors and textures are available first. "If it's really bright, we're not going to put bright colors on a whole boot," Cristina reasons. "That's more of a strappy sandal; it does go hand in hand."

Once the pair makes their textile selections, they return to silhouettes and trends, deciding which constructions they want to move forward with from past seasons and which ones to introduce. Typically, only half of their ideas make it all the way through the design process. "From the starting point that we have designed and have prototyped, it's 60–70 styles," Megan tells Racked.

Megan Papay

"From there, when we actually sample into colorways, it's probably 50–55 [designs]. Then we cut from there to show at market: that's probably down to 40. What makes it [from market] to the shelves is probably 30 [styles]."

Even when the design field is narrowed down to those 30 styles, some may never see the inside of a store. If buyers don't place orders for a particular style or color, Megan and Cristina have to decide if they want to order it for their concept store. Though retailers have a tendency to play it safe and order neutral colors, a bright color can be a bestseller at the Freda boutique.

For the Freda girls, the constant challenge in design is making something that is both special and wearable. "We want to get repeat customers," Megan tells us. "We want our girls to buy the first pair and decide, 'I'm hooked.'" So far, the pair's strategy of merging both designers' styles into a single shoe is working.

"We'll look at a shoe with two very different personal styles and combine that into our perfect shoe that's unique and reads as understandable to anyone out there, but still really different, Megan explains. "Cris is more tailored, urban, and I'm definitely more baggy, beachy. To get two points of view is really helpful."

Freda salvador studio overhead

The shoes also have to be comfortable," Cristina adds. "We also have zero pain tolerance. We are on our feet all day, walking everywhere."

But more than boy meets boho, more than comfort, the Freda designers want to know that they have created something memorable in each shoe. "I feel like we're very tough on ourselves all the way through," Cristina confesses. "We're always asking, 'Is it special enough?'... Whenever we put something through, we make sure that the answer to that question is "yes." There's nothing else out there like it."

freda salvador mood board

Freda Salvador boards