Jennifer Bailey, Founder & CEO of Calla, launched the brand in 2016 to help women like herself find stylish footwear that is also comfortable on problem areas such as bunions, while giving them confidence. Unique and innovative in both style and design, Calla solves the problem of being unable to find a pair of fashionable shoes when you have problem feet, and has happy customers in 60+ countries.
How did the idea come to you for the company?
12 years ago, I was planning my wedding and had the most beautiful dress to wear but knew I was going to struggle finding the perfect shoes to match due to suffering from a foot condition called bunions. I’d suffered with bunions most of my life, but they had grown to a size where for day-to-day shoes I was stuck in trainers. Stylish occasion wear shoes were particularly difficult to find as even wide fit ones weren’t designed to accommodate bunions, particularly strappy sandals.
During my search for wedding shoes, I spent hours online looking across the world in the hope someone had created a solution for my problem. The only shoes designed for women with bunions were ‘old woman’ style shoes that were definitely not ones that I wanted to wear for my wedding.
However, my search was futile, and I turned round to my then fiancé and told him that one day I would make shoes for women like me.
Many years later, I was in a redundancy situation pregnant with my second child and I decided that was the time to take control of my life and start the business I’d had the vision for when I got married.
How did you achieve awareness?
I decided my business model would be online only to begin with and knew that with a limited budget I wouldn’t be able to spend much on marketing. I focused on SEO to drive traffic to my website using forums and social media to generate awareness. I started this before I even fully launched the business so that I had a number of customers who pre-ordered the shoes even before they arrived. A bit like my own mini-kickstarter campaign.
How have you been able to gain funding and grow?
I used a government Start-up loan, some money from my family and savings to start the business. Within the first 12 months of starting the business I was successful in getting some equity investment from a fund in London, specialising in investing in innovative product based businesses. That funding meant I was able to give up my part-time job that I was doing at the time and focus full-time on the business. I’ve since had further investment in to the business and also used loans to support the growth.
What are the key successes?
We have really started growing quite fast in the last couple of years, post Covid – particularly because women are looking for comfort in their footwear more than ever. We sell our shoes via our website in over 60 countries across the world and the feedback is incredible. The customer reviews are what keeps me going, our business needs to exist to keep on helping all these women who need comfortable shoes that fit their lifestyles.
Our shoes are a favourite of many celebrities, including Tamzin Outhwaite and Sara Davies of Dragons Den.
What were/are the challenges and how have you overcome these?
The main challenge has been managing cashflow while growing the business. My background is marketing so that side has been more straight forward, but I am much slower on the financial side. Merchandising and forecasting, how much stock we need in the right quantities has also been a steep learning curve as it is all so new to me. My background was nothing to do with fashion or footwear so there’s been a lot to learn. I have sought out many mentors over the years to help me with these challenges and this has been fundamental to the success of Calla. There are so many other people out there who know more than me!
What are your plans now/for the future?
We are repositioning the brand as we have found that there are so many women out there who have ‘tricky’ feet and can’t seem to find comfort on the high street – so it’s not just a bunions brand anymore. We are working with a fantastic partner at a university to continually innovate our shoes so that we can help more women.
What would you like to share with others to encourage them to start their own entrepreneurship journey?
Think big, believe in yourself and if you’re someone who is happy pushing themselves out of their comfort zone then running your own business could be the right thing for you.
Can you share your top tips for entrepreneurial success?
Learn how to deal with procrastination – wasting time won’t help you move forward. Listen and learn from others who have more experience than you – but remember, you’re the captain of the ship and you have to make the final decision. Just because a couple of people tell you it can’t be done – doesn’t mean it can’t be done. Be a problem solver, not a problem avoider.
Who are the 5 people who inspire you the most and why?
Karen Brady from The Apprentice – she achieved so much as such a young age, I’d love to have that level of confidence.
My mum – she always worked full time and had a successful career while bringing up 4 children and not having family nearby to help. She’s living proof you can be a great mother and have a career.
Other female entrepreneurs who are killing it and supporting each other – I know too many to mention.
Richard Branson – he is an obvious choice, but I read somewhere that he said to always strive to do things a million times better than the competition and the success will come. That’s what I’m trying to do with Calla.
What are your favourite inspirational /motivational quotes?
Too many people measure how successful they are by how much money they make or the people that they associate with. In my opinion, true success should be measured by how happy you are. Richard Branson
Hard work will always bring opportunities. Karen Brady
Give a girl the right shoes and she can conquer the world. Marilyn Monroe
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