Calla shoes has attracted a great celebrity following that includes, TV's Tamzin Outhwaite, Gloria Hunniford, Angela Griffin and Tamara Wall, together with ballerinas Darcey Bussell and Bethany Kingsley-Garner.

What currently occupies your time at Calla?

As Calla shoes is a growing brand with big ambitions, I spend a lot of my time building the brand, devising new product lines, and driving new sales.

Over the next two years, I have clear plans for accelerated growth, which I hope will be supported by raising investment. This will be used to not only increase awareness of the Calla brand both in the UK and overseas, but to also educate women on the fact there is a solution to problems like bunions and they don't have to compromise on comfort as a result. In addition, I also want to develop more styles for other podiatry issues to ensure we can provide stylish and comfortable shoes for a vast and growing market.

What was the inspiration behind your business?

Having had bunions for years, I have always struggled to find comfortable and attractive shoes that actually fit my feet.

This really came to light when planning my wedding in Lucca, Italy, where I ended up spending hours and hours searching online to find the perfect shoes. By the time I reached pages 6, 7 and even 8 on Google, I gave up and said to my [now] husband out of sheer frustration, that I was going to create my own shoe brand that manufactured stylish shoes which also accommodated women with bunions.

This was my real lightbulb moment, but it wasn't until a few years later when I was made redundant during maternity leave that I re-evaluated what was important in life and decided to take the plunge and push the idea forwards. Fast forward 5 years and Calla shoes are now worn by thousands of women worldwide.

Who do you admire?

My mum is genuinely my greatest role model. She came from a severely under privileged background in Hong Kong but worked hard to become a Senior Nurse Practitioner. She did this and continued to work hard despite having four children. She has the most incredible work ethic, persistence, and drive which she has thankfully installed in me. So, whenever I am having a challenging day, I think of everything my mum has achieved and know that if she can do it, I can too.

Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently?

There are loads of lessons that I have learnt since launching and continuing to grow the Calla brand. I think one of the main ones is to not put too much pressure on myself about meeting certain timelines or deadlines, particularly for things out of my control like the physical manufacturing process.

In learning this, I have also embraced the concept of failure and learnt to redefine success in line with my own metrics - not everyone else's. I now believe that as long as you are moving forwards and working towards consistent marginal gains, you will achieve your goals, but you need to ensure you are kind and more supportive of yourself in the process. Key to this is working with a Mentor, whether paid or unpaid, who can not only guide you from their own experience in business but can also give you a pat on the back and tell you ‘well done' when it's needed most.

What defines your way of doing business?

My main values and passion in life is solving problems and helping people in whatever way possible. Both of these values have filtered through to the Calla shoes brand and in everything we stand for and have achieved.

I am also a big believer in honesty and integrity and am always incredibly transparent in how I do business and expect the same in return.

Brexit and a pandemic have dominated the headlines over the last couple of years. How has your business been affected?

The pandemic affected sales quite dramatically when lockdown first hit as no-one was leaving the house and had no need for pretty shoes for work or occasions.

We had to rethink our marketing strategy and develop close relationships with our existing customers, many of whom stayed loyal, and we were able to survive. We also pivoted to bring out more casual, flat styles such as loafers and summer sandals which has really helped sales coming out of lockdown.

Brexit was a bit of a shock as the deal was done so close to Christmas that we didn't really know the details until January. We have had to stop selling to Europe because the customs charges for our customers there were very high - around 50% on top of the cost of the shoes. This has cost us 10% of our revenue. We are now looking to distribute from Europe rather than in the UK.

Your shoes are manufactured in Portugal. What influenced your choice of manufacturer?

As a start-up shoe brand you need to think about minimum order quantities which are set by the factories.  In popular shoe making countries such as China and Vietnam these are usually in the 100's.  However, in Portugal, Spain and Italy you are more likely to find a factory who is willing to give you a chance and make smaller quantities for you as you start out.  I initially looked into Portugal as I knew they had lots of experience making comfort shoe brands and an excellent reputation in leather goods. After sending out emails and messages on LinkedIn, I managed to find a couple of factories willing to work with me and have been really happy with the quality of the shoes they have produced.

Has Brexit had an impact on you manufacturing in the EU?

I am still happy to continue working with EU manufacturers. Brexit hasn't caused any issues to import the goods in to the UK, except some additional admin. The main issues are around exporting back to the EU. It is ridiculous that a Portuguese customer has to pay import duty for a product that has been made in their own country. If I have to move my warehousing to Europe, this is taking money away from a UK fulfilment warehouse. This is not what I wanted to do, or what some of the reasons behind Brexit were supposed to achieve. As far as I can see, I haven't seen any advantages in leaving the EU as yet.

What advice would you give to someone starting out?

Before launching a business, it's so important to find and build your community via platforms like Instagram. Not only will some of your community members turn into customers as and when you do launch to market, but involving them in the early stages of product development, will also engage them emotionally and transform them into real brand ambassadors.

A lot of entrepreneurs neglect the importance of building a community in favour of alternative PR and marketing strategies, but it's something I would genuinely recommend to anyone thinking of starting a business.

For more information visit Calla shoes