PICTURES BY TIM DUNK
When Carron Cummings’ partner, Joshua, died suddenly in his sleep from anaphylactic shock, her life changed completely. She was 26, a paralegal at a leading Leeds law firm and head of dispute resolutions and she had a six-month-old son, Zechariah.
“It took me in a new direction,” recalls the businesswoman. “Life took on a whole new meaning and it was really difficult. Joshua and I weren’t married but we were engaged, I still have the ring and will be giving it to Zechariah when he’s older.
“I spent a lot of my time socialising with friends. As I went out for lunch I realised a lot of those well established restaurants were empty, so I thought who would benefit from eating out at that time. It would be mums who lunch, business women, mothers and daughters, By those companies offering a discount at a certain time, I felt they would get more trade in.”
It was a lightbulb moment for Carron, who also has a daughter, Azaria, 11.
“I wanted to make good use of my time off. I thought I can stay here and grieve forever or do something. So I did a lot of market research into the lives of women. I thought there must be people looking after children, sat at home. I wanted to get those people out of the box, to empower them... that’s when Simply Ladies Inc was born.”
Now her business is trying to revolutionising the way women in Yorkshire communicate, express and style themselves by offering them a range of activities, events and places to meet, allowing them to come together to share their life experience and their passions. On November 23, Simply Ladies Inc will be staging its first fashion show at Banyan, The Old Post Office, City Square, with 20 ordinary members of the public, aged from 13 up to 63, taking over the catwalk. The show aims to celebrate women in the area, encouraging them to be comfortable in their own skin, while at the same time showcasing designers in the area who do not get the recognition they deserve.
Carron, from Rothwell, grew up in Leeds and London but from the age of five up until nine she suffered leukaemia and was in and out of hospital. She says that she knows firsthand what it is like to be close to death.
“My childhood was okay, I was diagnosed with leukaemia at the age of five, which was really hard. I lost all of my hair. I was really weak a lot of the time. It must have been really hard on my mum as she was a single parent and she had to get a job in the hospital as a medical secretary so that she could see me every day.
“The hospital was like my second home. Although I had leukaemia I was always a happy child, I just didn’t want any of my family feeling sad for me I wanted every visit to be a happy one so I used to make everyone smile and laugh on every visit.”
She was one of six children - a middle child - raised by her mother, who lived in London, moving to Leeds when she was nine.
When her mother took a job at the hospital just so that she could spend more time with her, Carron says she remembers the hospital staff saying to her: ‘Whatever she wants to do just let her do it.’
“I came to Leeds when I was nine and stayed here until I was 16 and went back to London for work until I was 20, when I became pregnant with my first child which is when I came back to Leeds and have been here ever since.”
As she was growing up in Leeds, she went to Cardinal Heenan Catholic High School and used to live in Oakwood. Her first ever job was working in a elderly home. “I loved it,” she recalls. “I’ve always loved listening to elderly people’s stories and have the upmost respect for them.”
Among her interests, she cites watching shows like Dragons’ Den and The Apprentice but also reading The Bible.
Her passion for life has been honed from a young age and the philosophy adopted by her mother when she was ill also underpins Simply Ladies Inc - it’s a message of emancipation and liberation, of fulfilling one’s dreams and breaking free from constraints.
She says: “My message to women is we can stare life in the face and say ‘bring it on’. We are as equal as each other, and like a little puzzle we all fit together. This is our first fashion show and we’re really excited about it.”
The show started when fashion brands Wake, B’mintage and Drunk In Love Couture approached Carron, asking to become members of Simply Ladies Inc. When Carron started to speak to the designers behind these brands she realised just how much of their work was going undeservedly unnoticed. Jordan Wake designs and makes bespoke dresses and bridal wear. She has also had her designs worn by celebrities from Big Brother, Towie and Love Island. Berenice Gilmore, designer of Drunk In Love won 2016 Bridal Buyers Student Designer award and Yorkshire’s Young Achievers ‘Award in Education. In 2017 she was a finalist in Bridal Buyer’s Student Designer.
Carron says: “I want to show the public what they are doing. And the show will be based around real women. There will be 20 women modelling between the ages of 13 and 63, of all different shapes, sizes, race and professions.
“For example, we have a police officer who says people do not expect her to be interested in fashion.”
Carron hopes that this will not only be one of the most diverse fashion shows in Leeds but that it will also be the start of something bigger.
She has more events planned through Simply Ladies Inc, including an awards show in March to celebrate the city’s unsung heroes. But at the moment, she’s focused on delivering the fashion show.
“These women deserve to have more customers coming their way. We need to have more city events to get people out of their houses.”
Carron Cummings grew up in London and Leeds from the age of nine; she suffered leukaemia as a child, from the age of five to nine
She attended Cardinal Heenan and her first job after leaving school was working in an elderly care home, which she loved
She was head of dispute resolution at a Leeds law firm
The mother-of-two lost her partner suddenly five years ago
The Simply Ladies fashion show is already sold out - there will be a a raffle, with all the proceeds going to St Gemma’s Hospice
PICTURES BY: TIM DUNK