Poppy Barley: Sewing the Future of Fashion
“We exist to re-think every step of the fashion industry to make it better — for our planet, for our people and for our future.”
By March 2023 edition of Business in Calgary, and Business in Edmonton 6 March 2023 5 min read
Poppy Barley is a local, female-owned brand providing a sustainable fashion choice for North Americans. As their shoes and bags continue to gain traction, co-founders, co-CEOs and sisters Justine and Kendall Barber never lose sight of Poppy Barley’s goals.
“We started Poppy Barley in 2012 because we couldn’t find anything like it,” says Justine. “In the beginning, we offered made-to-order tall boots and shoes online. Over the years our business grew and changed. Today Poppy Barley has retail stores, pop-up shops, an ecommerce store and made-to-order products. We focus on sustainability, versatility and comfort.”
Kendall adds, “Neither one of us could have ever imagined we’d have a company exactly like Poppy Barley, but Justine always loved design and architecture while being deeply committed to making the planet a better place, and I always dreamed of being an entrepreneur.”
The company started online and remained an ecommerce-only business for the first couple of years. Then a showroom opened, followed in 2017 by their first retail store in Edmonton. Another milestone took place in 2019 with the opening of the Calgary location. Then 2020 put a wrinkle in further expansion plans due to COVID. With the pandemic in the rear window, however, things are back on track and a Vancouver location is set to open this year.
It was during 2019 that Poppy Barley became a certified Benefit Corporation (B Corporation).
In a world where fast fashion dominates the industry to the peril of environmental resources and exploited workers, certified B Corporations take a solid stand. The certification proves commitment to the highest standards of social and environmental performance, transparency and accountability. B Corporations focus on purpose, people and profit, keeping the impact of employees, production partners, customers, community and the environment at the forefront when making important business decisions.
It is this purpose and mission that is at the core of Poppy Barley’s success.
Justine confirms, “Poppy Barley products are designed for real life – to go from the office to the playground to a night out. Our products are thoughtfully designed for maximum comfort, versatility and longevity. Poppy Barley reimagines the fashion industry to create a new standard of luxury for people and the planet. Through considered design and uncompromising comfort, we offer highly versatile, sustainable products. All Poppy Barley products are designed in Canada and made in our factories in Mexico, Spain, Italy and Portugal.”
Kendall adds, “The fashion industry comes with astonishing environmental and social costs including pollution, water, carbon emissions, human rights and gender equality. The harmful impacts on the planet are undeniable. The only choice for Poppy Barley was to be part of the change and ensure that sustainability and ethical production are core fundamentals of our business model. We exist to re-think every step of the fashion industry to make it better – for our planet, for our people and for our future. There is a lot of greenwashing these days. It is hard to know which brands are legitimate. We became a B Corporation because we are not just talk.”
Being a B Corporation is not the only way Poppy Barley gives back.
Justine says, “In conjunction with the brand’s 10th anniversary, we made the decision to create the Poppy Barley Future Fund to support charities operating in The Girl Gap. Girls from ages 10-14 struggle as the confluence of societal and biological trends create a perfect storm for adolescents: rapid decline in confidence, poor mental health and a sexualized culture. The Poppy Barley Future Fund will commit $100,000 over three years to adolescent girls and non-binary youth as they navigate some of the most critical years of their life. Our first partner was KidSport Edmonton to help fund the registration costs for girls to play sports.”
ATB has been a key partner in the growth of Poppy Barley.
“The thing about growth,” notes Kendall, “is that you need to onboard your bank to believe in and fund your growth before it actually happens. ATB took a risk alongside us. They are creative in their solutions and really seek to understand our business. We firmly believe that our team at ATB believes in us. They have confidence in us as leaders and in our business model. The questions ATB asks us are smart and forward-thinking because they speak ‘Poppy Barley’ fluently. Our team has remained consistent and versed throughout our trajectory. ATB has been a key player in helping us overcome challenges and believing in our growth before it even happened.”
The outstanding products, vision and mission of Poppy Barley have not gone unnoticed. The brand has earned two Canada Post E-commerce Innovator's Awards, a Best Independent Retail Ambassador of the Year award from the Retail Association of Canada, an Alberta Women Entrepreneurs Impact award, recognition from Women of Vision and a Western Living’s Designer of the Year award, among others. Justine was awarded as a distinguished alumnus from the University of Alberta.
What comes next for this agile brand?
“The future looks fun!” Justine and Kendall conclude. “We will open a store in Vancouver and then, hopefully, Toronto. We will expand more aggressively into the USA. Our product assortment will expand into new categories, such as knitwear. We’ll stay committed to our values and promise of luxury for the people and the planet. Hopefully, along the way, we will elevate the lives of the people who make, wear and support Poppy Barley.”
Have you been wondering all this time how they came up with such a unique name? The co-founders are ready to let you in on the secret!
“In medieval England—when every village had a shoemaker and all shoes were made just for you—cobblers used poppy seeds and barleycorns as the units of measurement for shoemaking. One barleycorn was equal to 1/3 inch and four poppy seeds equaled one barleycorn!”