Interview: #FemaleFounders - Jennifer Bailey, Calla Shoes
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#FemaleFounders: Jennifer Bailey, Calla Shoes

For those who suffer with bunions, fashionable footwear can seem like a thing of the past. Jennifer Bailey was inspired through her own experience to found Calla Shoes, a footwear company with shoes designed specifically to fit people with bunions – giving them the opportunity to have comfort along with style.  

Let’s find out how Jennifer turned a weakness into a strength and used it to fuel a business.

1. Why did you start your business? What spurred you on?

I have suffered with bunions my whole life. It got to the point where I really struggled to find fashionable shoes to fit my feet. Shoes like sandals and flip flops would have my bunions hanging horribly over the side of straps. My own experience became a lightbulb moment for me, as I began to notice that there was a gap in the market for shoes that are suitable for those with bunions. 

A few years ago, I was made redundant after being a senior manager at a University. I also happened to be pregnant with my second child.

I found the whole redundancy quite stressful. Having lost a few pregnancies before and feeling overwhelmed, I decided that this was the moment to take charge of my own life. I decided to do something about my bright idea and started to investigate how shoes were made. I talked to a podiatrist friend of mine about the complexities of making a shoe for bunions, and that’s how Calla Shoes began to come into fruition. 

2. What are the unique challenges that you have faced as a female founder?

I don’t feel like my gender has held me back significantly. Although, sometimes I do feel a little patronised. 

I certainly haven’t let any preconception of female business owners get to me –  I just pretend that there aren’t any! My main personal challenge has been that because my husband has to work long hours that aren’t flexible, I am the main carer for my young children and so I have to run the business around them. This has meant that early morning meetings or events are tricky for me as I have to do the school/nursery run. I also can’t have long periods of time away from the family for business trips or events as the childcare gets too tough. I have managed to juggle things so far because I luckily have a good network of family and friends who are able to help out.

3. What were the 3 steepest learning curves in your first year in business?

 Everything takes longer than you think it will. You are always going to be reliant on someone

else at some point and they may not move as quickly as you do. I learned to not take criticism and negative feedback personally; I grew from it and moved on. For every up there is a down and vice versa – so I make sure that I celebrate every success and don’t dwell on the lows.

4. What is your favourite thing about founding your own company?

I get to manage my own time. When you run your own business you have to be resigned to the fact that it will always be on your mind. There will be times when you have to work on your business when you’re busy doing something else – which is why it’s so important to have a passion and love for what you’re doing! But, if I want to take a day off to spend with my youngest daughter who isn’t in school yet, I do it; I just keep my phone close to check my emails from time to time.

5. What is the best business advice you have been given by someone else?

You can’t grow a business on your own. Keep a diary of all the things you do for your business in a week e.g. admin, marketing, and customer services: then work out what you can give to someone who can do it better and faster than you, so you have extra hours to work on strategy and growth.

6. Do you ever suffer from Imposter Syndrome? If so, how do you tackle it and move forward?

Sometimes. This is my first ever business so I generally feel like I’m blagging my way through it all and making it up as I go along. However, being part of a start-up business community (Natwest Entrepreneur Accelerator) has made me realise that I’m doing just as well as anyone else. In fact, some people think I’m smashing it and doing really well – even if I don’t quite believe it on the inside.

7. What’s the best book on business you’ve read?

I don’t really read business books however I was recommended Shoe Dog by Phil Knight (the founder of Nike) as it had some synergies with my shoe business and I found it incredibly inspirational. Definitely a must-read.

8. Tell us about another brilliant businesswoman that you think our readers should know about 

Lucy McAvoy runs two businesses and has loads of passion and drive; she is an all-around lovely lady! One is an events company called Ninth Events and the other is a gin business based in Manchester called 4 Sisters. She also had a big hand in helping her brothers set up a successful craft beer and bar business called Seven Brothers.

9. What advice would you give to yourself if you were starting your business now?

Don’t worry, you will sell lots of shoes! I wish I had a crystal ball because if I could have seen how many pairs of shoes I am selling now, I would have been over the moon. When I first launched I was worried that I wouldn’t sell any! I should’ve trusted more in my idea and my abilities to run a business.

10. If you had a marketing budget of £1,000 what would you spend the money on?

I really want to improve my unboxing experience for the customer; I feel that it needs some

professional creative help. I want someone to revisit the design of our shoe box, tissue

paper, parcel box and inserts. With a proper branding agency, this would probably be more

than £1,000 but it would still really help!

Get your female founder fix

We hope you enjoyed our interview with Jennifer! If you can’t get enough of inspiring female business owners, take a look at our recent interview with Lisa Kelly, founder of Oya Goods. Or, why not read our interview with Hospitality Personality Of The Year 2018, Kate Stewart!

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