Local Edmontonians and founding partners of Poppy Barley, Justine and Kendall Barber, were on a trip to Bali when Justine bought a pair of custom leather boots.
Upon putting them on, she was struck with inspiration, to bring custom and affordable luxury footwear to the masses. “When my sister Justine had a pair of custom boots made for her, that was really the initializing point”, she continued, “she realized how incredible the difference in fit it is to have something customized to your calf width and your foot width, and she thought this is the way we should be making shoes; that there has to be advances in technologies so that we can make it possible to do, essentially, mass customization at scale. So that was more the idea, then coming back home, to Canada, and figuring out how to deliver a custom product using the internet and advances in manufacturing, while still remaining true to the craftsmanship of it all.” says Kendall Barber.
Although they are relative newcomers to shoe making they utilized the breadth of manufacturing experience from their factory owner, operations manager, and a talented pool of artisans to produce polished everyday essential footwear and chic functional accessories. They design, manufacture, and sell made to order men and women’s leather shoes and boots, as well as leather accessories such as purses, make-up bags, and key chains. In the process, Poppy Barley became the first company in North America to offer custom fashion boots online.
The sisters opened their first store in 2012, in Edmonton, on Whyte Ave. and is planning a new location to open in the Southgate Mall (noted as one of Canada’s top five malls), in the beginning of August. They also currently have their products showcased within another store in Vancouver’s Gas Town, as well as pop up stores in Calgary, Vancouver, Saskatoon and Toronto. According to Kendall Barber, “All of our tall boots are custom, when it comes to the ankle boots, the flats, men’s shoes, and accessories, we carry both custom and regular fit. Lots of stock in standard sizes, so if you’re a size 9 regular width, or if you need a wide or narrower shoe, then we do have the ability to make that custom for someone.”
The sisters said enough to appalling working conditions, low paid workers, uncomfortable and poorly made products, and high mark-ups that don’t reflect the value of what you’re wearing. So Kendall and Justine traveled to Leon, Mexico in search of a leather shoe factory that prioritized its people and could offer flexibility in sizing and inventory through small batch manufacturing. Poppy Barley screens its factories for positive working conditions, including fair wages (they pay six to seven times more than the average wage), benefits, workers rights and freedoms, health and safety, and training and opportunity. They prohibit human rights violations (eg. child labour, discrimination, and forced overtime). They closely monitor their factories to maintain these high standards. They are transparent about their manufacturing. They proudly handcraft all Poppy Barley footwear in Leon, Mexico (known as the shoe capital of the world, and have been making shoes since 1645), a city of two million people, approximately three hours north of Mexico City.
We screen all of our factories to ensure they provide artisans with a living wage, permanent secure employment, paid vacation, pensions, health care benefits, as well ensure safe and clean working conditions, respected workers rights (right to unionize, right to freedom of movement, etc.) and have zero tolerance for any human rights abuse such as child labour, slave labour discrimination, etc. 100% of their factories meet or exceed the code of conduct for working conditions.
In the beginning of 2017, inspired by fair trade factories, they implemented a wage premium of 0.5% of sales that goes directly to the artisans at their footwear factories. In Canada, they donate a further 0.5% of sales each quarter to a different not-for-profit partner. For 2017, they have chosen The Heart and Stroke Foundation, Norquest College, Habitat for Humanity and the Mazankowski Heart Centre. They also have a volunteer policy that supports 20 hours of paid volunteer time, per full-time employee, at an organization of their choosing.
The name Poppy Barley was inspired from a long time tradition dating back to Tudor times. “Before mass manufacturing took over the shoe industry, cordwainers (shoemakers of fine leather footwear) used barleycorns and poppy seeds as measurement units to make made-to-measure footwear, which dates back to Tudor England. One barleycorn was equal to 1/3 inch, and four poppy seeds equaled one barleycorn. Still today barleycorns and poppy seeds form the basis of U.K. and U.S. shoe sizing.” says Justine. To find out more information on Poppy Barley or to shop online visit their website at https://poppybarley.com/
This article was written by Stacey Leochko.