FN is celebrating National Hispanic Heritage Month. Observed from September 15 to October 15, the occasion recognizes the histories, cultures and contributions of Americans whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America. FN invites you to follow along as we shine a light on Hispanic-American shoe designers and entrepreneurs making big waves in the fashion industry.
In the heart of El Salvador lies the city of Soyapango, home to a family of shoemakers whose legacy spans three generations.
Surrounded by lush greenery and rolling hills, the municipality became the stomping grounds for Cristina Palomo Nelson, whose father and grandfather worked for decades in shoe factories they opened in the ’70s and the ’50s, respectively. It was only fitting, then, that Palomo Nelson was brought back to her family’s roots in the country to produce her first collection of shoes for Freda Salvador with cofounder Megan Papay.
“I was birthed into this heritage,” Palomo Nelson explained. “I grew up in the factories. I remember running up and down the production lines, and I saw our incredible workers’ passion for shoemaking. I thought about what it would be like to create my own line and my own products. Shoes just made sense because I understood them, and I’ve always been the type of person who dresses from my feet up.”
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A year after the launch of their debut line in the summer of 2012, Palomo Nelson and Papay — who have been friends for more than a decade — moved their main production to Spain. (Palomo Nelson’s grandfather had served as a mentor to the facility’s manufacturer.) However, last winter, the brand started working in El Salvador once again — this time, to produce Freda’s first hand-sewn slipper, dubbed the James, after Palomo Nelson’s father, whose full name is Jaime Roberto Palomo.
“Pursuing fashion is always something that my father supported,” Palomo Nelson said. “To be able to produce our shoes and have that interaction with my father and my brother was incredibly special.”
Then, like many businesses when the coronavirus pandemic swept around the world early this year, Freda Salvador shut down its three stores — one in New York and two in its founders’ home state of California. Palomo Nelson and Papay were unable to host the in-store workshops and other events that their brand was known for. What’s more, the recent wildfires on the West Coast have caused a haze of smoke to envelop their offices in Sausalito, Calif. — but the cofounders have still managed to hold their heads up.
“During times like these, it feels like things are stacked against you,” Papay said. “When things right themselves, we can get back to the dominate-your-day mentality, but our North Star is about being grounded and positive and empowering others.”
Palomo Nelson added, “The challenges have definitely been there, but so have the silver linings. We’ve been forced to slow down and use this time to rethink and optimize our brand. We were already an omnichannel business, but this has taken us a little bit more toward that, and ensuring that we can communicate with our customers through digitally-focused sales channels is important.”
Beyond its own e-commerce site, Freda Salvador is available to shop through retailers like Nordstrom, Anthropologie, Bloomingdale’s, Shopbop and The RealReal. As for what’s next, the brand has pushed forward with the launch of its fall collection this week and is expected to go live on Zappos in October. Over the past few months, it has shifted its focus to more casual footwear as the COVID-19 health crisis continues to keep people indoors and encourage work-from-home arrangements. It also plans to release a multi-functional handbag and small leather goods line later in the year, as well as new slippers and possibly a shoe line for men.
“Community is something that we feel is so true to the brand and one that we really capture through the retail side of the business,” Palomo Nelson added. “We’ll build up the retail channel again with new locations in the coming years when we can do so safely.”