Welcome to “I Want Your Job,” Elite Daily’s new series that inspires females to go after their professional and personal dreams. We’ve teamed up with the most inspiring Millennial women who’ve made a name for themselves doing everything from tech design to owning a restaurant to bring you a taste of what being a Boss Lady in every industry really looks like.
These women never gave up on their dreams, never let a man tell them “no” and aren’t backing down for anybody. If you want her job, here’s how to get it.
In an industry as overcrowded as the fashion realm, it’s hard to imagine making it big on your own, let alone with a friend. But the team at FRĒDA SALVADOR tells a very different story: Its success is rooted in the tag-team effort put forth by its owners, Megan Papay and Cristina Palomo-Nelson.
Cristina and Megan are every ounce as Cali-chic as you’d picture the luxe shoe designers to be. Inside their modern and minimalistic Sausalito-based HQ and design studio, the vibe is laidback, airy and casual. And while it feels like we’ve up and landed in menswear shoe heaven, the FRĒDA team plays it totally cool.
One of the most lovable parts of the pair’s story is that everything – from design, to production, to wholesale, to ecommerce – feels like a true small business. The women use a shoemaking factory in Spain, run by a family, to produce their high-end kicks.
In an age when you can export your designs to a swanky, five-story corporation that knows as little about its employees as it does your brand’s story, the intimate attention-to-detail that FRĒDA pays to its story as a whole is refreshingly charming.
What first drew us to FRĒDA SALVADOR’s HQ was the story behind the brand. Cristina’s grandfather was a shoemaker in El Salvador nearly 60 years ago. While Cristina wasn’t even part of the picture yet, the bricks had already been artfully laid out before her.
“I grew up in a shoemaking family,” she tells us. “I spent hours with my dad in the factory as a child, so shoes are in my blood. I went to business school to get a good foundation and then a footwear technical design school in Italy.”
Cristina’s footwear beginnings are sprinkled with family anecdotes, but the idea of creating something you could wear was what she’d always wanted to do. “I’ve always known this is what I’d be doing,” she says matter-of-factly, as if nothing else could come close to being true. (One peek at the upcoming line and we’re glad that her path didn’t ever waver.)
Megan, the final piece to the FRĒDA puzzle, got her start as a stylist on the Calvin Klein team before moving west to pursue footwear. Much like her partner, she always had fashion at the heart of her dreams.
“I’ve always loved design, art and creating things. As a kid and young adult, I was definitely opinionated about what I wore. It was important to me. Not in the ‘I want the Benetton Rugby shirt everyone else has’ way, but I felt it important to express myself through clothing and style.
“It was how I told my story. Working in fashion as a career only seemed natural. Even on the toughest day, I still love what I do,” she tells us.
Creating something beautiful is in the DNA of FRĒDA’s chic story. Returning from a trip to their factory in Spain, Megan takes us through a typical day at the design studio. Though it’s still a small team, it’s nimble and fast.
Much like the father-son team who creates the company’s shoes, operations at FRĒDA are run like a family, with people chipping in when and where they can.
“Some days are creative – whether it be designing or marketing ideas – and other days are purely business-focused. As our business continues to grow, we all chip in wherever needed.”
Today, they’re going over their upcoming shoe line: sprightly shades of blues and pinks juxtaposed by metals, leathers and studs. As they review notes Megan took while overseas, we cut right through to the tough stuff.
It feels like nearly everyone is diving headfirst into the fashion realm – and they are. And in such a congested industry, what do they have to say for young Millennials who want to dabble in the very thing Megan and Cristina are?
“Do it! It’s hard as sh*t, but if it is what you are passionate about, it won’t feel like work.” Simple, straightforward and unfiltered advice. It’s the type of advice you hope to hear, but rarely do.
“You have to be an extremely hard working, dedicated, resilient, passionate person to do what we do,” the women tell us. Because fashion is an industry dominated by smart, talented and kickass women, there isn’t an overwhelming pressure to be something or someone other than who you are.
Just because you are the demo doesn’t mean you’re automatically respected, though.
Megan says that the divide between women and men doesn’t really apply to them: They’re focused on the shoes, and in order to be respected, well… “We have to be strong and fair… and good at what we do.” But they do value the fact that they are their own consumers:
They’re making women’s shoes, so they know what works for their consumer – and they’re committed to giving them just that.
Both women are so in tune with each other that it makes us wonder what it’s really like to run a business together – even more so because they run a fashion business. Fashion, though it appeals to the masses, is such a personal journey.
What you like doesn’t always measure up to what someone else does. But the opposite is true for the Megan and Cristina.
“We can’t imagine doing this without the other.,” they tell Elite Daily, in that same confident, sure-of-themselves tone. “We complement each other so well. Strengths and weaknesses are balanced out and it’s comforting to know we’re there for each other!”
If Megan and Cristina seem too calm, cool and collected about their success, their collections and their work ethic, it’s not because the twosome and its incredibly talented team have it easy.
They don’t; they work just as hard as the rest of us. But they committed to a dream, stood by it and are determined to watch it blossom and bloom. And they’re realistic.
“People can try and tell you how hard and how much work it will be, but until you’re in it, you have no idea,” they tell us about the footwear business. “There are so many moving parts, to keep them all organized and in sync is tough.
Also, we can have the best designs in the world, but then we have to count on so many other people to do their jobs well: the factory, the tanneries, the sole factory, the pattern maker, cutter/sewers… the list goes on and on.”
As for failures, they happen. But they’re just as important to FRĒDA’s story as the successes: “Learn from the mistake, make it right and move on. Transparency and honesty are a core part of our values as a company.”
Like they mentioned earlier, there really isn’t a male/female split for the FRĒDA team. But they want to remind all the up-and-comers that regardless of what you may think, “It’s not about being a man or a woman; it’s about having a strong work ethic and confidence.
It’s about feeling proud of what you have accomplished. So go the extra mile.
“Whether you’re a boy or a girl, if you’re kicking ass, people will notice.”
And they have. This season, Mara Hoffman’s models walked the Spring/Summer 2015 runways decked out in FRĒDA kicks. If they weren’t already, now everyone is vying for a pair.
So in business terms, Megan and Cristina have it all: amazing shoes, amazing coworkers, an amazing story and an exciting future. But how does the business version of it “all” measure up to the pressures society places on them?
“We feel very strongly that having it ‘all’ is not gender specific. People set goals for themselves and have their own definition of it all. For us, it means having a happy family, happy team and a thriving business, keeping a good family/work balance – these are all things we have to work on with our husbands. It takes everyone being on the same page to succeed.”
Sounds about right to us.
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