Mum-of-two turned painful bunions into £250k shoe business after getting laid off while pregnant

LOSING your job can leave you anxious about your finances and your future, but one mum-of-two seized the opportunity to launch a shoe company to help her own painful foot problem.

Jennifer Bailey, from Newton-le-Willows in Merseyside, took a massive risk in 2014 when she started Calla Shoes – a footwear brand for women who suffer from bunions – after being laid off while also expecting her second child.

Jon Super

Jennifer started Calla Shoes – a footwear brand for women who suffer from bunions – in 2014[/caption]

But now business is booming with the company expecting to turn over £250,000 this year.

The 43-year-old, who has suffered from bunions – bony lumps that form on the side of your feet – since she was teenager, has high hopes for her venture aimed at the 10million women in the UK who share her condition.

According to Jennifer, the problem for people with bunions is that your big toes point in the wrong direction, which means your feet are a lot wider in the toe area but narrower at the back.

This makes it extremely hard for women to find stylish but comfortable shoes, particularly high-heels.

The 43-year-old has suffered from bunions – bony lumps that form on the side of your feet – since she was teenager

Jon Super

Women suffering from bunions and those with large feet have flocked to the company’s website with Jennifer selling thousands of shoes in the past year[/caption]

Jennifer wearing some of the shoes from her collection

‘I hated wearing flip flops to dance at my wedding – and I knew there must be other women like me’

The mum-of-two, who previously worked as the head of marketing for a nearby university for nearly nine years, told The Sun: “I first got the idea when I was getting married.

“I was looking for a pair of shoes online and I couldn’t find anything that fit. On my wedding day, I was in pain and I eventually had to put on my flip-flops to dance.

“Since then, I thought I’ve got to do this. I have to create shoes that fit my feet and there must be other women out there like me. This idea got stuck at the back of my mind.

“So, when I was made redundant in 2014, I used the opportunity to follow my dream instead of going back to work.

“Leaving behind my career felt like a huge jump but I knew it had to be done now or it was never going to happen.”

One of the hardest things for Jennifer was starting a business so soon after having a baby.

She added: “It was certainly a challenge launching a new business while on maternity leave.

“I went out to visit factories on my own in Portugal when my daughter was just 4 months old, I was breastfeeding so the worst part was pumping milk in toilets in between meetings!”

“I used evenings and the time when she was napping to get on my laptop and do the work to get the business off the ground.”

Her latest collection comprises flat ballet pumps as well mid- and high-heeled shoes, including boots and sandals, in a range of colours
Some of the latest designs from her collection include a red heel and black sandal

Jennifer started by investigating how shoes were made and talking to podiatrists about the complexities of making a shoe for bunion sufferers.

She said: “My background is not shoemaking or fashion so it’s been a steep learning curve, but I do have a great team of experts around me who have helped make this dream a reality.”

‘Running my own business means I can be a better parent’

Jennifer, who is mum to Emily, four, and Charlotte, six, also believes having her own business made her a better parent.

She said: “I thrive on the challenges of having my own business. I feel like it’s what I was always meant to do. I can also build my work around my girls. I was much more stressed when I had Charlotte and I had to go back to working full time.

“Now I can drive and pick them up from school, If there’s an emergency I’m there. I’m a much happier mum:”

She started Calla Shoes with a £15,000 loan repayable over five years from the government-backed Start-Up Loans Company, which offers a 6 per cent fixed rate on borrowing up to £25,000.

Jennifer also invested an additional £10,000 which was a gift from her mother following the death of her dad, as well as £9,000 from her own savings.

Jennifer’s tips for budding entrepreneurs:

HERE are Jennifer’s main tips for others who are keen to start a business:

  • Start building a network – The worst thing you can do is sit at home and think you can do it on your own. If you want to grow your business you need other people to help. Networking is about finding the key people to help you grow your own business.
  • Be patient – It will always take longer than you think, no matter how lovely your business plan is. Be prepared for that.
  • Don’t be afraid of small failures – You’re going to make mistakes along the way, do not let them knock you back. Be resilient.
  • Find a mentor – It doesn’t have to be a lonely journey. Find a person you can confide in; don’t think you have to do it all on your own.

It took her two years of research and business planning to launch her first collection in 2016 – and now her hard work is finally paying off.

Women suffering from bunions and those with large feet have flocked to the company’s website with Jennifer selling thousands of shoes in the past year.

Celebrity fans now include Eastenders actress Tamzin Outhwaite and celebrity psychic Sally Morgan.

These days, she employs two people in her office based in Manchester and two freelance designers.

Jennifer is now expecting to boost her 2018 turnover of £100,000 to £250,000 in 2019, with the mum-of-two regularly jetting off to Portugal to visit the factory where her shoes are made.

Jon Super

Calla is a premium brand due to the quality materials the shoes are made off and the craftsmanship behind it, according to Jennifer[/caption]

The shoes support and disguise the bunions by being wider than the average shoe with additional volume in the toe box, where bunions sit
Celebrity fans of the brand now include Eastenders actress Tamzin Outhwaite and celebrity psychic Sally Morgan

Her latest collection comprises flat ballet pumps as well mid and high-heeled shoes, including boots and sandals, in a range of colours.

Prices range from £90 for a pair of ballet flats to a £155 for those looking for stylish kitten heel boots.

In 2017, Calla shoes was one of the first to receive a £75,000 seed investment from the new British Design Fund (BDF)
Jennifer, who is mum to Emily, four, and Charlotte, six, also believes having her own business made her a better parent

How to get a start-up business loan

IF you need financial support in setting up your business, you can get loans of up to £25,000 to help along the way.

  • Virgin StartUP offers government-backed loans from £500 to £25,000 to help entrepreneurs launching or growing a business that’s under two-years-old in England or Scotland. It has a rate of 6 per cent interest.
  • The Start-Up Loans Company, which lends government subsidised loans up to £25,000 at a rate of 6 per cent.
  • The Princes Trust also offers loans, up to £5,000, at a rate of 6.2 per cent.

In 2017, Calla shoes was one of the first to receive a £75,000 seed investment from the new British Design Fund (BDF) which supports early stage UK design and manufacturing companies that fulfil a clear need.

The investment will help the mum-of-two meet growing demand from her customers and add new shoes to her existing range.

Calla shoes are sold online only and Jennifer has no immediate plans to open brick-and-mortar stores.

Jennifer said she thrives on the challenges of having her own business

She said: “Opening a physical shop limits you to only selling shoes from a few locations whereas I can sell them all over the world with the website.

“But I am looking to do some events and pop up stores as well as distribute through retailers as part of our growth strategy.”

Of course, setting up a business has it drawbacks. Jennifer has borrowed a further £10,000 from the Start up Loans company repayable over a five-year period with a six per cent interest rate. She also invested another £9,000 last year in to rebranding its website.

She confessed that she pays herself very little out of the business to make sure as much money as possible is kept in the company.

She said: “Perhaps what has made it easier for me is that I have massively enjoyed every moment.

“I really like giving myself big challenges and I’m very much a problem solver. I have also taken on board lots of advice and support from others during the journey and worked hard to continually push the business in a forward momentum.”

Earlier this month, The Sun revealed how two school friends have built a cash machine empire that’s now aiming for a £1million turnover all while studying for their degrees.

We also spoke to a young entrepreneur about how he started a million-pound video business with just £50 after his parents lost £150,000 in the Northern Rock crisis.

In December, we’ve chatted with a dad-of-two who launched a beer made of leftover bread – and the company now turns over £1million a year.


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