I (Catherine) was introduced to Poppy Barley after a friend posted about their Vancouver store on Instagram. I was intrigued by the idea of custom made shoes (I’ve always had problems finding nice shoes that fit!) and I immediately loved the purpose behind their brand. I had the opportunity to talk to them about running their business, how it all came about and why shoes and I hope you enjoy what they have to say as much as I did.
Tell us about yourselves
Kendall – I’m the co-founder of Poppy Barley. I’m a marathon runner and lululemon ambassador. Otherwise, I’m pretending I’m a chef, reading a good book, eating chocolate chip cookies or traveling to cool destinations. I live in Edmonton, Alberta with my husband and barking havanese dog, Whip.
Justine – I’m the other co-founder of Poppy Barley. Outside of Poppy Barley I love to run, read, and travel. I am married and expecting my first child in January.
How did your business come into fruition?
Growing up as runners, we constantly struggled to find boots that comfortably fit our calves and wide feet. Then in 2012, I (Justine) traveled to Bali, where I discovered the art of custom-made shoes. I was inspired by the concept of having shoes specifically designed for my feet. When I returned from my trip, I immediately shared this notion with my sister, Kendall. We noticed a void in the marketplace and agreed that beautiful, custom footwear should be accessible – and attainable – to anyone with access to measuring tape and the internet. We set out with a mission to create beautiful, made-to-order shoes that would fit better, feel better and live better and a few months later, Poppy Barley was born.
Shoes found us! The idea really came from Justine’s trip to Bali. After experiencing the custom footwear, we realized we share a firm belief that “one size DOESN’T fit all.” By providing an easy, multi-step measurement process, Poppy Barley shoes fit better, feel better and live better. Over time we’ve expanded beyond “custom-fitting” shoes into creating a new relationship between price point and quality. At Poppy Barley we choose only the top materials and methodologies to create our shoes: Full grain leathers from cow, calf and goat to deer and bison sourced from a family-run tannery; padded leather insoles; meticulous craftsmanship; made-to-order processes.
What’s the motivation behind what you do?
We’re motivated daily to create a new standard in the footwear industry. Poppy Barley believes in “Luxury for the People,” valuing craftsmanship, thoughtful design, fair profits and human connection. Poppy Barley engages in an open, honest dialogue. We welcome questions about where our products come from, artisan wages, factory conditions, prices, etc. At Poppy Barley, we will always reveal the “why” behind our decision-making. We believe in transparent manufacturing in order to create an elevated customer experience and a better fitting shoe.
What is it like running a business as sisters?
When your personal relationship existed long before the business relationship, you have a clear sense of who your business partner is – there’s an established sense of trust, respect and honesty that can take years for non-related business partners to establish. Most of all you care first about the person – this value extends across the company culture and putting people before profits is deeply engrained in your actions as a company. A myth exists that there’s lots of fighting in family businesses. We do not argue or disagree any more than other business partners. And, we have an advantage when we do disagree – we know how to fight. We’ve been disagreeing and resolving issues together for 30+ years.
Have you faced any challenges in running a business because you are women? How did you overcome them?
There are lots of challenges to running a business, but I’m not sure we can relate any of them to specifically being women. I do think there will be unique challenges as our lives change (Justine is welcoming a baby into her world in January!). When encountered with a challenge, I just remind myself that no amount of previous experience or success will help you navigate the hard parts. So don’t give that excuse to yourself. Instead, just show up everyday. Work hard and know that thousands of incremental improvements will move your business forward.
As individuals what are you passionate about?
Kendall – I’m very curious; I’m passionate about always asking why. I like to discover new places, meet new people and learn new things. I love to travel and read. Fitness also plays a huge role in my life – I love to train for marathons and run fast (a little competitive!). In my community, I’m ardent about education and access to sport for kids.
Justine – Learning, travel, running and literacy.
Who are some women that inspire you?
Kendall – Daily, I’m inspired by my sisters (Justine and Larissa), my mom and the women I work with plus the female entrepreneurs in my community – locally and online! On a global scale, women who use their smarts, talents and platforms to drive change – Melinda Gates
Justine – I am inspired by immigrants – I think leaving your country and having to start over is the most amazing and hard thing – and then philanthropic female entrepreneurs like Spanx founder Sarah Blakely, Tory Burch and Diane von Furstenberg.
Is there anything you wish you had been told before you started running a business?
Let go of perfect; imperfect is where you have to start. Just put it out there and be vulnerable to feedback, opinions and mini failures. Everyday, show-up to make it better. You do that everyday and it’s amazing how much you can accomplish.
*all images used with permission.
Poppy Barley was founded by sisters Kendall (on the right) and Justine (on the left) in November of 2013 after Justine made a trip to Bali and a craftsman offered to make a custom pair of shoes. She immediately noticed a gap in the North American market and it became the first fashion company in North America to offer made-to-order boots online. Not only that, each pair of shoes is ethically produced. Poppy Barley values craftsmanship, thoughtful design, fair profits and human connection.