How a family crisis sparked a dad into ‘shoe business’

Ones Leisure Trainers is a Midlands-based show start-up with an amazing backstory.

ones leisure trainers


It took a life-changing family emergency for Simon Caulton to launch his own business. In July 2017, aged just seven months, his daughter Mia was diagnosed with infantile acute lymphoblastic leukaemia and given a 50:50 survival rate of reaching the age of five. Simon and his partner Anjna Mahey left their day jobs to become around the clock carers for Mia, living at Birmingham Childrens’ Hospital. They watched their daughter endure a gruelling treatment plan which included lumber punches, bone marrow operations, blood transfusions, x-rays and chemotherapy.

Whilst Mia was in hospital, they were occupants at the Ronald McDonald House Birmingham, a charity that offer rooms to parents/families caring for a critically ill child in hospital. It was there that the idea for the new company was born.

“The house was a life line for us, a home away from home,” remembers Simon. “Every morning I would get ready and sit at the edge of the bed, put my trainers on and stare at my feet, not knowing what the day will hold. I would take a deep breath and then take that One Step towards the door to take on my day. I recall the need for something comfortable, lightweight and breathable on my feet as it would be a very long day in hospital.”

That was the genesis of the Ones Leisure trainer brand. Mia was discharged after nine months, but she still had almost two years of continued chemo treatment at home. With Simon’s work being predominately based in the Far East and Anjna’s work 15 minutes away, they made a decision as family that Simon would become a stay-at-home dad and look after Mia and Anjna would return to work.

He was able to use this time to build the Ones brand. Meanwhile, between parents and the flexibility of working from home, they were able to juggle hospital appointments and work commitments.

From the beginning, Simon was committed to Ones Trainers being eco-friendly and sustainable so partnered with Bloom Materials, who launched the world’s first algae-blended EVA to the footwear industry. Bloom Materials have worked with numerous well known brands in order to help them design eco-conscious products that have a positive impact on the environment. “Sustainability is high on Ones agenda, so working with Bloom Materials is incredibly important,” says Simon. “We want to increase the percentage of Bloom rise in the EVA outsole, improving the litres of water cleaned and restored to the environment and the M³ air cleaned of carbon dioxide.”

He drew on all his contacts from the Far East and built a partnership with professional shoe designer Katie Ridges who helped bring his vision to life. “In this launch collection we have three styles available in black and white colours. The styles offer customers either a slip on (with no laces), a smooth and soft or mesh style finish.” The three styles are named the Broughton, Cantlow and Cooksley, which are named and dedicated to the three rooms they occupied at the Ronald McDonald House Birmingham.

A flexible working life is key to the brand’s success, as well as maintaining parental duties. After the pandemic, Mia started going to school so Simon used his all his time around his school runs and clubs commitments. “I find clients are so open and accommodating with my parental responsibilities,” he says.

ones leisure trainers

Simon joined the STEAMhouse incubator supported by Birmingham City University which is a work space for entrepreneurs and startup that offers free support, workshops and advice on all aspects of business. “Without this facility starting Ones would have been harder and more costly,” admits Simon.

The business has also found funding and loans a very tricky area to navigate. “It would seem on face value there are a lot of options but actually for a start up company there is only the start up loan, which is a huge risk as it’s given as a personal loan and not against the business,” he says. “There are also no deferred payment options, once you take out the loan you have to start paying back immediately, which again doesn’t support a start up needing to trade to generate income.”

Still, while the business is still just Simon and Anjna, having gone through such a taxing time as a family themselves, they intend to implement strong family policies when the time comes to hire.

“We value family time, we value work life balance and our business ethos has been built on taking one step at a time as a family,” says Simon. “These values are essential when hiring staff. We shall ensure Ones offers family-friendly policies when we look to employ people to join the team.”

Read more:

A morning in the life of a single working dad

How I changed my routine to stop bringing the office home

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