Finding a pair of shoes that fit perfectly is a difficult task. They’re often too short, too wide, too tight, too painful, too this or too that.
Poppy Barley, an Edmonton based shoe design company, wants to change the way we fit and buy shoes. They want both women and men to have the chance to get properly measured, and know that the shoes they receive will be the perfect fit.
“It really all started with my sister going on a trip to Bali in 2012, and while she was there she went into a shoe store, found a pair of tall boots that she really liked, but she couldn’t quite get them zipped up over her calf,” says Kendall Barber, co-founder of Poppy Barley. “The guy took out a measuring tape and said ‘I’ll measure you, no problem, and make the boots for you’, and for her it was a moment of ‘why don’t we buy shoes that way?’”
The inspiration that struck from the trip in 2012 was the catalyst for the sisters, Justine and Kendall Barber, to start their own business venture, and the company has grown exponentially since then.
Beyond their success, however, Poppy Barley is most concerned with maintaining the highest ethical standards for their business. The company’s production facility is out of Mexico, and they ensure the working conditions and pay for the employees is up to par.
“Fashion is one of the worst industries for the environment and how they treat people, so we really wanted to be able to present the consumer with a different choice,” says Barber. “It goes quite deep—it’s everything from how our tanneries recycle their water and what type of chemicals are being used, to the people that actually fit and make our shoes, how they are being paid, and their working conditions in the factories.”
Providing consumers with a different option, Barber notes, is the key factor in changing how the industry is run. “For us it’s about creating a different future, and creating that future starts by presenting that choice to consumers,” she says.
The concept of Poppy Barley is simple: they make custom fitted footwear out of high quality materials, while also having in-stock shoes in regular sizes. Their brand has also grown to include hand crafted leather accessories, such as handbags, which Barber says were requested many times over by customers.
The sisters, originally from Edmonton, are set to open their 1, 000 square foot flagship retail location in Edmonton’s Southgate Centre this August, marking their first permanent store. Up until this point, the company has done sales and fittings via their website and pop up shops frequently set up in cities like Calgary, Vancouver, and Toronto.
“What we wanted to do in creating our Southgate flagship store is that we wanted to tell the story of Poppy Barley, and really be educational on footwear,” says Barber. “It’s fun, it’s colourful, we have photos of the people from Mexico all over the walls. There is also a leather wall gallery where we explain what double A grade leather is, or what the different ways we tan leather are.”
The store will feature a made -to-order measure lounge where guests can get a custom pair, along with a fully stocked section that has ready-made sizes for both men and women in different styles. The brand’s fall collection will also make its debut at the store launch, which Barber says includes essential fall colours along with some unique styles (like faux snake print) that change it up from the usual basics.
Aside from the shoes, two special guests will be in attendance during the opening. The first, Laura, from Leon Mexico, is the operations manager for the company and will be on hand to chat and answer questions for anyone interested. The second guest is Erin McLaughlin, the editor-in-chief of Style at Home, who has curated a collection from their fall release.
To top the evening off, they will be having a golden ticket contest; each customer that comes up to the register to pay will be given an envelope with the chance of getting a golden ticket to win their entire purchase. “It’s kind of like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but our take on it,” laughs Barber.
Quality, well-fitted footwear is no doubt the centre of Poppy Barley’s philosophy, and Barber knows the importance this can have for consumers. “I think that you don’t really realize how much you’re compromising in your shoes until you’ve experienced the right fit.”